If you've never been to Adelaide, coinciding your visit with Tasting Australia eliminates half the organising legwork.
This week-long festival offers a comprehensive program of one-off events and collaborations in food, wine, cooking and touring. For previous visitors and locals, it's a chance to try something new.
Tasting Australia will be held 1-8 May 2016 with events in Adelaide as well as regional areas including the Barossa, Clare Valley, Fleurieu Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges. Tasting Australia was the first food festival for Australia, originally conceived as a biennial festival in 1997 but will now be scheduled as an annual event from 2016 onwards. The theme for Tasting Australia this year is Landscapes.
I was flown to Adelaide late last year for a media preview of the festival. What's in store this year? Here are a couple of my favourites from the festival program.
A Few of My Favourite Things Tour with Cheong Liew
Chef Cheong Liew, Ambassador for Tasting Australia 2016
You can't beat a food tour with a fellow food afficionado. Cheong Liew
is one of Adelaide's finest food legends, a Malaysian student who came to Australia to study electrical engineering in 1969 before turning his hand to the kitchen. Hearing him talk is surreal and inspiring. He says he discovered cooking as a necessity for work, starting first in a Greek restaurant. "I didn't have an apprenticeship. I just bought a lot of cookbooks and tried to remember what my grandmother did," he says with a smile.
Liew is most known for his head chef role at The Grange within the Adelaide Hilton Hotel, but as we have a cup of coffee with him in the morning, Liew tells us about how hired Tim Pak Poy to work for him at the hugely popular Nediz restaurant. When he found out he was vegetarian, he bet his wife it would take him less than six weeks to get Pak Poy to eat meat
. Liew shrieks with laughter at the memory. "I did it. I swayed him with lap cheong."
Pak Poy, of course, would go on to become head chef and then owner of Claude's in Sydney.
History of food and textiles
As part of the media preview, we follow Liew to a few of his favourite places around Adelaide. I won't say where exactly where we went to avoid ruining the element of surprise. Locals might be able to guess some of the locations but, having said that, the tour may well have evolved by the time May rolls around.
Cheong Liew in an Asian grocery store
We trail behind Liew into an Asian grocery store where he points out his preferred brand of soy sauce and his favourite fish sauce. He happily and patiently answers any questions posed. It feels like we've just discovered an uncle we never knew we had.
Shelves of spices
He leads us into a bulk foods store where he talks about grains, pulses, flours and spices and the things he likes to use in his cooking.
And it's no secret to anyone that he takes us to Adelaide Central Market - everyone's favourite market - where we pause at fruit shops and butchers and bakers and more.
Morning coffee in Adelaide Central Market
Cruffin, a croissant and muffin lovechild
Kangaroo Island free range eggs
Cheong Liew in his favourite Malaysian eatery
And even though we'd already eaten lunch together (I won't say where), he insists we have second lunch at a Malaysian eatery that has all the dishes he misses from home.
Yong tau foo tofu stuffed with fish paste
Yong tau foo
is such a great dish but so hard to find, even in Sydney. This was a mix of tofu and vegetables stuffed with fish paste, as well as soft and quivering cubes of steamed silken tofu.
Iced teh tarik sweet Malaysian tea
Pan mee Hakka-style noodle soup
>> A Few of My Favourite Things with Cheong Liew will start at 10.30am on 6 May. Bookings can be made here.
You can also go on a Favourite Things tour with the legendary Maggie Beer and Jessie Spiby (MasterChef Australia 2015).
Lunch with Benjamin Cooper at Africola
I love the sense of energy you get as soon as you walk into Africola
. This South African eating house is an uplifting riot of colours, repurposed brown bottles, old-fashioned school chairs and woven straw lampshades hanging above.
Benjamin Cooper, group executive chef for the Lucas Group (Chinchin, Gogo, Baby, Kong and Hawker Hall in Melbourne), will be mashing things up in a collaborative five-course dinner. South African flavours going head on with South East Asia sounds like a wild ride ahead.
We sample a number of dishes from Africola's standard menu. There's the heartiness you expect from beef short ribs cooked over charcoal
, but also a surprisingly elegant touch in lighter dishes like cured kingfish
, local clams cooked over wood
and smoked mussels with Savannah cider butter
And the housemade chilli sauce
in reused glass Coca Cola bottles can't help but bring a smile to your face.
Housemade chilli sauce
Cured kingfish with naartjies, oxalis and smoked leek
Charcoal beef short rib with biryani carrots
>> Lunch in the Company of Benjamin Cooper at Africola will be held on 8 May at 12.30pm. Bookings can be made here.
High Tea with Belinda Jeffery at the Mayflower Restaurant
Award-winning cookbook author and celebrated food stylist Belinda Jeffer
y will be talking all things cake and more during a special high tea event at the Mayflower Restaurant
in the Mayfair Hotel.
We don't get a chance to meet Jeffery during our media preview visit but we do have dinner at the French-leaning Mayflower Restaurant one evening. The first thing everyone sees upon entry is the dessert trolley, parked teasingly at the front of the dining room. It's deliciously old skool, a heavy trolley with every kind of sweet confection you could possibly dream of, retro choux swans included!
The temptation of dessert would almost make you want to skip savouries, but the unashamed celebration of classics like prawn cocktails
and chicken kiev
alongside lobster bisque
makes us sit up to attention and soak up every moment. And calorie.
Freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters with champagne mignonette dressing $4 each
Classic prawn cocktail with baby gem lettuce $22
Beef steak tartare and classic condiments $20
Duck and tangerine pie $34
Slipper lobster and leek fondue pithivier $35
Whole King George whiting with lemon butter caper sauce $36
Triple cooked hand cut chips $10
Our table of twelve end up getting practically one of everything to share between us - enough for a spoonful or two so we can taste some of each. They're all good but I especially love the religieuse. The desserts are all made in-house by a dedicated pastry chef.
Breton filled with salted caramel and coated in feuilletine
Choux pastry swans
>> High Tea in the Company of Belinda Jeffery at the Mayflower Restaurant will be held on 6 May at 2pm. Bookings can be made here.
Embark on a Wine Adventure
You can't visit Adelaide without visiting a vineyard. The city is surrounded by wine regions. You can reach McLaren Vale from the Adelaide CBD in about forty minutes - you'd barely make it out of Sydney in that time!
Wine tastings in the vineyard at Primo Estate
Our group visits Primo Estate
in Mclaren Vale, hiking up the steep hills in shimmering heat. At the top of the hill, wine bottles and opened and glasses are handed around. Soon we've tasted several bottles before the clock has even hit 11am.
2013 Joseph Nebbiolo
The Nebbiolo in the Joseph range is made from a single hectare of dry grown vines in Clarendon, about twenty minutes drive from the Primo cellar door.
I've had plenty of wine tastings at the cellar door but drinking wine in the field, surrounded by rows of grape vines that stretch on endlessly, is a completely different experience. There's a surreal sense of gratitude as you swirl the wine in your glass, right next to the grape flowers on the vine beside you waiting to reach their destiny.
Clusters of grape flowers awaiting pollination
Red wine in the vineyards
Wine tasting at the Primo Estate cellar door
We drive onto the Primo Estate cellar door, where we sit down in cool air-conditioning for a full wine tasting from their Joseph label.
Pouring the Joseph d'Elena Pino Grigio
Joseph wine flight tasting with bread, Italian cheese and Joseph extra virgin olive oil $15 (or credited against a Joseph wine purchase)
The bread, olive oil and cheese are the ideal accompaniments for our progressive wine tasting.
Cooking pizza in the wood fire oven
The outdoor wood oven - imported from a village in Umbria - is fired up to cook our pizzas for lunch.
Adding fresh herbs to the prawn and mozzarella pizza
Joseph EVOO being poured over the pizzas
Rocket, pear and parmesan salad
Pizza and salad lunch
Primo Estate vineyard
>> Wine events at this year's Tasting Australia include barrel tasting in McLaren Vale, a food and shiraz matching dinner
, and a roving lunch across three vineyards in the Barossa
. For a full list of events, tick the "drinking" option here
Simon Bryant, Creative Director for Tasting Australia 2016
There's a whole heap of events scheduled, curated by creative directors Chef Simon Bryant and wine expert, Paul Henry. I'd be keen to go on a wild mushroom walk
, do a cheese making class with Udder Delights
and jump on the free hayride tour of Nangkita Olives at their open day
Friendly faces of EcoCaddy
We had an action-packed 36 hours in Adelaide and one of the highlights was getting around town with the guys from EcoCaddy
Like a pedal-powered rickshaw
These are hybrid electric passenger tricycles that can be hired by SMS or via their booking app. Any journey within the city square costs $5 per person, increasing to $10 for crossing into North Adelaide.
EcoCaddy in the city
The EcoCaddys get up to 25km/hr and it was an exhilarating ride as buses and cars rushed past us. The drivers rarely have to use the electric motor as Adelaide is relatively flat, and yes, they do have female drivers!
Tasting Australia 2016 will be held 1-8 May in Adelaide and its surrounding regions. For a full list of events click here
Grab Your Fork visited Adelaide as a guest of South Australia Tourism for a preview of Tasting Australia 2016.