In 2016, author and television personality Nigella Lawson was the high-profile headliner for Margaret River Gourmet Escape. She came. She smiled for selfies. She signed cookbooks. But most crucially, she enjoyed herself, so much so that the self-proclaimed "Domestic Goddess" is returning to WA’s south-west as part of this year’s festival.
While Lawson brings a touch of celebrity to proceedings, this year’s rollcall really does have something for all.
Chef’s Table diehard? You’ll have to act fast to bag one of the 36 seats at Niki Nakayama’s Chef’s Table at Miki’s Open Kitchen, an intimate kaiseki (a multi-course Japanese dinner) feast that brings a taste of Nakayama’s deft Japanese cooking to the number-one tempura restaurant in Margaret River (as well as Western Australia).
Fascinated by Chinese cookery? Chow’s Table Chinese Feast involves Andrew Wong from London’s Michelin-starred A.Wong and Melbourne’s Victor Liong (Lee Ho Fook) teaming up with Malcolm Chow of Yallingup’s new modern Chinese diner, Chow’s Table, for an evening of eating, drinking and memories.
Seafood lover? Rick Stein and son Jack are involved with a variety of events including Fish Tales With Rick Stein at Wills Domain, a Q&A with local producers discussing sustainability and fish stocks.
Ever wondered what it’d be like to dine at a '90s-inspired vegan Italian trattoria? It’s Shannon Martinez of cult Melbourne vegan outposts Smith & Daughters and [Smith & Deli](to the rescue. She’ll be commandeering the Wise Vineyard Restaurant and serving entirely plant-based riffs on focaccia, meatballs, tiramisu and other red-sauce favourites.
As always, the line-up is studded with World’s 50 Best Restaurants talent. Julien Royer, the French-born chef behind Singapore’s Odette (number 28 in this year’s list) will be teaming up with Seth James at Wills Domain; James Lowe of London’s Lyles (number 38) and Mat Lindsay from Sydney’s Ester will pick up where they left off after Lindsay appeared at Lyles Game Series event in 2015; Jake Kellie of Singapore’s Burnt Ends (number 61) is one of the chefs cooking whole beasts over fire at Feast in The Forest at Leeuwin Estate; and Edgar Nunez of Mexico’s Sud777 (number 64) teams up with Noma pastry chef turned taco baron Rosio Sanchez (Hija de Sanchez, Copenhagen); and local chef Tommy Payne – ex-El Publico, now making delicious things at Hylin – will be at Caves Road Cantina at Black Brewing Co, a wild party of cocina Mexicana and south-west cerveza.
Gourmet Escape is also your chance to meet the superstars of tomorrow (Single Thread Farm, the deeply Japanese Californian restaurant run by 2017 Gourmet Escape guests Kyle and Katina Connaughton, broke into this year’s World’s 50 Best list at number 91 and was also named the One To Watch). Jeremy Chan from London’s West African-themed Ikoyi has been earmarked by insiders as another future star, as has French-born Laetitia Rouabah, the woman behind Alain Ducasse’s flagship New York bistro, Benoit. The collaboration dinner between Aaron Turner from Geelong’s Igni and Fervor’s Paul Iskov, meanwhile, looks to be one of the festival’s hottest tickets.
Speaking of local talent, while Margaret River chefs and restaurants continue to feature prominently, it’s pleasing to note greater representation as far as talent from Perth and greater Western Australia goes. Vegetable whisperer Guy Jeffreys from Jarrahdale’s Millbrook and pasta master Joel-Valvasori Pereza (Lulu La Delizia) are joining local boy done good Matt Stone (Oakridge Estate, Victoria) as part of the Beach BBQ Series, while guests at Sunset Beats and Bites will be getting fed by Amy Hamilton (Liberte, Albany), Melissa Palinkas (Young George) and Alia Glorie (Billie H).
If the above wasn’t enough to induce bouts of FOMO (never mind that because there will be a second round of announcements in future), this year’s Gourmet Village offering is equally compelling and offers a mix of proven attractions (beer and wine tastings, chef demonstrations) and new features (kids cooking classes!). In other words, start planning your November escape now. This is a food and drink (and beach) party you won’t want to miss.
Margaret River Gourmet Escape runs November 16 to 18. Tickets go on sale on July 18.