Noosa has long been regarded as a premier regional culinary destination.
By the late 1990s a regional cooking style was entrenched. Seafood from the pristine ocean and rivers plus produce such as ginger, turmeric, galangal, chillies, specialty vegetables, hydroponic herbs, exotic fruit, cheese, bamboo shoots, tea and WaWa Asian green mixes from the lush hinterland, were all vital ingredients in Noosa’s cuisine of the sun.
Noosa’s Hot and Spicy Food Festivals confirmed the changing Australian palate while restaurateurs Jim Berardo and Greg O’Brien recognised the trending of culinary tourism, conceiving the Celebration of Australian Food & Wine Noosa Style! Noosa became the magnet for national foodies and food professionals with an intimate forum to taste, talk, dine, debate, learn and indulge whilst celebrating produce, chefs and wine. There was no equivalent event in Australia.
Before too long Noosa was regarded as Australia’s hottest culinary mecca, the festival, albeit with name changes, was engrained in our national food psyche and had morphed into an international event attracting food personalities and chefs, many ranked in the top 50 from around the world.
The genesis of the Celebration of Australian Food & Wine Noosa Style was in 2003. About 150 attended, including 15 of the crème de la crème such as Stephanie Alexander, Greg Doyle, Matthew Evans, Gordon Gebbie, Neil Hadley, Stephen Henschke, Huon Hooke, Philip Johnson, Peter Doyle, Luke Mangan, Bruce Tyrrell and Matt McConnell. There was a welcome cocktail party and swish barbecue on Noosa’s Main Beach where, in a first for food festivals the tables were turned and critics including John Lethlean, Lizzie Loel, Lyndey Milan and Peter Howard, prepped and cooked for the guests. There was lively debate about Australian food and its anticipated future; a sensational seven-course degustation matched with many Australia’s legendary wines; and a tour to the hinterland’s Coolabine Farmstead Goats Cheese Farm.
Here in the shade of a large marquee on a freshly mowed paddock and home to herds of Anglo-Nubian goats, winemakers and providores offered tastes from their quirkily cobbled together, hewed timber and corrugated iron stands, before a lavish lunch on long white clothed tables, championed the innate essence of the paddock to plate concept.
The opportunity to mix with key players in the food and wine industries from producers who grow and catch the ingredients to chefs, winemakers and restaurateurs, who weave their magic to create gastronomic delights of international renown, is reflected in the ever-evolving program. Significant achievements since the inaugural event have been:
Under the Grand Marquee in the Lions Park for the first time, food lovers embraced the Growers Market as well as the Food and Wine Tastings stands; Matt Preston was popular at the Celebrity Chefs’ Food Stations; Cooking Demonstrations had audiences rapt by the continuous stellar line-up of chefs; a Food and Wine Summit culminated in hosted lunch tables; Dine Around Noosa had 12 restaurant options; and Degustations had increased to two with eight courses.
Added events to the now three-day tribute to Australian food and wine were Wine Master Classes; a third Degustation; plus Celebrity Chefs’ Cooking Classes and Lunch including special cooking classes just for kids; and the adoption of the ‘paddock to plate’ and sea to plate’ concepts with an Asian Food Trail, Mediterranean Food Trail and Seafood Trail.
Queensland’s biggest-ever food and wine event attracted 70 of Australia’s foodinistas, wine luminaries, gastronomes and more with the added attractions of culinary exhibitions, cocktail parties, the Great Aussie Barbecue with the food critics, Guests Chefs at Noosa Restaurants and live entertainment on the big stage.
Recognised in The Australian’s Travel & Tourism Awards as “one of the best food experiences in the country” the stellar line-up was now well over 100. Added were 14 local restaurants which sold small lunch plates in the Festival Village; the Queensland Wine Expo & Celebration Awards; Live Concerts; A Great Aussie Picnic with People’s Choice Awards; Interactive Hot Seats; and concerts starring A-list entertainers.
Now called the Noosa Food & Wine Festival to reflect Noosa as a premier culinary resort destination with a quintessential food and wine festival. Added were Lifestyle Lunches, Art Exhibitions and the Lifestyle Annexe with sessions from Sustainable Produce and the MasterChef Phenomenon to Cocktail Magic.
Celebrated chefs and food professionals totalled 140 and over 100 program items now included two VIP Hospitality Pavilions for guests to have almost front row seats for the live concerts.
“From humble beginnings, the Noosa Food and Wine Festival has grown into Australia’s supreme gourmet event,” said News Ltd’s Elizabeth Meryment, referring to the event achieving international status and the exemplary program. Amongst the 180 talents in the star-studded line-up were seven of the world’s best chefs selected from the ranks of the prestigious S. Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants of the World list. Their participation included the piece de resistance, the pinnacle of events since the festival’s inception – the Qantas Best Dinner in the World, a seven-course degustation matched with premium Australian and old-world wines. It was described by Trudi Jenkins, editor-in-chief of delicious. and MasterChef magazines as the best dinner she’d ever attended.
A name change to Noosa International Food & Wine Festival reflected the strong presence of Australian as well as international chefs plus keen global interest in the now four action-packed days and extra 15 new exciting events from a Gala Opening Concert & Dinner – The Cook, The Chef & The Orchestra featuring Maggie Beer, Simon Bryant, Jane Rutter and the Queensland Arts Orchestra with Guy Noble; a new food trail Strings & Straw; the International Riverside Marquee featuring three gourmet picnics; to the Village Wine Marquee plus a greatly expanded entertainment program.
Stars such as molecular gastronomist and ‘demon chef’, Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Davide Scabin of Combal Zero in Turin Italy, joined equally renowned culinary geniuses Mark Best, Fergus Henderson, Ben Shewry, David Thompson and Seiji Yamamoto, all on the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant list, for the Qantas Best Dinner in the World.
International chefs are in huge demand, snaring them is a real coup and some have little notion about restrictions for importing ingredients to the other side of the world, or missing steps from their recipe of several pages. However somehow, like every other aspect of the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival it all seamlessly comes together with such aplomb. No wonder 200 of the world’s most prominent chefs, winemakers, media and food personalities plus 26,000 guests descended upon Noosa in 2012 for the ultimate in food, wine and entertainment – the biggest festival thus far.
What an amazing feat given such humble beginnings.