Slow food starts conversation

Cate RocchiCountryman

Well, those women at Slow Food Avon Valley have done it again. Another terrific event, this time in Northam, with celebrity chef and food advocate Don Hancey and Liberal politician Christian Porter enlisted to entertain the punters.

Having met some of the terrific Slow Food people at a recent long table lunch in Subiaco, these passionate foodies, farmers and organisers are cleverly crafting an image of foodie heaven for the Avon Valley.

This time the group has been the driving force behind a Food Conversation at the Avon Valley Gourmet Food and Wine Festival, an event aimed at putting the area on the map as a gastronomic destination and home of a host of farmers producing top-notch tucker.

While in conversation, Mr Hancey cooked up a feast for the big crowd at the Northam Recreation Centre, with the help of Mr Porter, a former State treasurer. The men braised fish and meat from Linley Valley pork with caper berries (from Amberfield, of Toodyay) and pickled walnuts (from Pretzel Vineyards, of Manjimup) - and scores of people had a taste.

Anthea Brown, who lives on a property 13km north-east of Northam called Baillee and is behind the Macabee Estate Dorper brand, helped to source a harvest table with another Slow Food volunteer, Elizabeth Brennan.

The Food Conversations gave an insight into the food journeys of the local produce and how the Slow Food philosophy of 'good, clean, fair' travels from gate to plate.

"It is important to make that connection between what is on your plate and the person behind the plate," Ms Brennan said.

Ms Brown spoke about Dorpers, which began to be imported from South Africa in the late 1990s. She said the breed's meat was moist, tender and flavoursome.

After chopping, stirring and handing out food to the audience, Mr Porter admitted the day out was not a difficult political function. A well-known political figure in the State, Mr Porter quit State Parliament last year and is running for the Federal seat of Pearce, which includes the town of Northam. "It's much better than question time," he said after the function.

"The produce on display is fantastic and the community of the Avon Valley has got up and helped themselves. Government can help out, and they do, but when it has come from the community, it is always the best result."

Mr Porter said chefs who promoted rural producers were marketing "gold" and he was impressed with the event's organisation.

"Functions like this are about the community driving the promotion of their own produce," he said. "They can come to government to get assistance, but it is the community that puts all this together."

When asked how he saw government input in the long-term view of agriculture, Mr Porter said: "I think it is for the communities and the producers to come to government with their ideas.

"Government isn't great about generating the initial ideas, about how to assist, it is the community that have to get to together and bring fresh ideas and concepts to government. For example, the Government chipped in to make sure the Margaret River Food and Wine Festival happened, but it was the community that drove it.

"With new people coming into this area and old producers doing things differently, you have got quite a fantastic mix, and I think it is a wonderful thing."

Also on hand to turn the meat was Petty Officer Paul Graham, of the Royal Australian Navy, who was promoting The Cooks & Chefs Exchange Program.

"We share and learn form each other and get to experience new, innovative and sometimes enlightening ways of cooking items," he said.

Mr Hancey believes he has an obligation to promote local food producers. It is such hard work producing top-quality food and their passion inspires chefs like me, he said. "I just love the way the general public has an awareness of buying local and how that supports their community - never before have farmers on the land being doing it so tough and this support is vital."

Mr Hancey is a seasoned entertainer and has a long history of local food advocacy, going back to being a co-founder of the Margaret River Regional Producers group in the late 1980s.

The Margaret River Markets originated from that group, he said.

In many ways Mr Hancey said he was witnessing a revival of old fashioned values.

"We are all sick of going to the shops to buy what looks like a tomato, but has no taste," he said.

"That is where farmer's markets with integrity behind them are giving customers real flavour."

So it's in your interest to seek out good tucker. Don't just be lazy and grab a supermarket trolley, sniff out your next fabulous local produce event.

Previous Avon Valley Gourmet Food and Wine Festivals were held in York.

While the Food Conversation was promoted and organised by Slow Food, the festival was coordinated by Tanya Richardson, Avon Events & Marketing.

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