Asia TOPA is Melbourne’s sprawling new arts festival. But there’s more to this event than performance.

“Asia TOPA is about being contemporary, it’s not red lanterns and sweet and sour pork,” says Frank Bischoff, Director of Food and Beverage at Arts Centre Melbourne. “It’s modern, thought-provoking, sometimes controversial. We wanted the food to reflect that in some way."

Food is such an integral part of a country or region’s history and culture, so putting together the food program for Asia TOPA took serious consideration.

“We wanted to give you an experience before you’ve even entered the theatre,” Bischoff says. “It’s not just about the performances or what happens on stage.”

Bischoff sought out chefs who were a little like Asia TOPA: those who drew on foundations and tradition, but with a distinctly modern or contemporary spin. He chose Jerry Mai from Pho Nom, Victor Liong from Lee Ho Fook and David Moyle from Longsong.

You don’t have to attend a performance in order to eat at Asia TOPA, either. “Anyone can come and eat, we encourage it,” says Bischoff. The restaurants and bars “stand on their own right”.

Mai, Liong and Moyle will be cooking at various spots at the Arts Centre until March 5. Here’s where you can find them, and here’s what you should eat when you do.

Jerry Mai at Cafe Vic

Mai from Pho Nom – a pho restaurant which uses organic Victorian produce in all its stocks, broths and dishes – has taken over Cafe Vic, transforming it into a bustling Vietnamese eatery. On the menu are dishes such as salt and pepper chicken ribs, organic pho, crunchy Vietnamese salads, dumplings and bánh mì. But the dish you have to try? Mai’s braised-brisket spring rolls – rich, golden and crunchy, served with a fiery sriracha mayo.

David Moyle at The Barre and The Barre Backyard

Moyle, of Hobart’s Franklin restaurant and the soon-to-open mod-Thai diner Longsong, has taken over two areas: The Barre and its outdoor space, The Barre Backyard. Across both he’s serving up a bit a preview of what will be on the menu at Longsong: inside, it’s mussels in betel leaf, grilled sticky rice with shallot relish, and Spanish mackerel with dry curry paste. Outside, it’s barbequed chicken or calamari skewers and smoked oysters. You have to try his northern Thai pork sausage – his version of a Thai sausage roll, wrapped in soft cabbage rather than pastry.

Victor Liong at the Members’ Dining Room

Mai and Moyle’s offerings are more casual, but Liong is going one up by offering either a four- or six-course tasting menu inside the Members’ Dining Room. Both options get you his chocolate, oolong tea and red-miso dessert, which is a textural and taste performance in itself. Bookings are essential.