The 10-day culinary blowout that is Tasting Australia has become one of the country's most ambitious food events (it has its own airline, for a start) with drinking and dining shindigs across South Australia. The festival returns to Adelaide and its food and wine regions next month and 2020's line-up is bigger than ever, with more than 140 events programmed between March 27 and April 5.
The jamboree celebrates South Australian ingredients as much as the world-class chefs cooking them, which is hardly surprising with festival director Simon Bryant at the helm.
The hands-on chef, best know for his appearances alongside Maggie Beer on the ABC TV series The Cook and the Chef, is an unflagging champion of produce and producers. When we call he's been curing geese and dry-ageing red meat for the hot-ticket Glasshouse Kitchen dinners. Bryant starts talking with suppliers months in advance to draft menus based on what's available. But this season is unlike any before it. "The [climate] volatility has affected us," he says. "I had to buy a heap of pheasants and partridges after the fires in Kangaroo Island because the [farmer] couldn't feed them. But that's good … you don't just wait passively for the chefs to say 'I want', you push what needs to be pushed for the state."
Beyond the premium Glasshouse dinners, the festival encompasses regional dining experiences, masterclasses and an opening weekend party with more than 30 drink producers. Basically, there's an event to suit every palate. Here's the best of it.
Tasting Australia's luxe charter flights up the ante this year with trips taking off from Melbourne and Brisbane for the first time. The former will get you breakfast in the air before a drive from Adelaide to Yangarra Estate, a biodynamic vineyard in the McLaren Vale dedicated to southern Rhone varietals. Taste wines against a backdrop of vines, native bushland and Yangarra's luxury homestead before a four-course lunch by chefs Darren Robertson (Three Blue Ducks) and Will Meyrick (Sarong Bali, Mama San Bali) at the beachfront Star of Greece.
The Brisbane to Adelaide itinerary will start with a champagne breakfast in the sky before a drive to McLaren Vale winery and restaurant Coriole where you'll be treated to lunch by Marco Pierre White, Africola's Duncan Welgemoed and Gather at Coriole chef Tom Tilbury (expect macaroni with local shellfish, spit-roasted whole-pig porchetta, and white anchovy with "hellfire oil"). As if that roll call wasn't enough, you'll also be joined by the president of Pol Roger. The fun continues at the weird and wacky Willy Wonka's factory of a cellar door, the towering five-storey d'Arenberg Cube.
With the departure of former festival programming director Jock Zonfrillo, who played a key role in attracting Michelin star chefs and World's 50 Best alumni to the festival, Bryant has thrown to six guest chefs to curate the Glasshouse Kitchen: a series of premium dinners in the festival's glass-walled showpiece restaurant.
The chefs in question – Belles Hot Chicken founder Morgan McGlone, pioneering local food legend Cheong Liew, Sparkke at the Whitmore's Emma McCaskill, Shobosho's Adam Liston, The Salopian Inn's Karena Armstrong and Botanic Gardens Restaurant's Paul Baker – have selected fellow chefs who have shaped their cooking. "Jock brought [the program] up to a whole new level. He had this rock star network … but this year we've got a very personal sort of programming," says Bryant. "I said [to them] it's got to mean something to you, it can't just be, 'I want this guy to come because he's got three stars', it's got to resonate with you. So they've all got a relationship – either they've trained under them or worked beside them."
McCaskill and Baker's dinners have sold out, but you can still snap up a ticket to the others. The visiting chefs include Heidi Bjerkan, of Michelin-starred Norwegian restaurant Credo, and Shohei Yasuda, of Tokyo restaurant Kabi, alongside homeground heroes Victor Liong, Dan Hong, Aaron Turner, Raymond Capaldi, Alanna Sapwell, O Tama Carey, Mark Best, Philippe Mouchel, Tim Pak Poy, Nathan Sasi and Max Sharrad.
McGlone makes another appearance, this time with his Belles cap on, at the festival's opening weekend party. About 30 producers of wine, beer and spirits (including Pirate Life, Starward Whisky, KI Spirits, Adelaide Hills Distillery and more) will descend on the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Adelaide's CBD for a rollicking good time backed by southern-style snacks (think Nashville hot chicken wings, sliders and ribs).
If you're looking for a different kind of Tasting Australia experience, this is your stop. The out-of-the-box journey on a 20-seat minibus will feature natural wine, learnings and good times with some of the state's most interesting minds as your riding buddies. Digging deeper than your average wine event, the four-hour jaunt through the city and Adelaide Hills will feature talks by winemaker Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons), John Carty (Head of Humanities at the SA Museum) and Kaurna Elder Uncle Tamaru, with snacks by former Orana chef Shannon Fleming.
Always quick to sell out, Alpha Box & Dice's A-Z tasting has grown even bigger this year, with more than 50 drops from its catalogue of wines available to sample at its McLaren Vale cellar door. Taste Old-World styles in a low-key shed (complete with comfy mismatched armchairs) before sprawling out on the grass armed with a bottle and eats by star chef Jessie Spiby (My Grandma Ben). There'll be live music and "AB&DJs" so expect a party, kicking off with a glass of prosecco on arrival.
East End Cellars Masterclasses
Beverage director Nick Stock has amplified the drinks component this year, with more beverage events than ever before. "It's epic," says Bryant. "Nick is a freak of nature – his palate is one thing, and his knowledge of micro regions and wineries is backed up with that palate and his network. His relentless travel has given us access to the most incredible beverage people."
The beating heart of the drinks program is the East End Cellars Masterclasses, which take place in the festival hub, Town Square. The 26 classes cover established and new-school wines, craft gin, whisky, sake, beer and more. Highlights include the Nebbiolo Symposium, which will feature visiting winemakers from Italy alongside local nebbiolo champion Steve Pannell (S.C. Pannell Wines); a blind chardonnay tasting with 12 illustrious wines to sample from France, Australia and beyond; and a sake class featuring Japan's rarest and most exquisite sakes presented by award-winning sommelier Tim Watkins (Automata).
"It's not all stuffy," says Bryant. "We're doing Krug, and I'm gonna do toasted sandwiches with it. I love that play. That you can do the best things but you can do them in a cheeky fun way and they don't have to be thousands of dollars. There's a lot of programming like that."