10 days. 1344 diners. 1440 bottles of wine. Around 5500 individually plated dishes. 80 kilos of Balhannah aged duck.
Tasting’s Australia’s Glasshouse Kitchen is a massive operation. As the centerpiece of the festival (with nightly dinners cooked by some of the world’s best chefs) it requires a lot of moving parts. Event manager Ross Ganf is the man responsible for ensuring they all fall into place. We sat down with him to find out what goes into building Victoria Square’s pop-up restaurant.
“I didn’t want it to be a standard marquee,” says Ganf. He and designer Geoff Cobham conceived the fishbowl-like concept for the 2017 festival.
“It needed to be something that’s fun to be in. It also needed to be something that’s intimate. When you do a 160-person dinner you’re just watching someone else get fed before you are.”
He wanted a separate-but-together dining space. Cobham delivered the six-glasshouse concept. “You can sort of see what the other people are doing in the other ones but it takes away that long hall [set up] and that long table concept, which I think is over done now.” It also tied into the “people, produce, place” motto the festival is built on, says Ganf.
The six see-through rooms sit 28 people each (168 diners per night). Each one has a different visual theme with distinctive trimmings and floral arrangements. “We wanted each one to have its own identity,” says Ganf. “We can’t use fresh flowers so it’s about what we can make work; it’s half way between floristry and an installation.”
Festival programming director Jock Zonfrillo curates the collaborative dinners, bringing international Michelin-starred and World’s 50 Best chefs to Adelaide to cook alongside local heavyweights. He’s also crafted a giant, smoky fire pit (“the world’s biggest barbeque,” according to Ganf) on which to char duck, heirloom baby cauliflower, Houghton fig leaves and Jap pumpkin. “It’s got fucking rotisserie engines on it,” says Ganf. “He made the poor welder’s life a nightmare.”
The produce is serious business. “They’re the world’s best chefs and they’re particularly focused on excellence. So if you give them a piece of beef that they don’t like they will send it back,” says Ganf. It’s happened before. “A lot,” he adds. “We work tirelessly to make sure we’ve got the best produce for them. There are fishing boats going out in the night to catch things for us. There’s nothing coming off a supermarket shelf. We work directly with producers and farmers to get those sorts of results.”
Festival director Simon Bryant’s “rolodex of suppliers and producers” comes in handy here. “Simon grew up as a farmer,” says Ganf. “He loves producers more than he likes chefs, I think.” Bryant brainstorms a menu based on what’s available and the processes start as early as six months ahead. On the flipside, some ingredients are sourced at the eleventh hour. “On Sunday night’s [Rivers & Seas] dinner there was a particular seaweed that we needed from Rapid Bay and there was someone hanging off a cliff at 4am to get it.”
He’s not kidding. “There are a lot of those stories. That’s the detail that goes in.”
The afternoon I visit, Bryant is on site prepping for his Seed & Soil dinner with Paul West, Jyoti Bindu and Andrea Tortora. He takes me across the road to the easternmost patch of Victoria Square to see the cool room. It’s storing heirloom eggplant from Willunga and wagyu beef from Mayura Station, plus those aforementioned ducks. “Cheong [Liew] wanted duck, Carlo Mirarchi wanted duck, Somer [Sivrioglu] wanted duck. So I go, ‘Can I convince you, Somer, to take the legs? And he says, ‘Yeah’. He put them in a pie.”
Back in the kitchen, Bryant is preparing a dish of charred baby cauliflower and blackened fig leaves in a raw broccoli and lavender potage. West is alongside him, creating a dish that heroes aged Jap pumpkins from a local farmer known only as “Fred”. Every ingredient is scrutinised, right down to the olive oil. “We’re using a Victorian oil because we’re not at olive oil press yet in South Australia,” says Bryant. “The best oil I could find after tasting everything is Alto from Victoria, which is an exceptional oil. We can’t be so parochial that we have to use South Australian.”
The hunt for the perfect produce means dishes will often be finalised on the day of service. “We have to print menus very last minute,” says Ganf.
Each dinner takes two days to prep. “While one’s firing in there for tonight, they’re prepping tomorrow’s,” says Ganf. “There’s always two on top of each other.”
A temporary team of 60 (front and back of house) joins the fold for the 10 days. Front of house is managed by East End Cellars and the kitchen crew is managed by Bryant’s company Dirty Foods Inc. Each glasshouse has its own “host” or maître d’. “A lot of people take time away from their restaurants to come and work with the best chefs in the world,” says Ganf. “They see it as a learning experience.”
The morning before each dinner, sommelier Duncan Vent (East End Cellars) meets with the chefs at 10am to show them the wines he’s matched to their dishes.
Front of house staff are briefed at 4pm before service starts at 7pm. It’s a well-oiled machine. “People are paying good money to come to these dinners so you have to give them a lot of satisfaction and a lot of value,” says Ganf. “And we have to do that in a temporary site where we’re exposed to weather and rain and things like that so we have to work through those sort of challenges.”