Imagine, if you will, Massimo Bottura was in your kitchen riffing about his lasagne technique, or René Redzepi was on your couch shooting the breeze about lockdown life. Or, perhaps, dessert queen Philippa Sibley in your home, letting loose about the great crimes committed against pastry.
Because for an event that was postponed due to COVID-19, then rapidly recalibrated to digital platforms, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival: The Online Edition (25–30 May) looks promising indeed. Over six days, the web-based festival will host some of the best chefs from Australia and around the globe in conversation, demonstration and extemporisation, all delivered via Zoom and Instagram Live.
"It has a bit of a 'Hey, my dad's got a barn' spirit to it. That's what we've got to do in quarantine life. Everyone's having to adapt, everyone's having to improvise," says creative director Pat Nourse.
The event relies on fibre-optic cables and modems, but the heart of the festival remains. It's headlined by Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), and René Redzepi (Noma), three chefs whose restaurants have been crowned the world's best (according to The World's 50 Best Restaurants list). Colagreco will take viewers on a tour of his backyard garden, while Bottura, who's shared his besciamella and tiramisu-making exploits on Instagram, will discuss all things lasagne. And as for Redzepi? "[He's] going to show us what the world's most famous and most talked-about restaurant has done during lockdown," says Nourse. "You might have been seeing his hamburger that he's been talking up on social media – I, for one, would like to know a lot more about that."
Closer to home, there's Attica's Ben Shewry on his live-streamed cook-along sessions with comedian Hamish Blake and musician Briggs; a behind-the-scenes look at Lune Croissanterie with Kate Reid, and a tour of Brae's on-site garden with Dan Hunter.
The event is digital, yes, but it's interactive too. "There's a segment I really like called 'Dear MFWF' where we ask leading people in their field to troubleshoot for us, to be our Agony Aunts," says Nourse. So it's pastry queries to Philippa Sibley, vegan hypotheticals to Shannon Martinez, and meat questions to Neil Perry. "And I feel like Mark Russell from Baker Bleu will be able to talk a lot of people off the ledge who've been freaking out about their sourdough starter," says Nourse.
If answering (rather than asking) questions is more your thing, the famous Builders Arms trivia makes a virtual return. (It's the only MFWF online event that requires prior registration). For the full trivia experience, punters can order the Builders' trivia dinner for two which includes a beef pie, potato bake and Turkish salad.
For Melburnians, there's a real-life festival menu they can sample. Bar Saracen is cooking up a menu of dishes from Greg Malouf ("the godfather of modern Middle Eastern cooking", says Nourse), Lune's Reuben croissant is making a good-time-not-a-long-time return, and Leonardo's Pizza Palace is putting its spin on Black Axe Mangal foie gras ice-cream (it's available for one night only).
As for the original Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, scheduled for March this year, Nourse is adamant the show will go on – the curtains will just lift later than planned. "We are postponed, we're not cancelled. We have a really great program that people have responded to, and it's our intention to run that as close to plan as possible." Closed borders may prevent the appearances of international chefs Fuchsia Dunlop and Alison Roman; and limits on public gatherings will affect its Sichuan Snack Fair and The Big Spaghetti food events. "Keeping everyone safe is the first priority. But this is not to say that we can't still do cool stuff," says Nourse.
For the meantime, the MFWF online edition will whet the hungry public's appetite. The internet connection might be wobbly; the at-home lighting slightly wonky. It'll look and taste different, yes, but importantly, "this festival will still be really delicious," says Nourse. "Even if we have to toast it heavily, and put a lot of butter on it."
For more information, visit melbournefoodandwine.com.au