Port Douglas, the idyllic seaside town in Far North Queensland, has always been known for three Rs: the reef, the rainforest and the resorts. But a fourth R – the restaurants – is what led to the launch of food festival Taste Port Douglas more than a decade ago.

The region’s food scene was starting to swell, and husband-and-wife team Spencer and Reina Patrick, owners of frontrunning local diner Harrisons, asked themselves: “How do we make what our industry is doing in Port Douglas part of the national conversation?”

The answer? Once a year, invite a clutch of big-name and budding culinary talents from all over Australia to the tropics for a laid-back weekend all about eating and drinking, with the visiting (and, often, returning) chefs using their star power to help shine a brighter light on local restaurants through collabs, takeovers and masterclasses.

This year’s festival – running from August 8 to 11 – means even more to the area than usual after the devastation Tropical Cyclone Jasper brought with it late last year, curtailing tourism just as the town should’ve been booming during the festive season.

“It just cut us off ... [the] town was on its knees,” says Reina. Water was restricted, many restaurants couldn’t trade, and the main road in and out of town was blocked.

Now, Port Douglas is well and truly ready to receive visitors. “People are starting to get the message that it’s all systems go again,” says Spencer, a British-born chef. And the Patricks have put together a cracking line-up worth travelling to the tropics for.

The roster of chefs includes Agnes’s Ben Williamson and Stanley’s Louis Tikaram repping Queensland; French Saloon’s Ian Curley, Pho Nom’s Jerry Mai and Navi’s Julian Hills from Victoria; SA’s Laura and Max Sharrad, from Fugazzi and Nido; Tasmania’s Massimo Mele, of Grain of the Silos and Peppina; and industry veterans such as Colin Fassnidge, Manu Feildel and Mark Best.

There are myriad ways to get involved with Taste Port Douglas. The epicentre is the five-star Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort – fringed by a series of breathtakingly blue, interconnected saltwater pools, and home to the Patricks’ restaurant Harrisons – where you can book to stay alongside the chefs for full festival immersion. But you can also choose your own adventure with accommodation and events. Here are five to book.

For rainforest feasting: A Night of Fire, August 10, $290
Be whisked into the forest after dark and met with fire-throwing performers and flame-lit walkways when A Night of Fire returns to singular events venue Flames of the Forest. Four heavyweight chefs – Ben Williamson, Julian Hills, Louis Tikaram and Aaron Ward (Sydney’s Bathers’ Pavilion) – are collaborating on a flaming-hot menu, harnessing the primal power of fire. Your ticket includes matched drinks and transfers to and from the Sheraton.

For Euro-summer vibes: La Dolce Vita, an Italian Long Lunch, August 10, $249
Kicking off a long lunch on the lawn with a cheesemaking demo is a big Italian flex. But the mozzarella that family-owned Sydney cheesemaker Vannella will be handmaking live won’t just be for show — it’ll form part of the three-course, family-style banquet. Dessert is Massimo Mele’s spectacular signature tiramisu; he’s teaming up with Laura and Max Sharrad, Bente Grysbaek and Port Douglas restaurant La Cucina for the event.

For avid home cooks: Masterclass series, daily, from $89
What better way to punctuate your eating and drinking (and swimming) in festival time than to upskill? Taste Port Douglas’s series of intimate masterclasses – hosted on the breezy terrace at Harrisons – really runs the gamut. Add some va-va-voom to your Vietnamese cooking with Jerry Mai, hear the Agnes story with Ben Williamson and learn culinary best practice with Mark Best.

For all-encompassing action: Festival Village, August 11, from $39 (free for under-18s)
This accessible Sunday funday is the most wallet- and family-friendly way to make the most of the festival. From 10am to 5pm there’ll be a full takeover of the Sheraton. “We’ve seen chefs jumping out of the pool straight into cooking demos [before],” Reina says. Find panel discussions, live music and roving performers (some with reptiles), plus food and drink pop-ups from participating chefs, and local brewers and distillers. Plus, fresh-off-the-trawler prawns from Portside Galley.

For animal-loving littlies: Breakfast with the Birds, daily, $248 for a family of four
You may never tire of your resort’s buffet breakfast, but consider an avian alternative. Hosted by local sanctuary Wildlife Habitat for more than 20 years, it’s an opportunity for you and the kids to get up close and personal with birds of all shapes and sizes, then dig into a breakfast platter. While it’s not a dedicated Taste Port Douglas event, buying a family pass gets you free entry into the above-mentioned Festival Village and five days of unlimited access to Wildlife Habitat, so you can dip in and out.

Taste Port Douglas runs from August 8 to 11 at various locations. Find the full program and ticket information online.


The writer was a guest of Taste Port Douglas.