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ATFT had his first Tasting Australia in Adelaide.

Tasting Australia is where food and wine media and celebrity chefs from across Australia and around the world to come out and play. It is an eight day celebration of food and wine in the city of churches, Adelaide and South Australia. This year there was over 120 leading food and wine media and celebrity chefs took part in the event. Tasting Australia was held on 29 April – 6 May 2010 this year and during these eight days, the city of Adelaide were buzzing with cooking demonstrations, classes and debates to also travelling around South Australia’s regions to sample some world-class food and wine.

Helen and I were very lucky to be invited to attend Tasting Australia, organised by the lovely Gaynor from PEPR to let us have the opportunity spending a whole week in South Australia, tasting great food and rubbing shoulders with the celebrity chefs whom we’d have never imagined to meet in real life!

The whole experience is a little surreal at first especially when we are the only two food bloggers who got invited to the event. But it didn’t take long for us to realise that we are actually sharing a conversation with Ben O’Donoghue who is telling us how he, Darren Simpson and Paul Rankin got kicked out from a strip club the night before; Manu Feildel is miming right in front of us and “everybody loves” Poh is friendly as always but moaning about her sore feet after spending whole evening standing and walking in high heels.

But first, the event kicked off with a media launch and luncheon at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.

Santos Museum of Economy Botany

We join a group of food and fine media for a morning tour of the central market before landed here at the botanic gardens. If you have never been to Adelaide, then you must put both the central market and the botanic gardens in your must do list. The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide is comprised of three botanic gardens, Adelaide, Mount Lofty and Wittunga, have been providing visitors with an exceptional range of cultural, recreational, educational and scientific facilities which enhance people’s enjoyment and understanding of the plant world for over 140 years.

I have visited these gardens before when I was in Adelaide a few years back, but this is my first time to check out Santos Museum of Economic Botany. After a year long of restoration, the museum is finally opened to public in 2009. It feels like walking into a classic encyclopedia filled with illustrations of plants, leaves, seeds except they are in 3D, neatly displayed behind the glass cabinets.

I feel like I was a kid again rediscovering the nature, everything is unique and interesting, mind you dinosaurs still fascinates me to this day. Some of the plants and vegetables on displayed are snap frozen but surprisingly the majority artefacts are actually hand-crafted replicates made in Germany. The most impressive displays will have to be the collection of different types of apples and pears. The craftsmanship is remarkable, every single apple and pear are so lively with amazing details, even down to some fine detailed blemishes on the skins.

As this museum just re-opened last year, so many people still haven’t heard about it yet and our guide told us that they only have roughly around 3,000 – 6,000 visitors per month which is disappointingly low. If you are in Adelaide next time, the Santos Museum of Economy Botany is definitely worth to check out.

Tasting Australia Media Launch

We walk out of the museum just in time for the opening speech by event director, Ian Parmenter. The biannual Tasting Australia event is getting bigger and better, attracts even more world-renowned celebrity chefs such as the legendary Antonio Carluccio, Antony Worrall Thompson, Paul Rankin and Rosemary Shrager who is famous for her appearance in “Ladette to Lady” reality TV show, to join in for the event.

We wrap up the media launch with a quick cooking demonstration by the scientific chef Cole Thomas, who is renowned for his scientific approach to cuisine. It is the magic show in the culinary scene, liquid nitrogen is carefully poured from a big tank into a glass bowl and the table is instantly covered in low flowing misty white fog. A spoonful of chocolate mousse is piped onto a spoon slowly dropped into the liquid nitrogen, it bubbles and freezes almost instantly to create a hard solid block of chocolate ice cream. It is always fun to watch.

Tasting Australia Media Luncheon

After the official launch, we are all ushered and get ready for the media luncheon at the Botanic Gardens Restaurant. The restaurant is set inside a heritage rotunda overlooking the main lake inside the botanic garden. Everything inside is in an elegant shades of white, from the frame structures, crisp table linen, and even also the modern contemporary dining chairs.

Botanic Gardens Restaurant doesn’t really have a chef or its own kitchen as per se, our lunch today is actually catered by Blanco Catering, who looks after all the catering for functions and events at the Gardens. Needless to say, all the dishes they have prepared will be showcasing some of the best local fresh produce available, with matching wine from you guessed it, South Australia of course.

For starter, we are presented with mushroom crostini and pumpkin and parmesan arancini. A perfect egg-shaped spoonful of mixed mushrooms is aromatic, balanced on a thin slice of crostini with an amazing earth-shattering crunch. But it is the pumpkin and parmesan arancini that has won me over, awkwardly served by waitress inside a long yard beer glass. The tiny golden snitch is so crispy on the outside while inside is still piping hot with soft pumpkin risotto and parmesan. It is so good, I simply couldn’t resist and go for another one.

The entree is a communal platter of buffalo mozzarella with slow roasted tomato and baby basil salad, infused with a subtle hint of truffle oil, slices of San Danielle prosciutto simply can’t escape my quick fingers, goes so well with the grissini sticks on the table. And the baby octopus salad is tangy with a healthy dose of lime juice, definitely opens up my appetite and ready for the main.

There are not just media crowd at the luncheon, but also a few celebrity chefs including Rosemary Shrager, Ian Parmenter and Paul Rankin are there to join us. And lucky for us, we have the diva wedding celebrant and celebrity chef, Dorinda Hafner to join us at our table, I simply couldn’t ask for a better dining companion. Her outgoing, larger than life personality and wicked sense of humour keeps us all entertained. She shares her highly dangerous “Viagra Oysters” recipe, and flashing us a business card of her personal trainer, with a photo a half naked muscly man posing seductively who goes by the name, ‘Casanova’ – the secret weapon of her exercise regime that makes her shed 20kgs within 8 months. Seriously I haven’t laugh so hard for a long time.

For the main, we are served with a generous portion of braised beef cheek in red wine served with porcini and parmesan soft polenta and roasted baby carrots, broccolini on the side. The fatty beef cheek is so tender and soft, it simply falls apart. It is huge and not many of us at our table can finish the dish.

The dessert is a sickening sweet ginger, date and mascarpone semifreddo with fresh willabrand fig and scorched almond. It is way too sweet for my palate but managed to salvage all the juicy figs underneath.

Before we know it, we are all being called back to our coaches and ready to head back to our hotel for a quick rest, until we all meet again for our next meal…

[A Table For Two attended Tasting Australia as media guest of the festival, courtesy of Tasting Australia and South Australia Tourism]