The landscape for food festivals, as with live events generally has been precarious of late. The inaugural WA Good Food Guide, Truffles Unearthed content and event series showed us that the dining public are hungry not just for food events and a sense of normality in strained times, but also to support the state’s primary producers and our hospitality stars. It’s against this backdrop that the Gascoyne Food Festival returns; showcasing this sub-tropical northern food bowl.

Paul Iskov chef-owner of itinerant dining experience Fervor kicks off the festival on 7th August with chef Sophie Budd for an evening at Bentwaters Plantations. Iskov’s menu is full of indigenous ingredients collected with the assistance of local cultural custodians from the ABC (Aboriginal Biodiversity Conservation) Foundation, while Budd raves about the chance to come back to a favourite Carnarvon ingredient: black sapote.

“I love all of it,” says Young George chef-owner Melissa Palinkas of the produce she encounters each year.

“It’s more that I’m excited about the producer list I get; trying something different every year, whether it be seafood from Peter Jecks [Abacus Fisheries], veg from the Yelash family or goat from Chrissy [Chris Higham of Mundillya Homestead]. Last year I did the Spanish mackerel with an Indian take.”

Palinkas returns in September for her fourth year as part of the lineup at the Long Table Lunch on the banks of the Gascoyne River in Carnarvon. Cooking alongside Caroline Taylor and Sophie Budd, Palinkas says that she’s unsure what her produce pick will be this year but that there’s sure to be an element of highlighting food waste; a key tenet for Young George and the soon to open Ethos Deli and Dining Room.

Food festivals can sometimes be seen as an indulgence but Palinkas points to the positive effect the Gascoyne Food Festival as had for her as a chef; fostering a relationship with the region’s producers. “I knew about the Gascoyne but it was when [chef] Stuart Laws got me involved, because he knew how passionate I was about local seasonal produce, that I got here and out on the farm produce tours, met farmers, and went to the fisheries, saw plantations and connected with the actual food.”

“The first time I went to see Peter I obviously love that whole thing around waste and he was showing me how they have a filleting machine for the snapper but as it goes through it leaves a lot of meat on the carcass. He sold those snapper frames, actually exporting to China, and my ears pricked up. I’ve got to have them. I made them into ribs taking the tail end off and then saw the middle so they are racks. Because the bones are so thick you don’t get any fine bones. I just grill them and serve with dressing over the top. A hundred percent they would be seen as waste here. The thing that I like about Peter is that he has found a use for every single part of his fish and his crabs.”

With events likely to be added to the schedule over coming weeks, current highlights include Festa Della Donna on August 15th, a seven-course lunch at Carnarvon Yacht Club with local chef Valeria Lucchitto, and Island Life kicking off on 17th September for 5 days on Dirk Hartog Island. George Cooper of Margaret River’s Tiller Dining and Russell Blaikie of Highgate’s Must Wine Bar head back to WA’s largest island for a rugged programme of dining and adventuring; an opportunity to snorkel, swim and fish. Discovering the rich indigenous history of the Nhanda and Malgana people; foraging for native produce with cultural custodian, Darren “Capes” Capewell of Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Adventures, is just one unforgettable experience to be had during this year’s Gascoyne Food Festival.

Find more information on the Gascoyne Food Festival here

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