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Tasting Australia...And It's Incredibly Delicious!

by Sharon Tyler Herbst

Start planning your trip to South Australia NOW because, as the Aussies would say, "Things are hotting up!" When word gets out about how absolutely delicious this area is (in every way) flights are going to be hard to come by.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that no one can throw a party like the Australians. And I should know because my husband Ron and I were lucky enough to attend an incredible event, Tasting Australia, hailed as "the world's biggest food festival." Held in the charming city of Adelaide (South Australia's capital), this weeklong biennial affair had everything from great food to blockbuster wines to the incomparable Australian hospitality. Now that's worth going around the world for!

Tasting Australia received broad international coverage by 15 television crews and over 150 media representatives. Attendees and participants included the world's top food and wine writers, photographers, chefs, TV chefs, cooking instructors, food, wine and beer producers and food lovers at large. We all happily descended on Adelaide and proceeded to pack a month of fine wining, dining and touring into a week. It was first-class, nonstop action from the moment we arrived to the grand finale event, with nary a complaint. What a way to go!

This second Tasting Australia festival was comprised of myriad food and wine events including Adelaide's outstanding Central Market tour, the Hilton/Advertiser Food and Wine Sessions (featuring celebrity chefs from around the world), the Michelin Australian Food and Wine Writers' Festival, the Jacob's Creek World Food Media Awards, The LifeStyle Channel's Australian Regional Culinary Competition at the Regency Hotel School (with teams of Australian chefs and apprentices competing for gold, silver and bronze medals), the City of Adelaide's Feast for the Senses and much, much more. Each day there were several tours to various outlying areas from Kangaroo Island to the Limestone Coast (known as the South East) to the various wine regions that surround the Adelaide area.

Of course, as dedicated enophiles and authors of The Wine Lover's Companion, Ron and I particularly enjoyed the wine-area tours. Throughout the week, groups of fellow wine lovers would travel by train, bus or car to various outlying viticultural areas including The Barossa, the Adelaide Hills and the Clare Valley. Our mission impossible (which we gladly chose to accept!) was to sniff, swirl and sip as many wines as was physically possible. Some of the strictly serious wine writers would sip and spit, a practice confounding to many, particularly those who happen to step into the path of an earthbound wine missile. (Fortunately, most of the winetastings were held outdoors, so lawns and meadows received the brunt of the mess.) Ron and I, however, are not "spitters," being of the mind that much of the enjoyment is in that delicious finish that can only be savored at that instant the wine begins to trickle down the throat. I think I'm glad to say that the non-spitters were in the majority, a conclusion derived from the extremely congenial mood on all the homebound journeys back to Adelaide.

Naturally, fine dining was a highlight of Tasting Australia and you can bet we sampled some of the best the area had to offer. Adelaide has a well-earned reputation as a wonderful restaurant city, and Ron and I found the food to be on a par with some of the world's finest. Australian cuisine is typically innovative and exciting. Chef Cheong Liew's world famous Grange Restaurant at the Hilton International, for example, features cutting-edge cuisine in an atmosphere of fine-dining. Red Ochre chef Andrew Fielke focuses on indigenous foods, creating tantalizing menus using ingredients with 40,000 year-old origins. In the end, I'd be hard-pressed to say we had a dining experience we didn't enjoy. For a vicarious "taste" of several of the outstanding Tasting Australia menus, click on Adelaide Restaurants. I promise you'll be salivating by the time you're through reading.
Tasting Australia's closing weekend featured the City of Adelaide's Feast for the Senses festival in scenic Botanic Park. This picturesque setting found people strolling among the impressive 100-year-old Moreton Bay fig trees, sampling first-rate Australian regional foods (such as perfectly prepared lamb, venison, kangaroo, scallops, oysters and shrimp), wines and beers from numerous stalls and tents grouped around the grounds. There were also many food and wine events including a waiters' race, a barbecue challenge (with teams comprised of a media celebrity, chef and home cook) and a petanque (lawn bowling) tournament with more than 56 local and national teams competing.
CNN was in town for Tasting Australia filming segments for a three-part series on Australia for their show Travel Now, hosted by well-known CNN personality, Carolyn O'Neil (with whom we dined one evening at the Bridgewater Mill). Carolyn's South Australian segment includes highlights from some of Adelaide's notable restaurants and its remarkable Central Market, a wine lover's tour of The Barossa and the wild beauty of Kangaroo Island.

The grand finale of Tasting Australia was the glitzy World Food Media Awards event celebrating the culinary world's finest in food and wine writing (books and columns), photography, TV, radio, CD-roms and internet websites. This glamorous black-tie event, sponsored by Jacob's Creek, was held in the beautifully decorated ballroom at the Hilton Adelaide. Everyone was dressed in their finest and ready for a party. And we didn't stop eating and drinking for three hours (see menus)! By the end of this celebrity-studded evening, some 40 "Ladles" (the awards) were presented in 14 categories (see winners). We left the ballroom feeling deliciously sated, both physically and emotionally, and just a bit sad that our week of bacchanalia had come to an end.

Of course an event as dazzling as Tasting Australia wouldn't be possible without a dedicated and passionate team at the helm. This one includes the incomparable Libia sisters, Marina and Annette, and is headed by the dynamic duo of Ian Parmenter and David Evans. Parmenter is the ebullient host of Consuming Passions, an immensely popular ABC-Australia cooking show seen in more than 15 countries around the world; Evans is executive producer of the show and Parmenter's business partner. Of the two, it's David Evans whom I know best, a friendship that began a year ago when he extended the welcoming hand of hospitality when Ron and I visited Perth. This warm, engaging man glows with enthusiasm as he talks about Tasting Australia and the culinary world in general. If you weren't a "foodie" before talking with David, you certainly would be afterwards.

The Tasting Australia event was designed to showcase South Australia's incredible panoply of gastronomic delights including produce, specialty foods, meat, fish, wines and culinary expertise. And it did that impressively. Everything about this million-dollar event-backed by the South Australia Tourism Commission and various government departments-was first class. Experiencing the incomparable Tasting Australia festival seduced me in a most delicious way, providing yet another bond with the incredible land of Oz.

Would I return to South Australia on my own, without a foodie event to lure me? The answer is unequivocal: "Yes, and I can't wait!"

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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