Thursday, March 26, 2009

your dream festival of all things culinary

I blinked and I missed it.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival that is.

Is it my imagination, or has there been little or no buzz about the festival amongst the Melbourne food blogging community this year? Even Ed, festival hound that he is, has written very little.

I initially wrote a snarky post about my journey through the festival guide. In the twinkling of a keystroke, I’ve deleted it in my attempt to practice a more positive outlook on life (well for the rest of the week at least).

However just let me keep one little swipe:

The Age, who present the festival, produced a brochure studded with errors. This is what you get when your replace an experienced editor with Bill Gate’s spell-check.

2.00pm Tal Karp, Captian of the Melbourne Victory Women's soccer team reveals the secret BBQ ingredient that keeps her fir for elite sport

Ok, I feel better now.

As an aside, the problematic “Out of the Frying Pan” was binned this year, in favour of a sleeker look-a-like event. The global food trends promised “ an afternoon of provocative and informative discussion about the global futures of food, restaurants and the media that covers them.” Different name, same old-media-as-trend-setters scenario. Did anyone attend? I wonder what the experts predicted? Let me guess, did it involve depression era food, less glamour, more value for money?

But where my original rant led me was to ask you, the discerning reader, what do you want from a food and wine festival? Imagine the best celebration of the joys of eating was to be put on in your town, what would you leave your living room for?

This year people seemed happy enough to fork out $185 to make the meal a sold out event. Will next year's festival be heavy on high cost events?

One steam of the festival that has been popular over the years have been the “crawls” from the wonders of the Middle Eastern bakeries on Sydney Road to demystifying the organics at the market, I hope these cheaper events were just as popular. I’d love to see the “Sushi Crawl” make a return. This was the first festival event I ever attended, with a lovely teacher from William Angliss in a now defunct Japanese restaurant. We were instructed in the rituals of sushi (you dunk the fish, not the rice in the soy sauce) offered many different types of sushi and in the end ate our full – all for less than the average price of a Japanese meal at the time.

A recent thread on Progressive Dinner Party garnered an amazing response. Zoe asked what people would like to learn if they were going to a “demystifying the Asian supermarket” session that she was putting on at her local women’s group. From the comments she could run the class for a year and barely touch the surface. I am not a gourmand, I like grass roots stuff like this and so did many of her readers with requests for how to use tofu, rice noodles, shitake mushrooms and other fungi, make a good stir fry and much, much more.

In my dream festival I would celebrate the ethnic diversity in this city, not necessarily by show casing the big name chefs from each tradition, but by asking the nonnas, the mums and the like to show us how and why they use these interesting ingredients from each of the food stores.

I’d like Mark Bittman, of course and more cooks like him. The ones that don’t use the healthy word but often create something that would fall under that banner without anyone noticing.

I’d like people to have the opportunity to connect more with where the food comes from. Urban gardens and the dedicated, amateur gardeners who grow their fruits and vegetables. We don’t need Jamie Oliver for this giving a stadium presentation, just locals showing off their patch and sharing their tips.

Perhaps while we are at it the festival should also include abattoir tours and a look at what the Egg Marketing Board deems as “free range” or “barn laid”. This probably wouldn’t be that popular but it would be an effective reality check for many omnivores.

More appealing would be “take one chicken” - show folks what they can do with an investment in a rather pricey but luscious organically grown chook. How to use the bones for stock, roast or break up the bird, the diversity of meals a family could make from this worthy critter.

People continue to be mystified by what to do with fish. My whole fish cooking posts get a huge amount of hits. A class on romancing fish in all its glory would be popular.

So my festival would feature some cheaper, down-home events exploring the pantries, nooks and crannies of this town.

What would be in your festival?

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Blogger Ann ODyne said...

re fish: recently I spent some time in Lakes Entrance where my host shopped at the Fishermans Co-Op shop. They sell "whatever has been caught last night" so I learned of fish never previously seen, laying on ice and never having been frozen or trucked anywhere.
I did have a problem with their accusing eyes though.
Landlocked in Ballarat again, my omega-3 now comes from JohnWest mackerel.

2:53 pm  
Blogger GS said...

So would your dream food festival feature "101 ways with canned mackerel"? :)

3:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of these tiresome 'festivals' are marketing events. A real festival is not marketed but comes out of some tradition or other, like those in Europe where carpets of flowers are marched down the street, harvest food is eaten, wine is drunk, there is no pretension and everyone comes along without having to buy tickets online for exorbitant prices.

7:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my curmudgeonly way, I'd say BRAINS would be a very desirable element in the festival. And not served up on a plate. I also agree absolutely that the food crawl type of thing is one of the more accessible parts of the program, but still, the event knows it needs to target certain audience groups in order to be able to afford to bring in attractive names to perform, as those definitely don't come cheap. The hoi polloi audience easily get lost in the battle to make the event attractive and financially viable.

12:45 am  
Blogger stickyfingers said...

This year I turned away from the razzle dazzle of MFWF and played along in the grass roots sector, which was jolly and unpretentious.

Perhaps the stars have fallen from my eyes, but there wasn't anything I sought to learn from the program this year. I've never been one for idolatry, not even of chefs, so this time around I saved the shekels that would once have been spent on masterclasses.

The Bloggers with deep enough pockets - or a career in food who could ask employers or the tax department to refund the sometimes extortionate festival fees - to attend, have been smugly jamming Twitter this year, instead of blogging their thoughts. The downside of that is that you hear more about who else from the blogasphere is queuing for the event, gratuitous star-spotting and how boring the catering is, than about the guts of the events.

I think Twitter accommodated the endorphin rush of being in the moment, with a flurry of activity, but like the effects of MSG on the body the Twitterer wilts before they can formulate a full blog post.

As expected the copy-cat 'Out of the frying pan' was dismally uninformative...yes I heard this on Twitter...and yes, for food trends they apparently just regurgitated the things bloggers have been writing about for ages.

With due respect I think it would be such a tough job to try and make a food fest financially viable while balancing planning with the various expectations people have of such an event. Especially when your target market is so broad as to cover everyone with an interest in food from suburban households, wealthy gourmands, hospitality & food services, to back slapping food media types. I think it would be an unenviable task that attracts more criticism than kudos.

8:06 am  
Blogger GS said...

Interesting how reality seems to impede many people's dreams. Do I think any of our dreams would necessarily influence what Jill Dupleix and her team concoct for next year's festival? Absolutely not. But in such an economic climate as this, dreams are free :)

Btw I really hope that twitter doesn't kill the blog. I need more words and substance than a sentence of gossip!

4:01 pm  
Blogger stickyfingers said...

Well said and ditto.

7:36 pm  
Blogger Cindy said...

The primary constraint on my dream festival would be that no event costs more than $30! I wouldn't care a jot if the organisers failed to fly in a single celebrity chef (though I'm probably in the minority).

Otherwise, I look out for cooking demos that can inform my home cooking and Restaurant Express meals that are nothing like my home cooking. :-)

2:00 pm  

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