This year is back to regular programming after a few blip years so planning ahead without fear of cancellation, postponement or a scaled back offering is a reality once more. As such, event directors across the country are back doing what they do best - packing schedules full of excitement, and chefs are busy back doing what they do best – rocking the pans and elevating every experience. From the north to the south, these are the not-to-be-missed events to mark in your calendar. Dress code: comfy pants.
MELBOURNE FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL
Three decades on and this is one festival still firmly positioned as the premier Australian event on the international food and wine calendar. Alla Wolf-Tasker will be kicking off this year's festivities. The culinary director of The Lakehouse in Daylesford has designed a three-course menu for the festival's signature World's Longest Lunch, 600m of table winding through the Treasury Gardens. It's an event which heralds the start of the festival every year (and always sells out).
Also across the packed ten-day program, Fed Square will transform into a culinary mecca with celebrity-inspired sausage sizzles, one-off markets celebrating Melbourne's best bakers and pâtissiers, a pop-up bar and the return of the popular Convenience Store - a part Tokyo mart and part Brooklyn bodega offering Slurpee cocktails, sandwiches from Victor Liong and Shannon Martinez, and a select range of gourmet food products.
International chefs are also on the agenda with the Signature Chef Series, which will see top Australian talent collaborate with international stars. Highlights include London's Ikoyi chef Jeremy Chan at Vue du Monde creating a ten-course tasting menu (29 and 30 March) for $350 per person; US chef Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food) teaming up with Melbourne's own rock star chef Shannon Martinez for plant-based dinners on 26 March for $180 per person; Mark Wein behind Bangkok's popular Phed Mark restaurant, which specialises in Pad Kaprao, is taking over BKK restaurant inside Lonsdale Street's multi-level Her venue (30 March); and Yoshihiro Imai behind Monk in Kyoto and of Chef's Table fame is making his Australian debut at Embla, serving up a $180 feast in collbatoration with Dave Verheul (27 and 28 March).
Also on the program, Julia Busuttil Nishimura and Florian Eatery serve up an end-of-summer feast alongside wines by Giorgio De Maria; Enter Via Laundry chef Helly Raichura hosts an intimate cooking school; a 12-venue food and brew crawl around Melbourne; a Bangkok Street Food Party in Drewery Lane with food from the aforementioned Phed Mark alongside local eateries DoDee Paidang, Soi 38 and BKK; Maker & Monger throw an after-dark cheese and wine party in Prahran Market; and so much more.
Tickets go on sale to subscribers on Tuesday 31 January and to the public on Friday 3 February via the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival website.
Friday 24 March to Sunday 2 April, melbournefoodandwine.com.au
ORANGE F.O.O.D. WEEK
Head out to wine country – just 3.5 hours drive from Sydney - for a 10-day long festival offering up the best of the region and autumn harvest. Highlights include day and night markets where local producers and farmers will be selling their finest; a series of show, tell and taste workshops; a street lunch under a canopy of autumn-coloured trees catered by some of the country's best-known and emerging chefs; foraging expeditions; and a curated eight-course degustation menu enjoyed while strolling the vineyards. Orange F.O.O.D Week ((FOOD being an acronym for 'food of Orange district') has become a mainstay on the calendar of regional festivals, and has featured repeat appearances from many top chefs over its 30 year history including Peter Doyle and the late, great Tony Bilson.
24 March - 2 April, orangefoodweek.com.au
NEWCASTLE FOOD MONTH
Returning for its third year, Newcastle Food Month is a regional food festival with plenty on offer. The festival celebrates the city's rising food scene and its culinary stars across a jam-packed, month-long program. There are key events such as Dîner en Blanc Newcastle, which is set to see over 1500 attendees this year. There are also Italian cheese masterclasses, one-off degustations, Champagne lunches, Polish dinners and high teas at Crystalbrook Kingsley, alongside more than 50 local restaurants plating up a special dish and drink paring across the four weeks.
Saturday 1 April to Sunday 30 April, newcastlefoodmonth.com.au
If you've been looking for an excuse to get to the Red Centre this is it – an authentic Indigenous 10-night light festival spotlighting the oldest continuous culture on earth through the latest technology. Watch the desert come alive with new artworks, light shows, and a program of performances, interactive workshops, music, films and talks. This year's theme is Listening with Heart - inspired by the artwork surrounding the Statement from the Heart. But it's not just the unique cultural experience on offer, Alice Springs (Mparntwe) has more to offer than just rocks and crocs; South-east Asian dishes at Hanuman (82 Barrett Dr) and tapas-style share plates at Epilogue Lounge (58 Todd St) are both worthy dinner options. For daytime eating, grab the sandwich or pie of your dreams from The Bakery (4/11 Todd St), dumplings from Tea Shrine (113 Todd St) or a hearty egg or avo number from the Bean Tree Café (Olive Pink Botanic Garden, 27 Tuncks Rd).
7-16 April, Alice Springs Desert Park, parrtjimaaustralia.com.au
TASTING AUSTRALIA SA
One of Australia's most exciting food festivals is set to welcome a host of A-list chefs this year including Norway's Heidi Bjerkan and the United Kingdom's James Lowe and Gill Meller, alongside local heroes Karen Martini, Paul Carmichael, and Justin James, the chef behind Adelaide's award-winning Restaurant Botanic. The 10-day program includes 150 events, spread across all 12 regions of South Australia – from wine tastings in Adelaide to an overnight stays in the remote Flinders Ranges. This year a new experience, the Chef's Table, will allow ticket holders to get up close and personal with top chefs as they showcase the magic of their craft in an intimate 20-person setting. Good food, good wine, good times.
Friday 28 April to Sunday 7 May, tastingaustralia.com.au
GRAMPIANS GRAPE ESCAPE
Returning for its 30th year, the Grampains Grape Escape is a celebration of the Western Victoria region's winemakers, producers and growers. This year, it will run from Friday 5 May to Sunday 7 May and promises more than 100 exhibitors, cooking demonstrations, workshops and live performances, including a '60s music afternoon to kick off the festivities.
Highlights include Spanish-Australian chef Miguel Maestre cooking alongside MasterChef Australia's Khanh Ong and comedian Merrick Watts taking to the stage with his show 'An Idiot's Guide to Wine'. Of course, there'll also be ample food stalls and wine tastings.
Friday 5 May to Sunday 7 May, grampiansgrapeescape.com.au
A LITTLE BIT OF BROKE
When people think of the Hunter Valley, they usually picture the wineries and rolling countryside of Pokolbin. But further along the road, you'll discover a wine trail less travelled in and around Broke Fordwich. And there's no better way to explore the area's top vineyards than during the annual A Little Bit of Broke festival, which is happening over the weekend of Friday 5 - Sunday 7 May. The event sees multiple venues from the region put on special events and activities, including live music, family-friendly workshops, sunrise yoga sessions, art classes, picnic experiences and under-the-stars dinners, and more. This year, 14 venues are partaking in the festivities, including wineries such as Margan, Krinklewood, Greenway and Winmark alongside venues like Kawal Rock Distillery, Starline Alpaca Farm, Hunter Lavendar Farm and Magoony's Coffee House. For the full program and to buy tickets, head to the website.
Friday 5 May to Sunday 7 May, brokefordwich.com.au/a-little-bit-of-broke
Australia's annual beer bonanza is back this year to hit the east coast this May and June. The Great Australian Beer Spectacular (GABS) is a massive showcase of some of the best, wildest and rarest beers from around the country - and beyond. This year, the festival promises a lineup of 120 breweries from Australia, New Zealand the US and UK served at more than 60 pop-up bars. Sessions have been extended to 5.5 hours, too, which means more time to sample the brews. On top of beer, there'll also be seltzers, ciders and non-alcoholic options, as well as debuts from Archie Rose, Monkey Shoulder and Yellow Tail.
The Festival is hitting Melbourne first (Friday 19 - Sunday 21 May), then Sydney (Friday 2 - Saturday 3 June) and finishing up in Brisbane (Saturday 10 June).
Friday 19 - Sudnay 21 May; Friday 2- Saturday 3 June; and Saturday 10 June, gabsfestival.com
SCENIC RIM EAT LOCAL MONTH
For its 12th year, Queensland's Scenic Rim Eat Local Week has expanded to a month-long celebration of food and farming this June. Now titled Eat Local Month, the festival is a celebration of paddock-to-plate experiences and champions the local farmers, growers, producers, artisans and chefs of the area. The full program is yet to be announced, but you can expect a lineup of long lunches, special dinners, tastings, farm tours, masterclasses, workshops and the signature event, Winrer Harvest Festival on 1 June. The full program and tickets are slated for release in late April.
Thursday 1 June to Friday 30 June, eatlocalmonth.com.au