FEASTival: Jo Elwin in total foodie immersion
It's on something island in South Australia” I said to my Sydney friend as I was trying to explain where I was heading to attend a FEASTival, “I forget the name”. “Shame on you Jo that would be Kangaroo Island ... not hard to forget!” was the response.
Well shame on me indeed, but no one else around me knew of Kangaroo Island either. Now that I am back, I say shame on everyone who has not been telling us about KI (as the locals call it). Put it on the itinerary because Australia’s third largest island — it is 155km from east to west with an impressive 509km of coastline — offers up the real Australia. Over half of it is covered in protected and preserved native bushland and it is home to huge populations of native Australian wildlife. Here be more koalas and kangaroos than you ever dreamed possible.
These lands and waters also produce some of Australia’s finest gourmet foods, which is what brings me here. KI holds an annual event called FEASTival celebrating all that is special and unique about their local food and wine industry where you can meet the makers, the growers and some of Australia’s culinary icons; attend cooking classes and demonstrations; dine in people’s homes and attend as few or as many events as you wish. It’s the talk of the town and complete foodie immersion. I was there for three days but try and go for longer, whether you are there for FEASTival in April or at any other time of the year, there’s a lot of ground to cover that you won’t want to miss. Here’s my favourite bites of KI.
Party at Tony’s
In the dark of night we were off to what felt like the middle of nowhere to chef Tony Nolan’s working cattle farm where Tony had teamed up with Matt Moran to cook an Argentinian inspired menu for the FEASTival launch dinner. The scene was set in and around the large shed where an 11m long barbecue had been purpose-built, out of various farm machinery parts, on which to cook farm-raised pigs, lamb, beef, ducks and geese. There was the biggest snapper I had ever seen and even octopus cooking over the glowing embers. We were partying among fire and smoke from the barbecues, as Matt and Tony and their team carved meat straight from the spits on to plates. It was dramatically unique. The menu was vast and there’s some awfully good ideas in here that will work just as well cooked in the kitchen or on the barbecue.
- Confit duck and smoked duck breast salad with endive, bacon, hazelnuts and orange.
- Twice cooked (grilled and poached in olive oil) baby abalone with gremolata.
- Pig on a spit pork sliders with apple slaw.
- Roasted hindquarter of beef with herb mustard crust and cos and egg salad with classic dressing.
- Spit roasted lamb on a bed of chickpea and tomato salad, topped with hummus and mint salsa.
- Snapper with daikon dressing, shallots and ginger.
- Grilled octopus with romesco sauce.
Go to the source
Things were more subdued in cooking class the following day, partly due to the effects of the night before but mostly because that’s how things roll with Kate Sumner. Kate established Kangaroo Island Source to connect people with the foods of the Kangaroo Island region. She specialises in gourmet food production and catering, offering cooking classes and demonstrations to suit individual needs and to showcase the exceptional KI produce. She will even cater for you in your holiday home — of which there are many available for rent on the island. She herself is the essense of KI, warm, natural, down- to-earth — nothing is too much trouble. Our class of 25 was split into teams, each taking charge of a different dish. Kate moved amoung us explaining techniques and ingredients and sharing lots of tricks and popping out to her extensive garden for supplies when required. Each dish was shared over a glass of wine around a large table on her balcony overlooking the sea. We made Trinity oysters with smoked fish, Beef carpaccio with fresh horseradish and samphire, goose liver parfait with crusty bread, ravioli with pumpkin and egg yolk, Middle Eastern lamb and eggplant and loukoumades (Greek donuts) with organic honey, all using that outstanding local produce.
Trinity oysters with smoked fish
These oysters are a favourite of Kate’s from her days eating at Trinity restaurant in Melbourne. They are decadent and divine and seemed to please even those who don’t like oysters. We used Kangaroo Island oysters but I think they’ll work well with our Bluffies too.
12 oysters on the shell
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100g hot smoked salmon
6 large Australian prawns, roughly chopped
Fish roe and chives for garnish
1. Heat the oven grill to the hottest setting. Mix the garlic, butter and prawns and put a teaspoon on to each oyster.
2. Cook under the grill until butter is sizzling.
3. Top each oyster with some smoked salmon, chives and salmon roe to serve.
Lap of luxury
Mmmm. Just when you think things can’t get any better you arrive at Southern Ocean Lodge. This luxury eco lodge is delicately perched on a cliff overlooking the Southern Ocean, its national park environs providing guests with a very special coastal wilderness hideaway. Managers Alison and James are the perfect Aussie hosts and their team had me relaxed and at home within seconds. There’s a lot that is special about SOL where everything is included in your room rate, so once you are here it’s relax and just enjoy the outstanding care and attention and food and wine. It’s the little things that say so much — a wee sandwich on arrival with a glass of champgane, freshly-baked lamingtons in the room to say welcome, a bar that is open to help yourself to whatever you like at any time and a jar of Kangaroo Island pure ligurian organic honey (KI is home to the world’s only remaining pure strain of the Ligurian honeybee) to say farewell or ‘hooroo’ in Aussie. There was also a packed lunch to take with me on the hour’s drive to the airport because I was leaving just before lunch and they didn’t want to see me go hungry! In between all these treatsc ame breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked by chef Tim Bourke and his team. The menu focuses on local KI produce and Tim explained how they like to create their dishes by focusing on one ingredient, whether it’s the yoghurt or the seafood, with the dish evolving from there. They follow the “if it grows together it goes together” rule and are blessed with an abundance of wild foods on the island that they pick themselves (samphire, wild spinach, wild rosemary, etc).
At dinner, the first bite of made-in-house bread told me I was in for something special. The menu changes daily and offers a choice of two starters, mains and desserts. There was an amuse-bouche of trevally tartare that was finely diced and served with tiny balls of apple, cucumber juice, labneh, lemon myrtle and whey. I followed this with a salad of chargrilled locally grown organic brassicas, smoked yoghurt, nasturtiums and rye. It was a brave dish that tasted out of this world. Tim certainly knows his vegetables, and his grill, giving them just the right amount of char to make them excitingly fragrant. See how at right.
Next up was a roasted fillet of Coorong black angus beef which had also received a smoky char. Island horseradish had been grated over the top with smoked bone marrow and roasted garlic making an unctuous sauce.
Come dessert I asked my waiter if I could make a strange request, to which he replied “go on test me” with a glint in his eye that said “nothing is too much trouble for us you know”. I really wanted to try the second starter — a saute of South Australian mushrooms with a rosemary custard, walnuts and pickled seaspray. I am so glad I did, and that I made another strange request to have the dessert wine with it. The Moorooroopark dolce far niente is a late havest semillon from the Barossa Valley that to my (strange perhaps?) palate was a fine match. When I declined dessert on my second night the French waiter, who knew more about New Zealand than I do, said “oh, but Jo, tonight we have the best dessert ever, you must try, just a little? Yes?” Out came a petite portion of KI ligurian honey ice cream, chamomile meringues, frozen milk and bee pollen. Tres, tres bon!
You get the picture? It’s food-lovers’ paradise — and it’s an experience I plan to have more than once in this lifetime.
Salad of chargrilled brassica
1. Blanch a mixture of seasonal brassicas (savoy cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, cavolo nero) in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes until tender. Refresh in iced water and drain on paper towels to remove all water.
2. Heat a barbecue or chargrill plate and toast some rye bread then tear into little chunks.
3. Quickly grill brassicas until slightly charred then toss them in a bowl with smoked yoghurt (at the lodge they smoke their yoghurt over local red gum chips but to achieve a smoked yoghurt at home Tim says stir a couple of tablespoons of liquid smoke into 250g sheep’s milk yoghurt.)
4. To serve place some silken tofu on a plate (at the lodge they use a homemade fresh cheese Tim says is best replaced with tofu), arrange brassicas over and around the tofu, throw on a couple of pieces of toasted rye and garnish with a few nasturtiums.
Find out more at tourkangarooisland.com.au/kifeastival, kangarooislandsource.com.au and southernoceanlodge.com.au.
Coach transfers from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island and ferry transfers to the island are available through Sealink: sealink.com.au.
To create your perfect South Australia holiday visit southaustralia.co.nz.