Food Festival in Sydney Starring David Chang, Massimo Bottura, Jordi Roca, Jonathan Gold, and More

Crave Sydney, lasting throughout October, celebrates a world of good food and drink
Stands at Crave's Night Noodle Market, Hyde Park, Sydney.

Crave Sydney — the Sydney Morning Herald's annual international food festival — lasts for the whole month of October, and spreads throughout the Australian metropolis and into the surrounding suburbs and farmlands of New South Wales. The festivities range from sunrise breakfasts on Bondi Beach to special dinners around the city cooked by imported culinary stars like Italian three-star chef Massimo Bottura, Roman pizza king Gabriele Bonci, Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Catalonia (hailed as the second best restaurant in the world), Australian-born Thai food maven David Thompson, Sardinian chef Roberto Petza, and Christina Tosi of the Momofuku empire — an outpost of which, Momofuku Seiobo, opened in Sydney earlier this year. Australian stars like Mark Best, Matt Moran, Colin Fassindge, and Martin Benn showed their stuff too.

In a food series more accessible to the average citizen, for 13 nights, a portion of Hyde Park, in central Sydney, is taken over by a night noodle market — a collection of hawker stands dispensing dumplings, noodles, and more, plus three bars and pretty much nonstop entertainment. The fare covers many food styles, as the names of some of the participants will suggest: Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine, Japancake Okonomiyaki, Chat Thai, Himalayan Yummy Kitchen, Viet Yum, Umi Sushi, and Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant. There are also food photography exhibitions, special brunch and lunch programs around the city, rural picnics and wine-tasting parties, barbecue contests, pub and garden tours, and more. There will be about 500 events in all, and if last year's Crave is any indication, something like 800,000 people will enjoy various aspects of the celebration.

Massimo Bottura
Massimo Bottura at Crave Sydney. Photo by Dave Cheng.

The weekend of October 6 and 7 was an early centerpiece to the goings-on, with a sprawling grower's market on Saturday at Pyrmont Bay Park, enlivened by food stands from some of the city's top restaurants (among them Billy Kwong and Fish Face), and a series of panel discussions, cooking demonstrations, and onstage "conversations" at the Sydney Convention Center under the overall heading of World Chef Showcase.

Jonathan Gold made a last-minute journey from Los Angeles to fill in for Ruth Reichl (kept home by family matters) in a one-on-one called "Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask a Food Critic." Three prominent food photographers shared some of their techniques. Australian food icon Maggie Beer took part in a panel on the place of supermarkets in the country's food life. (She astonished the audience by revealing that Australia's truth-in-labeling authorities refuse to let her label her olives, grown on her Barossa farm, preserved with her own Barossa vinegar, as "produce of Australia" — because the glass jars they're packed in are made in Thailand.)

In a one-on-one conversation with Joanna Savill — Crave's seemingly unflappable and unfailingly energetic festival director — Massimo Bottura waxed poetic, saying that his intention was to "put feeling, emotion, onto the plate, which means that I have to go fishing into my youth, my heritage, my landscape of ideas." He then described the genesis of his dish of eel lacquered with saba (grape must), with polenta and wild apple "extraction." It was his metaphor for a journey taken by the Duke of Ferrara and Modena in the 16th century, he said, after the duke had been forced out of Ferrara by the Pope, thereby losing, among other things, a considerable income from the local eel fishery. (Bottura's three-star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, is in Modena.) "I imagined the family of the duke traveling on the river as an eel. They passed by the Veneto, famous for eating polenta, then through Mantova, where the villages are known for growing wild apples. Emilia is not the region of tomatoes, so I thought of wild apples to give acidity to the dish. Saba is the grape must before it becomes balsamic vinegar, the real balsamic vinegar, and is very popular in Modena. It is something the children eat. It is like a caress from your mother or grandmother. And when the duke and his family arrived in Modena, the city was laced with canals, so I added crunchy burned vegetables and herbs to represent the mud in the canals." Okay, Massimo.

 Antonio Carluccio 
Antonio Carluccio at Crave Sydney. Photo by Dave Cheng.

One particularly lively panel was "The Art of the Restaurateur," at which Nick Lander — who reviews for The Financial Times but also ran a well-regarded place of his own, L'Escargot in London, for many years — ticked off the most important qualities for a successful restaurateur to have. Among them: A good sense of humor; a love of good food, good wine, and his fellow man; a nose for the right location; an understanding of financial arithmetic; the ability to lead from the front, but only in a way that inspires the rest of the team; an appreciation of the fact that the two most important pieces of paper in your life aren't your menu and your wine list but your lease and your alcohol permit; vision and determination. On the same panel, Licia Granello, who writes about food for La Repubblica, the largest Italian newspaper, name-checked a former New York Times restaurant columnist ("Like Frank Bruni, I was born round," she said), revealed that newspaper food sections were unknown in Italy ("Italian people are born with food in their blood, and they don't think they need to know anything more"), and pointed out that the first three Michelin three-star restaurants in Italy — Enoteca Pincchiori in Florence, Al Sorriso in Sorriso, and Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull'Oglio — all had women at the helm. Transplanted New Zealander Barry McDonald, who runs the Fratelli Fresh food shops and Café Sopra in Sydney, proposed that the three most important things for a restaurant to have were good food, good service, and most of all a good "vibe," which he defined as involving "music, lighting, crowd, feel." He also said that if there was one thing he had learned as a restaurant owner it was "Just say yes. It's much easier."

Other quotable moments: David Chang, on a panel called "Food Writing and Reading in a Multi-Platform World," with the Paris-based Spanish food writer Maria Canabal and myself, telling the story of how the innovative food magazine he helped found with writer Peter Meehan, Lucky Peach, started as a failed attempt to build an app about ramen, and adding "We didn't think we were going to fill a void. We just wanted to have fun." (Canabal, who writes for Gas*tron*ø*mad, an online food magazine, spoke of the advantages of such a publication, among them that it was accessible anytime, anywhere; was eco-friendly; and was free. Chief among the disadvantages: It didn't make any money.) Prominent Australian food writer Terry Durack suggesting that "Very few bloggers use words as well as they use their cameras." Legendary London-based Italian restaurateur Antonio Carluccio (who had earlier noted of himself that "The oldest bison need the freshest grass") maintaining that "Italians here in Australia are more Italian than those in Italy. They still kill their own pigs."

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