Fasten your seat belts for the return of Tasting Australia

Paul Carmichael (left) and Darren Robertson star in this year's Tasting Australia festival in South Australia.
Paul Carmichael (left) and Darren Robertson star in this year's Tasting Australia festival in South Australia. Photo: Supplied

Tasting Australia returns with private flights, one-off dining experiences, jura and sake tastings, and a festival of sausage in bread.

One of the many symptoms of COVID-19 has been a quiet reinvention of the hospitality industry. Star chefs have swapped their acclaimed restaurants for food-delivery services, pop-up kitchens and greener pastures in regional and rural towns. Luckily for diners at this year's Tasting Australia, some of our best will don their chefs' whites once more for a series of one-off dining experiences across South Australia.

The esteemed food and drink festival returns from April 30 to May 9, after postponing and then cancelling its 2020 event, starring a number of chefs with no fixed address. Analiese Gregory (ex-Franklin), Matt Stone (ex-Oakridge), Alanna Sapwell (ex-Arc Dining), Emma McCaskill (ex-Sparkke at the Whitmore), Jake Kellie (ex-Burnt Ends), Paul Baker (ex-Botanic Gardens Restaurant) and Paul Carmichael – who announced the imminent closure of Momofuku Seiobo last month – will grace the program alongside game-changing Aussie chefs Cheong Liew and Christine Manfield as well as Mark LaBrooy and Andy Allen (both of Three Blue Ducks), Mat Lindsay (Ester, Poly), Louis Tikaram (Stanley), Palisa Anderson (Chat Thai) and Morgan McGlone (Belles Hot Chicken).

A daytrip to Coffin Bay, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, is one of the highlights of this year's festival program.
A daytrip to Coffin Bay, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, is one of the highlights of this year's festival program. Photo: Supplied

The rock star line-up is the work of this year's food curator (and co-owner of Three Blue Ducks) Darren Robertson, who has a Rolodex of top talent at his disposal.

"I'm not from Adelaide. I'm not even a bloody Australian," says the UK-born chef. "I'm a blow-in. But I love our industry and I chat to a lot of people often about what's going on, be it on our shores or overseas. When you look at who we've got to play with [here], it's nuts. The amount of globally recognised chefs [in Australia] now across the spectrum … in casual restaurants and cafes and fine dining … It makes our job a lot easier, because there's so much to choose from."

The 2021 program caters to every wallet and palate, from exclusive day trips to Coffin Bay and Kangaroo Island (via the festival's very own Tasting Australia Airlines) to the democratic and free Festival of Sausage in Bread, which does what it says on the label – celebrating and serving the banger in all forms, from German bratwursts, American hot dogs and Serbian cevapcici to Argentinian choripan, South African boerewors and Thai sai ua.

"It's those once-in-a-lifetime experiences," says Robertson. "It's pop-up, it's in random locations with maybe three chefs that have never cooked with each other before and the sort of chemistry that evokes – that's why we do it."

Some of the festival's flagship events, including the Farm Gate Lunch at Yalumba House, led by Robertson and Allen, and the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta with chef Alejandro Huerta (of Sydney's Chica Bonita) at Pirate Life Brewing, have already sold out, but there are still plenty of tickets worth getting your hands on. Here are the best of them.

Town Square Kitchen

The hot-ticket Town Square Kitchen is the COVID-safe evolution of previous years' Glasshouse Kitchen – and the home base for the stars of the festival. At Seed and Soil, Momofuku Seiobo's Paul Carmichael, Three Blue Ducks' Mark LaBrooy and award-winning South Australian chef Kane Pollard of SkyCity's Sol Bar and Restaurant will unite for a plant-based feast with the freshest seasonal produce. On the flipside is Mayura Station rare cuts, putting world-class wagyu front and centre with Analiese Gregory, meat master Jake Kellie and Mayura Station's Mark Wright. Carmichael is also cooking at The World's Table alongside Cheong Liew, Mat Lindsay and Louis Tikaram. LaBrooy and Lindsay will also appear at Wild alongside trailblazing chef and writer Christine Manfield.

 AFR Life & Leisure. Writer: Necia Wilden Story: Seafood Caption: Tasting Australia Festival Photo: SA Tourism

Take a day trip to regional beauties such as Coffin Bay. Photo: Ockert Le Roux/SA Tourism

Tasting Australia Airlines

Tasting Australia's luxury charter flights are genuine once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and this year they're embarking on day trips to regional beauties Coffin Bay and Kangaroo Island. While the former – a progressive lunch with Robertson, Emma McCaskill and Maggie Beer – has sold out, it's not too late for a sojourn to KI. The day will begin with bubbles and snacks in the air before lunch at Sunset Food and Wine – perched on a clifftop above American Beach – cooked by owner and executive chef Jack Ingram. He'll be joined by guest stars Palisa Anderson, Matt Stone and Africola's Duncan Welgemoed before a gin tasting at multi-award-winning distillery Kangaroo Island Spirits.

East End Cellars Masterclasses

The heart of the Tasting Australia drinks program is the East End Cellars Masterclasses, which returns in 2021 with 18 classes covering established and new-school wines, craft gin, whisky, sake, beer and more. "This year you'll find events uniting stars from across Australia and New Zealand," says drinks curator Nick Stock. "We'll honour local legends and travel beyond our shores to revel in treasures from wine regions including Burgundy, Barolo and the Jura. Sip premium champagne, embrace all things distilled or raise your glass to our craft brewers." Highlights include a blind grenache tasting that will pit the Barossa against McLaren Vale; a chardonnay tasting with 12 illustrious wines to sample from France, Australia and New Zealand; and a sake class featuring Japan's cult-status sakes presented by sommelier Tim Watkins (Black Market Sake) and Adelaide's cocktail king Ollie Margan (Maybe Mae).

Tasting Table

New to the drinks program this year is the Tasting Table, a series of intimate tastings taking place in Adelaide's favourite bars and restaurants. "Whether you want to taste traditional sake in Leigh Street's Shobosho, sip Krug at the Exeter front bar or taste the very best of New Zealand's pinot noir at Mother Vine, you'll find it at The Tasting Table," says Stock. Many have already sold out, but you can still score tickets to a Jura tasting at Adelaide's Parisian bistro Hey Jupiter; a wild sake tasting, featuring five rare, unpasteurised sakes, at Shobosho; and an eight-wine tasting of new-school shiraz and syrah at Leigh Street Wine Room.

Hill of Grace dinner at the Tasting Australia food festival in Adelaide.

The 2016 vintage of Henschke's Hill of Grace shiraz will be launched at an exclusive dinner. Photo: Duy Dash

Hill of Grace First Taste

Henschke's Hill of Grace might be Australia's most famous single-vineyard wine. The 2016 vintage of the Eden Valley shiraz will be launched at an exclusive dinner in Town Square paired with a four-course meal prepared by Christine Manfield, Alanna Sapwell and Paul Baker. A further two renowned Henschke releases, the 2016 Hill of Roses and 2016 Mount Edelstone, will also be on pour.

Monday Steak Night

Four of Australia's best chefs are coming together to elevate the humble pub steak. Morgan McGlone, Louis Tikaram, Alanna Sapwell and Luke Powell of LP's Quality Meats will be cooking counter meals at historic suburban pub The Oxford Hotel, using rare cuts and heritage breeds. One of the more accessible price points of the festival, the $50 ticket will also get you Pirate Life beer or a glass of Yalumba wine on arrival.