Gourmet Escape has attracted some of the culinary world's greatest to Margaret River in the past seven years and the eclectic gastronomy festival is set to dish up even more stars to WA in 2019.
The Margaret River Gourmet Escape was launched in 2011 and has returned to the region every November since, drawing more that 20,000 attendees in 2018. The festival, which has events spread across the region, consists of wine dinners, parties, book signings and a central “gourmet village” at one of the major wineries, with a main stage for cooking demonstrations and talks.
How did the festival end up there?
A decade ago, Perth was in the midst of a mining boom, and its hotel rooms were filled almost to capacity. State tourism officials were looking for a way to get visitors to travel beyond the capital city. At the same time, Brand Events — best known for its “Taste of” festivals in various cities — was searching globally for a location for its next big food festival. (Brand Events has since been acquired by IMG, a worldwide sports, fashion and events company.)
The late afternoon sunlight in Western Australia’s Margaret River region is deeply golden, casting its buttery hue across vineyards and filtering through the forests of giant karri trees. Sometimes the landscape looks almost European, with roads tunneled by groves of old trees next to fields of baled hay. Then you spot a herd of Western Gray kangaroos lounging beneath the trees, or turn a bend in the road and there it is: the shocking aqua blue of the Indian Ocean.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. But given its remoteness, it is somewhat surprising that the area to the south of Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has become a popular destination for food and wine tourists.
There is no doubt that the region has all the elements needed to draw hungry (and thirsty) tourists. It is stunningly beautiful, and while it is one of the youngest established wine regions in the world (at around 50 years old) it is quite robust, with close to 100 wineries. But it is hardly the only naturally stunning wine-producing region in Australia, and many are older and easier to access. And yet tourism to Margaret River and the surrounding area has exploded, with the number of international visitors up by 37 percent in just the last three years.
How did we do it?
Australia has tilted its tourism strategy toward culinary offerings, not just its cute and fuzzy animal population. Central to the tourist boom in Western Australia is the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, a major food and wine festival.
Headlining the extraordinary 10-day food and wine festival this year is David Chang, Marco Pierre White and Danny Bowien, who join former luminaries such as Heston Blumenthal and Rick Stein to showcase Margaret River and the state's fine food and drink produce to the world.
The once-a-year feast-fest gives foodies and punters a chance to sip and party at new fine dining and casual events plus old favourites like the gourmet beach barbecue and expansive Gourmet Village housed at Leeuwin Estate Winery.
This year Gourmet Escape ventures to Perth and the Swan Valley – WA's oldest wine region – with more than 50 food, wine and music stars along for the ride.
The world's best chefs and wine experts will cook and swirl alongside Australia and WA's brightest stars to discuss and explore WA's incredibly diverse culinary scene at the November 8 to 17 event.
The festival's focus will be firmly on food and wine hot spot Margaret River – the festival’s spiritual home that Lonely Planet recently named Asia-Pacific's number one destination - where two of Perth's hottest establishments fire up Sunset Beats & Bites at White Elephant on Gnarabup Beach.
The crew from Tiny’s Restaurant bring their playing-with-fire style to the laidback event on Friday while Perth's most-hyped pizzeria Monsterella, run by indefatigable duo Tania Nicolo and Ryan Bookless, will sling delicious pizzas, handmade pastas and grilled lamb skewers, Italian style, all night on Saturday.
Michelin-star celebrity UK chef Marco Pierre White, who first attended Gourmet Escape in 2015 and described it as "life changing", will cook at a one-off collaboration dinner at Sittella Winery in the Swan Valley.
"Gourmet Escape without question is the greatest food event on earth," Pierre White said.
"It puts a spotlight on this region. Look at the soil, feel the sand, that’s why everything grows so beautifully.
"Chefs from every single corner of the world come here. It’s life changing because you’re being exposed to something that you’ve never been exposed to before. It’s as simple as that."
Gourmet Escape event director Katrina King said it was fantastic the event that helped position Margaret River on the global culinary map was expanding to more of the state's hot spots.
"From fine dining with Michelin stars, to casual new wave wine events, to a wholesome family-friendly festival and returning favourites, 2019 promises to be another great year," she said.
The Swan Valley will also host the inaugural World Gourmet Symposium for the trade industry to educate, dissect and debate the future of the food, beverage, tourism and hospitality industries.
The dance floor has not been forgotten, with headliners The Rubens and indie star Fergus James playing at the new Gourmet Feast in the Valley event.
Some of 2019's food, wine and music headliners in Perth, Margaret River and the Swan Valley for Gourmet Escape include: Aaron Carr David Chang David Thompson Garima Arora James Halliday Jock Zonfrillo Matt Stone Mike Bennie Nick Stock Santiago Fernandez Tony Howell Abbe May dirt girl and her band Mother Earth Justine Clarke Kate Lamont Marco Pierre White Mike Bennie The Rubens David Chang Ivan Brehm Kobus van der Merwe (Restaurant of the Year winner at inaugural World Restaurant Awards)
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