The Great Barrier Feast

Tetsuya Wakuda hosted Great Barrier Feast on Hamilton Island in March 2010

Tetsuya Wakuda hosted Great Barrier Feast on Hamilton Island in March 2010

For lovers of fine food it is nothing short of heaven. One of the country’s most celebrated chefs conducting masterclasses in the most idyllic location, for a food experience absolutely without equal. Welcome to the Great Barrier Feast Food & Wine Series. (Images: Andrea Francolini)

Composer Lionel Bart was pretty much right on the money when in Oliver, the stage version of Charles Dickens’ novel, he had the poorhouse boys sing “Food, glorious food! What is there more handsome?”

Of course they were dreaming of pease pudding and saveloy, hot sausage and mustard rather than a carpaccio of kingfish, confit of New Zealand scampi or seared fillet of veal with wasabi butter, but the obsession remains the same.

Indeed, the Hamilton Island Great Barrier Feast Food & Wine Series could easily have been called Food Glorious Food, given that so far this year it’s seen chefs as luminous as Tetsuya Wakuda and Bécasse’s Justin North strut their stuff both at qualia and the Walter Barda-designed Hamilton Island Yacht Club at the harbour entrance, opened to great acclaim by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh in August last year.

Though Tetsuya would probably bristle at the idea of being called a ‘chef’, he is, he insisted as he humbly held court on the stage of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club in March, a cook. A good one, naturally, but really just a self-taught cook. Albeit one who went from dishwasher at Sydney’s Fishwives in 1982 to one of the top chefs in the world in a mere 20 years.

Tetsuya’s Saturday morning masterclass,in which he swapped good-natured barbs with regular emcee Sarah Wilson (formerly of Masterchef fame) was one of the highlights of the first of this year’s feasts. During two hours on stage Tetsuya thrilled 120 assembled guests by taking questions from the floor while whipping up, among other things, a sublime Queensland spanner crab omelette. I would lay good money that sales of crab, cream and canned creamed corn (oh yes) shot through the roof in the following week.

Another highlight was watching ‘Tets’, as he became known over the weekend, rattling the pans that night in the kitchen via giant TV screens in qualia’s Long Pavilion restaurant. One moment we were ogling one of the world’s greatest restaurateurs flipping wagyu beef loin on a grill and, minutes later, that same beef was sitting on a plate in front of us. Food glorious food; does it ever come more handsome than that?

The Great Barrier Feast was first held on the island in 2002, the brainchild of the late Australian wine expert, Len Evans. The first feasts were annual events held every June and consisted of two days and three nights of dinners and masterclasses from some of Australia’s best chefs (and cooks). These included Gilbert Lau and Anthony Lui of Flower Drum restaurant in Melbourne, Cheong Liew, Head Chef at The Grange in Adelaide, Christine Manfield, Shannon Bennett, Curtis Stone, and Serge Dansereau of Sydney’s iconic Bathers Pavilion.

However, this year the format has changed to three separate gourmet weekends held throughout the year, each devoted to the food of a single chef. These weekends include a welcome dinner at qualia’s restaurant, courtesy of the resort’s Executive Chef Jane-Therese Mulry.

Justin North at The Hamilton Island Yacht Club during Great Barrier Feast - July 2010 (Photo: Andrea Francolini)

Justin North at The Hamilton Island Yacht Club during Great Barrier Feast - July 2010

Mulry is no mean chef herself; she was Marco Pierre White’s first female Head Chef when she worked in his London kitchens and her Iberico-wrapped veal fillet with ham hock and garden peas was a much talked about (on our table at least) hit at the inaugural degustation dinner in March.

The next day includes a masterchef class followed by a champagne lunch at Bommie, Hamilton Island Yacht Club’s stunning restaurant, which opened less than a year ago, looking out over the harbour and the sea to beautiful Dent Island. In the evening – possibly after a quick postprandial lie-down or a vigorous session in the gym, depending on your metabolism – it’s back to qualia for the main event: a TV dinner cooked by one of Australia’s top chefs. TV dinner? Well, sort of. It’s probably the only time it’s OK to eat food of such a high standard and watch the television as behind-the-scenes kitchen action is beamed into the restaurant via a live camera link-up. In July it was the turn of Justin North, whose modern-French restaurants Bécasse and Etch are among Sydney’s finest. North was named Chef of the Year, 2010 by GQ Magazine and Chef of the Year, 2009 by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

Tetsuya took 600kg of prepared food and several staff to Hamilton Island with him – and almost came unstuck as bad weather forced both to detour to the mainland and take the final ferry across to the island. North, on the other hand, went up a few days early and “started from scratch”.

“We went up on the Wednesday and prepped pretty much all day Thursday and Friday. The menu was a combination of a few Bécasse signature dishes plus a few new ones to give a cross-section of what we do.”

North, who visited Hamilton Island last year as a judge for the Vogue Entertaining+Travel Produce Awards, added:

Ben Shewry from Attica at qualia

Ben Shewry from Attica at qualia

“We also tried to make sure that things were organised so that there was enough time to spend quality time, good interactive time, with the guests, rather than being stuck in the kitchen the whole time. Mind you, that Saturday is a pretty busy day, what with the masterclass, the lunch for 120 people and the evening meal for about the same number. It’s a big day.”

Of the live TV link-up in the evening, North says it’s one of his favourite bits of that big day: “I do quite like that, to tell the truth … it’s good for guests to see what’s going on in the kitchen, to see things from the chef’s perspective.”

And last but not least let’s not forget that each of the degustation courses at the two dinners and the lunch are matched with wines and bubbly chosen by acclaimed wine writer, James Halliday.

The next Great Barrier Feast takes place 26-28th of November, 2010 and will feature the talents of Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne.

Luxury accommodation packages are being offered for the gourmet weekend. For more information email luxuryspecialist@hamiltonisland.com.au, or telephone 1300 780 959. The four gourmet events – the Welcome Dinner, the Electrolux Masterclass, the Veuve Clicquot Lunch and the Showpiece Dinner – can all be booked separately. Visit www.hamiltonisland.com.au/feast/ for full details.


The Above Article was originally published in the August 2010 Edition of REEF Magazine