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When chef Jack Stein joined his father Rick at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape festival last November, he knew he’d discovered something really special
Article by Jack Stein
I first heard of Margaret River in the 90s but it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally got to Western Australia. The whole place got under my skin. The wines were incredible, the food second to none and the locals wanted you to experience it all. I loved every second of it.
A few years later I heard of the Margaret River Gourmet Escape and my envy grew as chefs I knew appeared on the bill year after year. I knew that I needed to go and be a part of the incredible food scene that was growing there.
Last year I was invited to join my dad at the festival and I couldn’t hide my excitement. I knew it wasn’t going to be a holiday, it was going to be hard work but I didn’t care, I just wanted to be back there.
I could see straight away how much effort the local food industry, state government and Aboriginal community had put into the event. The weekend showed why food tourism is so beneficial for an area, especially when it’s done properly.
The hotels were full of food-lovers, vineyard restaurants all had the own events and there were even wild foraging trips happening in every corner of the region. It was a celebration of all things good about Western Australian food – what could be a better thing to celebrate?
I was stunned by the scale of it all. The organisation, the producers, the chefs, everyone involved just wanted to talk food, wine and exchange ideas over a seemingly bottomless glass of Leeuwin Estate wine.
The food inspiration wasn’t just limited to the festival venue. I visited my old sous chef Dan at The Watershed winery and it was really great to see an old colleague doing amazing things and understanding that what’s happening here is really unique. World-famous chefs join this buzzing community of food lovers and work with young apprentices throughout the festival – where else in the world do you get an experience that? Marco Pierre White, one of the most renowned chefs in the world, was there during the event. He chatted away happily to chefs, locals and tourists. The whole festival has a lively, unpretentious atmosphere.
It’s not all about the food in Margaret River, it’s such a picturesque location and of course, it’s impossible to ignore the surf. I’m always happiest when I’m in the sea and I took two surfboards with me all the way from Padstow!
After an almost compulsory pilgrimage to Margaret River bakery, it was time to head to Busselton Jetty where we were cooking lunch for 200 people. A two-kilometre long jetty was definitely a logistical challenge but the setting was amazing, the support staff wonderful and I somehow ended up doing karaoke very late into the evening.
By the final day of the festival, chefs being chefs, we had all made friends over the last few days, and were swapping details with everyone. Being part of Gourmet Escapes as a chef is an incredible experience. I met some of my heroes but then, so did so many of the public – this is a festival that blurs that line and chef or not, it’s all about the celebration of good food.
Western Australia really has an absolute gem in Margaret River, especially if you’re a foodie. I would struggle to believe there is a better few days to immerse yourself in food and wine anywhere in the world.