Best of the Fest: our favourite moments of the 2019 Festival

Photo: Maggie Beer, Ben Shewry and Stephanie Alexander at River Graze (Daniel Mahon)

With March now over, you may be feeling a food and wine festival-shaped hole in your life. Or maybe you’re just going to the gym more. Either way, Melbourne’s favourite food festival now has another year under its belt and you (hopefully) have a whole swag of new and tasty memories to sustain you. 

At All The Chickens supported by Hennessy, we marvelled at the tasty things that chefs from Melbourne and abroad created with the humble bird, eating our way through tsukemen, huli-huli, white-cut, fried and stuffed chicken. We left Sarah Wilson’s Theatre of Ideas session vowing to use every last scrap of food and we swooned as Kate Reid and her number-one fan, Sam Sifton of The New York Times, were reunited to talk creativity and croissants. What about the adorable Stone family filling almost an entire row for Curtis Stone’s Masterclass demonstration on the Labour Day public holiday?

Then there were the dinners. The collaborations between local heroes and internatioanl talent for the Global Dining Series supported by Lavazza saw the likes of Peter Gilmore and Andrew McConnell, Khanh Nguyen and Jake Kellie, and Daniel Puskas and Phil Wood stand shoulder to shoulder. There was the night at Attica when Ben Shewry hung up his apron and let his team cook their own menu. There was the luxe-on-luxe collaboration between Jackalope with Vue de Monde. And who could forget The Eel Dinner, an illuminating and celebratory evening organised by Gunditjmara people, Richard Cornish, David Moyle and Max Allen that shone a light on 6,000-year old fish traps developed by the Gunditjmara in western Victoria.

Originally conceived as the closing event of the Festival (before The Village Feast was rescheduled), Street Party for Sisto was a fitting celebration of the life of Sisto Malaspina and Melbourne’s love of extraordinary hospitality. Hundreds filled the laneway of Crossley Street for an afternoon sundowner that Malaspina’s wife said echoed her husband’s lust for life. “Sisto loved a party,” she told The Age.

Here are some Festival highlights from our friends.

Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook, Hong Kong
"It was an incredible pleasure and honour to come to Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, and especially to cook at Flower Drum. I’ve always worshipped this restaurant from the outside; I never thought would be cooking from the inside. Never had I even dreamed to do something like this. We were incredibly well looked-after; the super hosts from MFWF made us felt welcome. We had a blast and hope to see you again soon."

Ben Shewry, Attica
My favourite moment of this year’s MFWF was selling hugs for donations to the Christchurch Victim Support fund at River Graze. This was put together by the Festival team at the last moment, supported by Attica operations manager Kylie Staddon (who also happens to be my girlfriend) as well as close mates Gary and Ash McBean of Gary’s Quality Meats.

"I was blown away by the kindness of strangers hugging and donating to the fund. Particularly touching was a donation of $150 from a young chef who later brought his mother back for another donation and a hug. And it was damn nice of Taco Truck to feed us too. All in all, it was a nice moment in what had been a pretty dark week with the news of the shootings in Christchurch.

Peter Gilmore, Quay and Bennelong, Sydney
“I loved the location of The House of Food and Wine – I liked coming out of the talks and demonstrations to a set-up where you could lounge around and enjoy some great bites and drinks from Melbourne’s best.”

Kate Reid, Lune Croissanterie
"To celebrate MFWF, Andrew McConnell wanted to design a dessert for Supernormal incorporating a bespoke Lune pastry. The Supernormal x Lune kouign-amann brought together the Breton pastry with caramel parfait, hazelnut, white chocolate and vanilla cream. I’ve felt incredibly proud for Lune to be on the menu at one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne during MFWF!"

Dan Hunter, Brae
"I could happily go another Joe Beef ice-cream from the guys at Sundae School right about now – with an upsize on the duck fat caramel, please."

Nicolai Norregaard, Restaurant Kadeau, Copenhagen
"We had such a great time and have been so well looked after. We had such a memorable lunch at Brae. Thanks so much. It’s been amazing."

Palisa Anderson, Boon Luck Farm and Chat Thai
"What did I love most about MFWF? Without doubt that would be the camaraderie among all the chefs – visiting and local. Because there are events spread out through the course of weeks everyone gets to attend at least one or two events that they are not participating in. I really loved our All The Chickens event with Paul [Carmichael], Morgy [McGlone], Matt [Abergel], Trisha [Greentree] and Thi [Le]. Everyone jumped into each other’s stalls, even during the prep, to help each other out and of course eat each other's food.

"Also Shannon Martinez's vegan taco's at the launch party were a favourite."

Dan Hong, Mr Wong
"Visiting Brae was a standout for me. One of the best dining experiences in the world. And it sparked the great debate on 'potato cake' or 'potato scallop'.

"I also loved the chicken event on the Friday night [All The Chickens]. Just a great group of chefs doing it."

Jo Barrett, Oakridge Estate
"Fromage a Trois was the perfect way to spend a Sunday. The event had a really chilled-out vibe. As well as the demos, I loved picnicking in the sunshine, listening to music, sipping on wine and enjoying all sorts of delicious cheeses."

Ardyn Bernoth, Good Food
"There were a few highlights but if I had to choose, I loved The Eel Dinner. This was such a polished, heartfelt dinner: expertly matched wines from local hero wineries, dishes by David Moyle that he drove seven hours in one day to locally source (including plucking apples from a roadside tree in Victoria's western districts) and the expert telling of a story of the Gunditjmara people by Damien Bell, with his partner in tale-recounting crime, Richard Cornish. Who knew a little chunk of Australia called Condah, a small dam laced with ancient Aboriginal eel traps and hut remnants, was vying for World Heritage listing? The night was history meets food with so much heart underscored by cultural significance."

Richard Cornish, food writer
"Two chefs. Two nights. Two floors. One Anglo Aussie now cooking in Singapore. One Vietnamese Aussie now cooking in Melbourne. Jake Kellie from Burnt Ends in Singapore and Khanh Nguyen from Sunda in Punch Lane (where the event was hosted). Both chefs drew from the vast and broad palette of herbs, spices, ingredients and techniques from across Asia. What united them was fire. Jake normally cooks over wood. Khanh cooks over charcoal. Khanh being the generous host bought ironbark over which they both cooked.

"The meal – hosted in the temporary restaurant space constructed of wood and scaffolding between Bar Saracen and the back of Longrain – showed how much deep respect both chefs have for the culture from which they cooked and, more subtly, the respect they have for each other as accomplished chefs. They alternated dishes, serving monkfish cheeks and kangaroo banh mi; sweetbreads and leatherwood honey, and spiced charred pigeon. You could not draw a line between the dishes. It was a free-form collaboration that intertwined their years of experience and their understanding of the core values of Asian cuisine and the Western dining audience’s understanding of it. Lacing the two performances together was the astute wine matches by Brad Hammond of The Hotel Windsor.

"This event personified a great MFWF event – it was greater than the sum of its parts and was one of those nights where you tell people, 'you had to be there'."

Michael Harden, food writer
"Loved the Sunda-Burnt Ends dinner to bits, mostly because it felt so well realised and the conversation on the plate between Jake Kellie and Khanh Nguyen was unforced, relaxed, intelligent and delicious. The snack onslaught at the beginning was a standout, with a special merit badge going to the little foie gras tarts. And, of course, the glorious pigeon and the cute-enough-to-kill-you fairy bread at the end with the puffed rice hundreds and thousands and gently sweet kaya toast.

"And can I make a predictably Melbourne mention of the weather? Could it have been any better for the al fresco House of Food and Wine? The balmy evening of the Kings of Quebec dinner by Joe Beef should receive a best supporting award."

Ellen Fraser, Broadsheet Melbourne
"Gippsland has really been turning it on of late when it comes to regional food and vino, but after bushfires devastated the area recently, The Village Feast almost never happened. When it did – albeit two weeks later and about 30 degrees colder – an influx of exports from the big smoke took over the tiny town of Jindivick, with Mamasita cooking campfire dinners, Matt Moran running the café, Shannon Martinez opening a greengrocer and Blackhearts & Sparrows in charge of a very boozy general store. Some of the locals were the most impressive, from Hogget Kitchen’s smokehouse to Gippsland Jersey’s milk bar. It was a frosty, hail-ravaged but delightful day, and I can’t wait to get back on my tractor and head out there again soon."