A Mehigan moment at Noosa Festival

Noosa's annual food and wine festival brings some celebrities to town, and the quality of produce is a delight for the senses.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, visits the sunshine state to check out the goings on at the Noosa Food & Wine Festival.

If it looks like I’m spending a lot of time in Queensland, you’d be right. I’m not complaining at all, in fact come winter here and considering the weather lately, I’m cooking up fantasies of living in the sunshine state. When I visit I just have to pack my summer clothes. Summer clothes! Can you believe that? Bliss…

Do you know how I like to start the day? With some food and shopping! Breakfast while we’re on the Sunshine Coast hinterland is at Elements, a cafe and shop in the pretty town of Montville in Queensland. The store features all sorts of goodies to buy so we spend a bit of time browsing before settling in for some breakfast.

I’m not really a big breakfast person and I should tell you that I have my breakfast prejudices. I don’t really eat muffins for breakfast because I think that really they’re just cake and eating cake for breakfast is a pretty quick way to add some weight to your frame and when you’re 5 foot 3 inches you can’t play around with that sort of thing. I also don’t drink Coke much – I think once or twice a year is all I drink so cola for breakfast is entirely strange for me. But today I’m trying the Boylan cola which has caught my eye as I do love the retro packaging. The cola is made with sugar cane and is actually imported from America but I can’t resist it and it is a nice slightly different version of Coke (although not really that different except for perhaps cola aficionados).
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I try Element’s specialty which is a moist banana and fig bread, lightly toasted and appealingly drenched in fragrant maple syrup and topped with slices of banana and a dusting of cinnamon. It’s very moreish and I do my best to resist knowing that we have a seafood feast coming up shortly. It is served with some whipped cream which is more an accompaniment that I think might go well in the afternoon, but perhaps some ricotta might be good for a breakfast.

I do a bit of shopping but we need to keep going as we’re scheduled for a little boat cruise to glimpse a preview of Noosa’s premier annual food event, the Noosa Audi Food & Wine Festival and to have a sneak peek of the seafood trail, one of the many events over the 3 day weekend from the 13th to the 15th of May.

Sadly I had to miss last year’s Noosa Festival because I was busy writing the book. In its eighth year it attracts about 20,000-25,000 people to the sunny beachside town. This was my first time arriving at Noosa. All I know about it is that food celebrities, including Donna Hay, love it here due in part to the beach and laid back atmosphere. Oh, and apparently Prue and Trude from Kath & Kim love it here too.

We board the Catalina where we are to have a lunch cooked by chefs Maurice Esposito, David Pugh and Hajime Horiguchi. Noosa has a long history with food and the key difference is that producers live a mere 5 minutes away from the main street so local produce is easily obtained. Jim Berardo who heads up the festival tells us of an influx of gentleman farmers from city areas who want to reconnect with nature after having demanding corporate jobs.

The key to the festival and why it attracts so many interstate visitors (45 per cent) is that chefs and food identities like Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan are not put up on a pedestal and people can easily talk and interact with them on the same level. Also, the World’s Best Dinner will be held for the first time, which will see seven of the world’s best chefs (according to the San Pellegrino list) flown over to cook for diners. These include chef Yoshihiro Narisawa who runs a restaurant "Les Creations de NARISAWA” with just 40 seats, but has a kitchen of 56 chefs!

Today we’re experiencing a sample of the seafood trail which Gary Mehigan is hosting (sold out sadly, as is the Matt Preston hosted Asian food trail). The plate is a four part assiette plate of the sea created by Wasabi restaurant’s Horiguchi. It features a Sydney rock oyster topped with a dashi jelly and hijiki - which is this strange little thing that I used to like eating when I lived in Japan. It is a browny black seaweed which is high in nutrients and fibre and my Japanese neighbour used to tell me that it was good for lush, thick hair. I did find that it was perhaps a bit too strong along with the dashi jelly, almost masking or competing with the oyster flavour. There is a Moooloolaba prawn which is well cooked with tobiko and kombu on top as well as small black caviar.

My favourite was the Mooloolababa tuna cooked "zuke” which is cured for a few hours in a soy and ginger sauce. It is topped with a sauce of edamame, soy and citrus as well as some edamame beans. The last piece on the plate is a Fremantle octopus, a species that lives on lobster (oh to be a Fremantle octopus!). There are two pieces of octopus, each with their own cooking style. The top piece was blanched and topped with bonito and tart umeboshi sauce and the bottom piece was tender and braised. I preferred the bottom piece as it was more tender, whilst the blanched piece was chewier.

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Before we get onto our mains, there was a speech from Alison and Jason from Spanner Crabs Noosa. They specialise in live spanner crab and he brings out an ale specimen for us to look at. During the seafood trail event people will learn how to choose, pick the crab for meat and participate in a spanner crab meat tasting. Sales have gone so well for them that business is up 30-40 per cent over the last 2 years which must make the 3am start and 3pm finish quite rewarding! It is a sustainable business and they fish to order because it is a live product.

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