The signature event of the Gascoyne Food Festival celebrations is Friday’s Long Table Lunch. It is a lavish four-hour affair, so entirely indulgent to lunch for that long and I’ll admit that long lunches are some of my favourites, so I was so looking forward to this event. Held at the stunning Bentwater Plantation, long tables were arranged along the lawn opposite the striking farm house, adorned with white table cloths, set with plenty of cutlery and decorated with pretty native flowers.
What a stunning and unique setting it was. Relaxed, fine dining in amongst a banana plantation, definitely not something you get to do every day. Very generously a local farmer had donated ten thousand dollars to provide marquees so the guests could be shaded throughout the day, which was incredibly lovely. I’ll admit that I was slightly out of practise with sunshine, given the long and chilly Winter that Perth has been enduring. So while I welcomed the warmth from the sun’s rays, I did appreciate the cover. So my thanks to them for that. Weather wise, despite a slight breeze when we first arrived, it was complete perfection. I really like how Carnarvon does Winter 🙂
The tables also overlooked all the action in the outdoor kitchen, where the impressive line-up of guest chefs swiftly worked to plate up their dishes. Some seriously talented chefs were preparing lunch! I’d enjoyed eating at the majority of the restaurants represented previously and to have these culinary masters cooking together made things all the more exciting and unique. It was fantastic to watch them carefully bring their dishes to life and to then lend a hand when the next chef was up. You could see they were enjoying themselves, but were all such professional operators that the day ran so smoothly. The kitchen remained a flurry of activity throughout the day given the lengthy menu and what a good looking menu it was. As I read through all the dishes I loved the creative ways that each chef had chosen to showcase the varied and impressive range of local produce that was available to them. Throughout the day the chefs were assisted by staff and students from Carnarvon Community College Hospitality Team and they did a superb job. I could tell it was going to be an amazing lunch!
On the wine front Margaret River was represented with a lovely range from Clairault Streicker on offer. While they had provided guidance on the menu about an appropriate pairing (so helpful) I stuck with one wine throughout the day and I thoroughly enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. Fresh and crisp and ideal for the warmer weather.
There was happy chatter around the table as guests took their seats. The day’s MC Peter Manifis, previously from In Contro Restaurant and now the driving force behind Passion Meets Purveyor welcomed the crowd and thanked those who had been instrumental in making the event happen. It’s always hard work making a big lunch come together and I was very appreciative of all these efforts as the first courses started to arrive.
Let me talk you through the menu…and remember a long lunch is a marathon, not a sprint…a really fun, delicious marathon 🙂
Don Hancey – Panorama Catering, Nathan Tulip – Henry on Eighth & Daniel Hansen – Clancy’s Fish Pub with dumpling trio of lyndon station beef, shark bay crab and Gascoyne vegetable, served with mild soy Carnarvon chilli sauce.
How good are dumplings? So moreish! Pretty plates appeared, all lined up with these precious morsels, in a range of colours to help identify the different flavours. I had noticed the little steam baskets all stacked up when I first arrived and it only dawned on me that this is where all these precious dumplings had been hiding. Eagerly working my way through the trio, each had delicious flavours, hard to pick a favourite amongst them, but I’d probably favour the crab dumpling. They had just been so generous on the crab front, packing plenty inside and then scattering some over the top too! And the chilli sauce was pitched at more of a crowd pleaser level, but still had a gentle amount of heat that paired well with every dumpling flavour. I couldn’t recall having had beef in a dumpling before and it totally worked.
Stuart Laws – Don Tapa with ceviche of pink snapper with yuzu tiger milk & sake
I just love ceviche and Chef Stuart’s version was divine. The flavours were so vibrant and lively and had been expertly balanced. As we learnt “tiger’s milk”, is the South American name for the flavourful, sour liquid drained from a good ceviche. It contains the juices of the seafood and a bite of vinegar or citrus. The thin slices of pink snapper just melted in your mouth and there was such a welcome freshness to it. I also enjoyed the contrasting crunch from pieces of cucumber and an indulgent creaminess from cubes of avocado. It was a great ceviche and there was a lightness to this dish that made you want to reach for just one more spoonful… just one more. I tried to remind myself though that there were perhaps a few courses ahead and that I needed to ration the room I had.
Melissa Palinkas – Young George with Gascoyne cuttlefish escabeche, smoked Gascoyne zucchini, squash and yellow beans, puffed grains, mint, sherry
Putting it out there, I gave this dish the prettiest dish award. Granted not an official award, but instead one I made up, but I think it was deserved! Will you just look at it! Elegant ribbons of zucchini and squash, along with yellow beans and a scattering of fresh mint created such a colourful dish and it perfectly highlighted the freshness of the produce available in the Gascoyne, all brimming with flavour. And I enjoyed how the cuttlefish had been prepared. Escabeche is the name for a number of dishes in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines which can refer to a dish marinated and cooked in an acidic mixture (vinegar) and usually colored with paprika. The pieces of cuttlefish were tender and well paired with the freshness from the crisp vegies. The puffed grains also added an interesting crunch. It was one flashy salad and again, it’s refreshing lightness made the desire to enjoy a little more entirely tempting.
Jesse Blake – Petition Kitchen with torched shark bay prawns, smoked mullet roe, pickled winter melon, lemon basil
I’d seen some of the behind the scenes work to get this dish ready and I’m entirely convinced I need to buy a big blow torch so I can prepare trays of these prawns for myself at home. Chef Jesse’s creation received rave reviews from those around the table, myself included. Hard to go past a good prawn and the charred sweetness of these was delicious. And as we would discover deep fried little prawn heads are completely wonderful. Crunchy and prawny and with the generous sprinkle of black salt were a whole lot of yum. The addition of the winter melon added a zesty contrast to this dish too. Visibly striking and kicking massive goals on the flavour front, the popularity of this dish was very well deserved.
Ben Jacob – Henry on Eighth with the region’s bananas, mackerel dashi, lard, nasturtiums
And the winner of the award for the chef that tried to push the boundaries with his chosen local ingredient would have to go to Chef Ben. A savoury banana dish? I was intrigued. Particularly pairing banana with a mackerel dashi. Dashi is a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisine. So banana paired with fish and bacon. Hmmm…It definitely sounded interesting on paper. I’ll admit that my first bite I just tried the banana and I wasn’t a fan. There was quite a strong fish flavour from the dashi, but as I discovered on my second spoonful, if you combined all the elements together they were actually really well balanced and it was a very interesting flavour profile when they were all working together. It was the most challenging dish on the menu, but I liked Chef Ben’s boldness in opting to showcase the local hero that is the banana in a different and unique way.
Kenny McHardy – Manuka Woodfired Kitchen with cured Spanish mackerel cooked on coals with miso butter served with kale, cucumber, tomato, basil rice vinegar
If there is one thing that Chef Kenny is quite the expert at, it is all things woodfired. So it was exciting to see that his dish was showcasing this forte with his coal roasted Spanish mackerel. The slight black char on the fish looked all the more dramatic against the vibrant green bed of crisp kale and the colourful garnish of the chopped tomato and kaffir lime leaves. Putting it out there now that we should put miso butter on everything we possibly can, because seriously this was some of the most delicious fish I’ve ever had. The fish was wonderfully fresh and cooked with loving care, moist on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. Just lovely, then the miso butter added this incredible depth of flavour, further enhanced by the coal cooking. Seriously miso butter, can we have it on everything please?
Jerolina Rankin – WA Signature Dish Winner 2015 with Balinese style silver beet and beans with serundeng and crunchy chilli
Jerolina is a very talented Carnarvon local, who flew the flag for the Gascoyne and came away victorious in last year’s WA Signature Dish competition. It was excellent to see her in the line-up for this event. Her dish showcased some of the region’s amazing fresh vegies with a colourful and flavoursome salad. The serundeng, Indonesian spicy fried coconut flakes, was a creative and delicious inclusion, dramatically dusted across the top, and this added some additional wow factor to the lush greens, as did the spice from the crunchy chilli. I’d perhaps heard someone wise say that you don’t make friends with salad… but you definitely would with this one.
Oliver Gould – The Shorehouse with Lyndon station beef ribs, salsa verde, whole wood roast pumpkin & romesco sauce
Now there had been a spotlight shone on seafood throughout the lunch and it had been a complete delight but the Gascoyne is also responsible for producing some incredible beef and Chef Oliver focused on this fact for his dish. As a part of that we also got to enjoy the delicious aroma of roasting pumpkins throughout the day. The smell was amazing. And will you just check out the ribs! Big, beefy and meat a plenty! The beef slid from those big bones, just delicious. The accompanying romesco sauce was a perfect partner to this mountain of ribs, being wonderfully fragrant. They were huge crowd pleasers, big smiles all round and plate of empty bones was soon all that remained. Then the pumpkin. Served in chunky wedges it had a wonderful slow roasted sweetness to it and again with a drizzle, this time, of vibrant salsa verde and sprinkling of pepitas, it was a winner.
Paul Kelly – WA Signature Dish Finalise 2014 with spiced beer braised meedo station goat, smoked bacon and white bean cream, spiced pumpkin, creole tomato salad
Our final savoury course, in what had been an entirely epic menu, came from another Carnarvon local. Paul Kelly had also been busy near the larger open fire with his large pots of fragrant goat curry. Oh it was heady as you walked past with all the beautiful herbs and spices he had used. The goat was incredibly tender after all that quality time braising away and while I was near bursting at the seams at this point, I almost wished I had some steamed rice or naan bread to enjoy the delicious sauce. So much flavour to it, didn’t want to let any go to waste!
Shannon Whitmore – Kent Street Deli with old youngs cold drip coffee and butterscotch, Carnarvon banana mille feuille, desert bloom strawberries, bannister downs crème anglaise
Now thankfully dessert goes to a different stomach and miraculously there is always room, even if you have already gone to town on nine dishes before you get to it. This dessert looked beautiful and bananas were back in sweet town, lavishly coated in a decadent coffee and butterscotch sauce. They alone were just delectable, but to then have the generous dollop of cream and the light pastry from the mille feuille, along with sweetest strawberry ever, it was an indulgent dessert and Gascoyne fruit completely shone. It was the perfect conclusion to a wonderfully indulgent meal.
Wow. Seriously. What a lunch that was! It was long and leisurely and entirely lovely. An abundance of sunshine, amazingly creative and delicious food and entertaining chats with new friends. The talented team of chefs had done an exceptional job of showcasing the varied produce of the region and every guest had to be rolled out after this epic feast. The flavours had been lively and inventive and as an event it was so memorable. I’d keep an eye on the Gascoyne Food Council’s Facebook page for any notification of next year’s events, because it is the perfect reason to tour the region.
Please note: I was the guest of the Gascoyne Food Council and was incredibly grateful to attend such a brilliant lunch.