It’s only going to get bigger and better. That was the consensus among the foodie fraternity who turned out last Saturday for the inaugural Byron Bay Fine Food and Beverage Festival. Held in in the beachside parkland adjacent to Elements Resort and Spa, the festival was a gathering of some of Australia’s finest food and beverage producers alongside a showcase of our own region’s favourites.
The day began for respectable ‘eleven-sies’ which was good for those of us who had celebrated appropriately at the Festival’s warm up ‘Mixed Dozen Gala Dinner’ the night before. Held inside Elements resort, it was a fabulously fitting way to kick off the festivities. The food and beverage flowed from the get go, with grilled scampi and cheesy gougères for canapés and apéritifs from Cape Byron Distillery and Husk Distillers, before the 240 guests were seated for a six-course dinner prepared by 11 local chefs and the evening’s Guest Chef Neil Perry.
There were two dishes for each course matched with wines from the Festival’s wineries. It was impossible to choose a favourite dish and pairing but everyone had fun using their hands to eat Perry’s (Rockpool) Bo Saam – a lettuce leaf with slow cooked beef strips and kim chi dressing. Gavin Hughes’ (Byron at Byron) slow roasted organic salt bush lamb with dukkah and native mint sauce was falling off the bone and was a winner with Mark LeBrooy’s (Three Blue Ducks) rustic whole baked pumpkin, smoked labna, shaved macadamias, farm herbs and weeds while Katrina Kanetani’s (TOWN) rhubarb, mandarin and lemon mess with red garnet finger lime and Davidson plum powder was a beautiful balance of sweet and sour.
I was able to take a sneaky peak at the pass as dessert was being assembled. To watch the team of local chefs collaborate on one dish was so impressive. Coordinated by Sarah Swan from 100 Mile Table, they worked swiftly and calmly until the last plate was gone.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the dinner’s host with the most for the night – Jeremy Burn – also from 100 Mile Table. He kept us all entertained throughout the evening with live crosses to the kitchen and pass that were broadcast inside on cinema sized screens. There was hilarity and laughter and it was a great way to fill in those gaps between courses.
The hard working chefs and their staff were back again on Saturday to feed the Byron Bay Fine Food and Beverage Festival crowds. Each of the Chef’s restaurants had prepared a signature festival dish for the day. There was much debate among the foodies as to what was the ‘dish of the day’. While I didn’t get to enjoy Monique Guterres’ (Seaweed Cuisine) Iluka sardines nor Ben Devlin’s (Paper Daisy) grilled prawns, they were popular choices for many local foodies I caught up with.
Two dishes high on my list were the smoked lamb ribs from 100 Mile Table and the BBQ Bangalow sweet pork and prawn from FINs. The ‘dude food’ of the day award would have to go to Luca Ciano’s (Byron Bay Farmers’ Market) slow cooked pork belly panino. The churros from Katrina Kanetani (TOWN) were sensational as well. I am missing a whole bunch of dishes here but I just couldn’t try everything!
On the beverage side of the Festival there were the 12 wineries selling a selection of their best as well as Cape Byron Distillery, Husk Distillers, Stone and Wood and Byron Bay Wild Cider. The Bun Coffee Single Origin Bar was a great break out zone and haven from the wind chill and occasional showers.
For me, the Masterclasses were a highlight, and these were included in the entry ticket price of $20. We joined two different wine masterclasses – The Great South Australian Taste off with wines from the Barossa and Coonawarra regions, which was loads of fun, and the Cold Climate Elegance masterclass with Paracombe wines. Their 2016 Sparkling PinotNoir Chardonnay was a highlight for its delicate bubbles and soft flavours. The food masterclasses were popular and we thoroughly enjoyed the Proscuitto di Parma lesson with Chef Luca Ciano – including a tasting!
The Producers’ Marquee showcased a good range of gourmet goodies with free tasting samples to keep the crowds happy. Local favourites were there including Salumi Australia, Brookfarm and Nimbin Valley Dairy as well as newcomers like Church Farm, Byron Bay Mozzarella and The Bay Smokehouse. You could smell the camphor laurel at the Eco Chopping Boards stand and foodies could take home a signed Byron Bay cookbook for inspiration.
Live music played throughout the afternoon. I think this was one part of the Festival that could do with a rethink next year. There was plenty of grass and seating to enjoy the music but most people left around darkness which meant the main band – the Hombres – had a pretty small audience when they came on around 6pm. Maybe finishing the music line up earlier would be a fix for next year.
‘Congrats’ to Remy Tancred on launching another food festival in the region – a sister festival to Sample – but with more of a gourmet focus targeting food lovers from across the country much like the way the Noosa Food and Wine Festival has done in the past. I’m absolutely looking forward to next year’s Byron Bay Fine Food and Beverage Festival and I suspect tickets to the Gala Dinner are going to be hot property in 2018!
This article was written for the Australian Good Food Guide – a sponsor of the 2017 Byron Bay Fine Food and Beverage Festival.