The stands have been taken down from the riverbanks in Elder Park; the visiting journalists and food writers have packed up their loot bags and flown home; PR bods are splinting their Tweeting/texting fingers, and exhausted, hardworking chefs, waiters, dishies and sommeliers all around Adelaide are breathing a huge sigh of relief as they slip into a restorative beverage or two. The Battle of the Chefs has been fought and won; celebrity dinners have been cooked and eaten; the master classes, kids cooking classes and celebrity demonstrations have been enjoyed, pearls of culinary literary wisdom have been dropped and retrieved at the Word of Mouth sessions, and the food-related exhibitions, workshops and competitions are done. The massive 8-day food and wine binge that is Tasting Australia is over for another two years.
A product of the fertile imagination of Western Australian chef and television personality Ian Parmenter, Tasting Australia has developed and grown since its very successful beginnings in 1997 to become one of the nation’s most influential and best attended culinary events. This year’s event has built upon this reputation and not only attracted more than 40,000 happy eaters to the two-day “Bank SA Feast of the Senses,” where the public can pick and choose food and wine from some of the state’s very best producers and chefs, but the informed eye would also have been able to spot flocks of interstate and international chefs, journalists and food writers. More than 150 high-profile gastronomic guests were being carefully herded about the state in manageable groups (not so simple a task as it might sound) as producers from Port Lincoln in the west, all the way down to the Coonawarra in the south-east took the opportunity to show off the culinary cachet for which this state has become noted.
Tasting Australia attracts an exceptional amount of international interest and food professionals from all areas of the culinary sphere, as well as journalists from all corners of the globe, who congregate in Adelaide for this time period. I helped Mark Gleeson of the Providore conduct the very first formal event of Tasting Australia – a (very) quick walking tour of our prime food gem, Adelaide Central Market, followed by a cheese workshop conducted by Valerie Henbest of the Smelly Cheese Shop – with a group which included, among others, journalists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy and Sweden, author Matthew Fort and chef Mark Hix from London and Dublin-based food, wine and restaurant critic Ernie Whalley. They were just one part of the international contingent which was here expressly to get to know South Australian and Australian food.
The kind of exposure this generates for us simply cannot be underestimated and I have heard it stated that this festival has generated in excess of $100 million worth of editorial PR for South Australia and Australia. The overseas guests who enjoy our hospitality are ushered around to some of our most talented and respected food producers – both in and around Adelaide and regionally. They get the chance to meet and engage with nationally and internationally recognised brands like Maggie Beer and Jacobs Creek, but also many of the smaller producers and food/wine businesses whose goods merit equal attention, but whose advertising budgets are more modest and thus are less well known. There are trips out to the oyster leases in the pristine waters off the Eyre Peninsula, visits to the free-range home of Minribbie Farm Berkshire pork and (no doubt happy) time spent at South Australia’s first boutique distillery on beautiful Kangaroo Island – all aimed at showing off what we enjoy here in the hopes it will be shared with the rest of the world.
The dust is settling on this year’s celebration and within a surprisingly short amount of time the planning for the next festival will begin. Under fresh, new leadership things will change and the celebration may take on a different look, as it should after 16 years of much the same sort of format. What won’t change is the remarkable wealth of great food and wine products which we enjoy in South Australia, and the enormous dedication, expertise and passion of the people who are behind the production and promotion of it. It is our local skills which make Tasting Australia the tremendous success it is today, so – South Australia, take a bow!