Gourmands rejoice - and pack a beanie - the Feast is about to begin.
MONA’s Dark Mofo, an annual binge of things that make you think, gasp, smirk, eat, dance and/or take off your clothes, is upon us.
The streets of Hobart are glowing red (or in the case of this year’s centrepiece, In The Hanging Gardens, green) and for two and a bit weeks the city is the definite place to be as the usual eclectic and hectic spread of cultcha rolls out.
The program is mainly a mystery to me – Panopticon III what?! Saeborg who?! - but the unknown is the best bit about this whole shadowy production.
What I do understand about Dark Mofo is that there are two weekends of fireside indulgence thrown into the mix, namely the Winter Feast, held at Princes Wharf 1. It’s obvious that many Tasmanians are now Feast pros (“Now, we’ve got to arrive by 4pm to avoid the queue and leave in time to see Dark Path. Dave and Jake, you’re in charge of finding a fire pit and logs. If we lose each other, meet at the toilets up the back. Wear thermals”) but Dark Mofo Food Curator Jo Cook is hoping to attract those perhaps not as familiar with food festivals, such as the youngsters.
“I've worked on this by developing the new kids program, Fire and Ice, which offers three activities based around native foods and runs for an hour every afternoon on opening. So while the kids are engaged in new experiences the light will fade and as they realise they're surrounded by the dark and loads of fire and faces they will have built a connection with place and hopefully feel welcomed into it.
“The kids will be able to taste things they may not have tried before and it's all free. We want kids to taste delicious foods and be engaged in the magic of how things are grown and come to be on their plates, whether it's shucking oysters, cooking warrener over small fires or smashing roast potatoes with native herbs and sea salt. I hope they love it”, Jo tells me amid a busy week of bump-in.
Oysters will be on the menu for grown-ups, too.
“Along with fresh shucked Pipe Clay Lagoon oysters, Bar Wa Izakaya will be serving oyster curry pan which is a crispy bread dumpling with oyster and Japanese curry filling, a specialty I heard about from Marcus and Rachel Vermey which they had on Miyajima, an island in Japan”, says Jo.
Jo says juxtaposing a whole lot of fire will be ice tabletops and bull kelp formations by Adam Turner of Antarctic Ice Co.
“We have tanned hides and skulls polished from the Scottish Highland cattle which some of us ate last year, 25 new stallholders, special release wine, barrel aged beer, whisky, gin, rum and vermouth, loads of tasty and clever vegan food and amazing desserts plus super exciting and delicious food that has come out of the cooking collaborations.”
Jo tells me that Thi Le, a chef who trained under Christine Manfield and Andrew McConnell and now co-owns Melbourne’s Anchovy, has teamed up with Formosa Bites (think great big squid on a stick) to dish up BBQ rice paper cooked over charcoal with eggs, mozzarella, spring onion and floss, while Dark Duck is flying in a 70 year-old Cantonese cooking guru to do four dishes: pancakes, spring rolls, san choi bao and noodles. Hobart’s Hamlet and Melbourne’s Miznon will be getting creative with cabbages.
The culinary genius seems to have escalated this year. Ferment queen Holly Davis and chef Megan Brown will be dishing up a banquet of umami: they’re hanging blue eye, silver wahoo, gurnard and octopus legs over the coals of the Heavy Metal Kitchen and complementing it with a tailored crop of veg from the Derwent Valley, some of which has been bathing in salt and oils for a transformative oomph.
Jo says she’s never met a chef who can make bull kelp taste delicious, until Holly came along. You see, the kelp will spend 36 hours being cooked and treated before it turns into, as Holly describes, “Seaweed Toffee.” This will be the final touch to a bowl of aforementioned fish, roasted rice conjee and pickled veg. Sign me up.
When Holly spoke to me from her Sydney home, she was fresh back from Daylesford in Victoria where she’d been cooking at a fermentation festival. Holly became enamoured with the subject, particularly in Japanese cuisine, at 14. Her house was overrun with pickling jars then and Holly says with a laugh that not much has changed. Holly is hoping fermentation fans will come and grill her on the matter, so don’t be shy - she’d love to hear about your SCOBY.
Butcher Troy Wheeler is madly prepping protein from some great Tassie properties - Leap Farm, Summerlea Farm, Long Name Farm - for his first Winter Feast. He says there won’t be much time for sleep ahead of his stint in the Feast’s Heavy Metal Kitchen, but is stoked to be part of a show that puts amazing local produce front and centre. Troy is co-owner of Melbourne’s Meatsmith, an emporium of specialty cuts. A female-fronted relative, Meat Mistress, opens in Hobart soon, and its team will join Troy this weekend in championing skilled butchery and considered cooking.
“We are going to use up whole beasts each day in different ways, and the progression of each menu will allow us to use all of our produce and have no waste. The whole beast feast is about using a whole cow over two courses of the night, a pot-au-feu first that will use all the bones, trimmings, and shoulder cuts into a rich comforting French braise, then using the rest of the beast for a late night steak sandwich with bone marrow and some pickled greens. After an afternoon of fun and celebrations, who doesn't love a delicious sandwich to soak up a few drinks?” Troy says.
Should the meat-averse steer clear? Troy suggests not.
“We will have a few items that will cater for vegetarians, and I encourage anyone to drop by if they would like to know more about how we are respectfully using everything on the whole beast.”
Elsewhere at the Feast you’ll find saffron arancini, salmon chowder in a Pigeon Whole bread bowl and steaming Indian soup. Taylor and Smith Distilling Co is partnering Dier Makr for cocktails and Two Tonne Tasmania will pour pinot from the tap alongside Ettie’s. I’m pumped for fried haggis bites and Peruvian charred chicken. I always fancy a warm brew by Tasmanian Juice Press, too. With a nip of gin, obviously.
So what’s Jo going to eat? Her hot tips include: goat barbacoa from Meatsmith, swede and carrot cakes from Kraken, Massimo Mele’s chorizo, Yeastie Beastie doughnuts, Valle Nella Bocca's ricotta and chestnut gnocchi, hush puppies from Fat Pig Farm, vegan mac'n’cheese sticks from Lauds Plant Based Foods, Hobart Whisky's Single Malt Winter Feast Special Release, and finally, Occio Amaro from Stefano Lubiana Wine.
I worked out who Saeborg is. She’s a Japanese artist who performs in latex rubber suits and has brought a giant pig and its piglets to Hobart. I’m intrigued. But still mostly excited to sip Hot Toddies by a fire drum at the Feast.
See you there.
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Click here for all the deets on Winter Feast, including stallholders, tickets and who’s doing what when. Then visit Dark Mofo to discover what other crazy shit is happening around the place – lots of it is free, yay.
Blog updated 17 June x