The argument: South Australia is home to one of the planet’s most exciting, most vibrant and most accessible food and drink scenes. The proof: (yet) another Tasting Australia program sparkling with wit, deliciousness and variety.

As it has for the past 17 editions, the line-up for the 2024 festival has South Australian talent front and centre, from cooks and producers that call Adelaide and its surrounds home, to regional superstars such as the Prairie Hotel, an outback pub in the Flinders Ranges. (In some instances, the festival will bring city slickers out to the regions; in others, the country stars will make their way to the big smoke.)

Naturally, cooks from around Australia will also congregate en masse in South Australia in May, as will a handful of international guests including James Henry, the Canberra-born chef and gardener behind French it-restaurant and farm, Le Doyenne. But perhaps most crucially of all, the program wants to dissect the connection between eating, drinking and living.

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“What does Australian food and beverage culture look like, right now? That’s what Tasting Australia is,” says Karena Armstrong, the ceaseless chef-owner of McLaren Vale’s inspiring The Salopian Inn and the festival’s director. After sharing the role with Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks fame, this year she’s taking on the festival’s top job on her own. “It’s a snapshot of today told with chefs from Australia and the world.”

Like they say in the classics, there’s something for everyone in the festival’s program of more than 150 events. For those looking to push the proverbial boat out, the festival’s popular Tasting Australia Airlines returns with itineraries including a daytrip to the Eyre Peninsula (catered by Darren Robertson, Shannon Fleming, Jo Barrett and Fabian Lehmann) and an overnight stay in the Limestone Coast (Mark Best, Tony Carroll, Kirby Shearing, Clare Falzon, Paul Stone). For the first time, the airlines will also offer flights departing from Melbourne as well as Adelaide.

Staying on the fancy transport topic for a moment longer, the 2024 festival also features the launch of Tasting Australia by Train, a 10-hour train journey from Melbourne to Adelaide featuring food from veteran (South) Australian cooking legend Cheong Liew, Indian-British chef Asma Khan of London’s Darjeeling Express and Jae Bang of Melbourne’s Freyja.

As part of its transformation into festival hub Town Square, Victoria Square will host The Galleries, a series of intimate 36-seat dining rooms and galleries that will host collaborative dinners. Themes include a kaiseki-style Sushi Dreams dinner (Hansol Lee, Mug Chen, Chia Wu) and High Steaks (Matt Moran, Jake Kellie, Isobel Whelan-Little).

The festival isn’t just about big-ticket spending, however. Restaurants from around South Australia will set up in Town Square and bolster the CBD’s lunch and dinner options during the festival. Led by Mandy Hall, the new Make series sees gun restaurant chefs sharing pointers on homely dishes: think Daniella Guevara of La Popular Taqueria going all-out on tacos; Mark Best on the South Aussie pastie; and Botanic’s Justin James on the finer points of making fried chicken.

While chefs are a key part of the Tasting Australia story, organisers are also committed to drawing attention to farmers and makers, so much so that the festival appoints a food curator that plays matchmaker between South Australian producers and festival chefs. Initially, Emma McCaskill held the position. This year, the torch passes to Kane Pollard, chef-owner of locavore favourite The Topiary and an advocate for supporting locals. As part of his role, Pollard maintains an Excel spreadsheet of local producers detailing everything from veg growers to fishers hand-diving for abalone and catching local sand crabs.

“Meeting local chefs is one of the most important connections for producers to make,” says Pollard, who is based in the foothills of Tea Tree Gully, an area half an hour’s drive from the Adelaide CBD. “We’re in our own little areas and buried in the kitchen so you only find what you see online or through talking to friends and other chefs. Being involved in Tasting Australia not only gets your products out there, but your ethos too. A lot of farmers and producers aren't the best at selling themselves. This is a chance for the festival to shine a light on them while they focus on what they do best day to day.”

The final tier of the Tasting Australia trifecta is the drinks. Considering South Australia’s deep grape-growing history, wine is unsurprisingly a big part of the program. But increasingly, beers and spirits are also working their way into the program and people’s drinking habits: expect all the above to feature as part of Tasting Tables, a series of intimate tastings hosted at Adelaide hospitality venues.

“The world of wine and drinks can be intimidating and full of complicated terms,” says Meira Harel, co-curator of the festival’s drinks program. “It’s important to Banjo [Harris Plane] and me that everyone feels welcome to join in and learn and grow our love for all drinks together.”

Tasting Australia runs from May 3 to 12 throughout South Australia. The full festival program is available online and tickets go on sale at 6am on Thursday December 7.