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Australian Tidbits from Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2012

Some of the world's best chefs, butchers, producers and even the World's Longest Lunch: Australia hosts the 20-days food event now in its 20th edition

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With a roll-call of global visionaries - chefs who are shaping the future of gastronomy - the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, is a celebration of excellence. Chefs, butchers, barbecue pit- masters, foragers, cheese makers, beer brewers, food writers, wine judges, mixologists, cocktail historians, sommeliers and winemakers have stormed Melbourne for twenty days of indulgence. From Denmark to Israel, leading international stars from a dozen different countries feature in the festival program, alongside Australia’s best.

But how do you kick off a food and wine festival? What type of event best captures the spirit? A long lunch of course, in fact the World’s Longest Lunch. On March 2nd, a 500-meter white-cloth- table lined the picturesque Yarra River and over a thousand people tucked into a three course feast. Celebrating regional Victorian produce, the lunch is one of the highlights of the festival calendar and has now spread to nearly thirty regional locations.

The Yarra River is also the scene for a remarkable collaboration with Greenhouse by Joost. The world renowned Greenhouse by Joost restaurants utilise sustainable ideas in all aspects - from food sourcing and production, through to architecture, building materials and furniture design. And the facts speak for themselves: cutlery is made from plantation timber and is composted along with organic waste; the entire structure is made from reclaimed, recycled or recyclable material; furniture is made from old irrigation pipes and second hand vinyl posters; the rooftop and wall mounted gardens provide much of their herbs and greenery for the kitchen; and in a world first, urine from the bloke’s bathroom will be used as a rich fertilizer in regional Victoria to grow mustard seeds which will produce the oil to run next year’s Greenhouse. The eco-friendly restaurant is open every day of the festival for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a handful of exclusive events.

A series of masterclasses held over March 9 to 11 marked the pinnacle of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. Kicking off with the inaugural Friday Fire Masterclasses, the line up included Dario Cecchini,famed Italian butcher from Panzano in Chianti; Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz from one of Sydney’s hottest restaurants, Porteno; David Chang; Lennox Hastie, ex-Etxebarri (Spain) and barbecue “pit master” Ed Mitchell from North Carolina. Cecchini butchered a whole chianina cow while quoting Dante’s Inferno, Hastie gave a masterclass in pairing wood with ingredients, before cooking swordfish belly on olive wood; and Mitchell shared the secret to perfect crackling - basting the skin with Grandma’s potion of water, vinegar, spices and moonshine. The masterclasses continued all weekend at the Langham Hotel with Brett Graham (The Ledbury), Corey Lee (Benu), Rosio Sanchez (Noma), Meir Adoni (Catit & Mizlala) and Christian Puglisi (Relæ) - just to name a few. Wine tastings were held at The Acqua Pana Global Wine Experience, while the movers and shakers from the world’s best bars, breweries and cider houses joined forces in the Liquid Lounge. But the two sessions which had everyone talking were held in the Theatre of Ideas, where Ben Shewry teamed up with Rene Redzepi, and David Chang with Massimo Bottura, to discuss “the return to the future” and the importance of cooking with a sense of time and place.

While the festival has reached the half way mark, there are still a bevy of events to come. International chef and wine maker dinners are scattered over the next ten days, as are a handful of exciting regional events. Hot ticket: ‘A Taste of Place’ joining Dan Hunter (Royal Mail Hotel) as he visits some of Victoria’s finest farmers and producers. Followed by a long lunch of course!

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