The word “bacchanalian” gets thrown around a bit. But rarely does the phrase live up to the kind of wild-eyed abandon with which worshippers of Pan used to party.
Dark MOFO is an exception. It really is bacchanalian. As anyone who visited the festival last year will know, the usually well-mannered citizens of Hobart let truly loose, dancing around naked flames and swilling whiskey as 12-teated beasts hovered over the city and, at dawn, they all unbuttoned their flies and leapt nude into the Derwent. It was off the chain.
At the centre of this ungodly hoedown is the Winter Feast. Inspired by medieval banquets and ancient rites, attendees feast on meats cooked on open fires as roving performers caper, sing and generally pull the piss. As well as being an outlet for MONA founder David Walsh’s well-documented love of excess, the Winter Feast also served to highlight the astonishing selection of produce and hospitality talent Tasmania has to offer.
Enormous communal tables run the length of a shipping terminal, surrounded by dozens of stalls by local producers. Each stallholder presents a limited selection of dishes, showcasing their real specialties. This year, the Winter Feast’s organisers promise an even more impressive display of local food. Unusually, stallholders don’t apply to be involved; they’re invited. Local curator Jo Cook, along with Winter Feast creative director Gillian Minervini, carefully selects participants. “I hate big venues,” admits Cook. “I just want to trust the stallholder and eat what they do, and know that they’re doing it because that’s what they love. That’s why it’s all being curated.”
This year, for example, Elgaar is dishing out grilled reuben sandwiches and traditional brown onion soup with Gruyère croûtes. Get Shucked has trays of quivering Bruny Island oysters still in the water they lived in. Lost Pippin is bringing the mulled cider, Tassie whiskey producers are making hot toddies and there’s talk of mulled wine. Mount Gnomon Farm has been making chorizo out of Wessex Saddlebacks. And Matthew Evans (in the flesh!) will be serving punters slow-roasted pork with fennel, garlic and rosemary on a soft bun ¬– and he cooked the pig himself. Minervini and Cook have concentrated on selecting stallholders who care about their produce. “There’s a really ethical through-line with all of them, sourcing only the best produce that’s been really well handled and well treated,” says Minervini. “But there’s a few cows and goats looking over their shoulders around Tasmania at the moment.”
As well they might, particularly given the presence of the Feast’s celebrity chefs, Jared Ingersoll (formerly of Danks St Depot), Alex Herbert (from the now-closed Bird Cow Fish), and Duncan Welgemoed (Bistro Dom). Welgemoed’s reputation is well known in the livestock community. Earlier this year the man stuffed a whole pig with haloumi and roasted it in a h?ngi (a traditional rock-heated pit oven from New Zealand). It was intense. “I’m going to be doing a take on a South African dish,” he explains. “So, aged rump, which I’m going to cook on bay branches over an open fire. And chakalaka, which is a Soweto condiment, something I grew up with. But I’m going to take that to the next level; so fermented, so spicy.”
Welgemoed promises not only a culinary performance, but a little cultural something-something to go with his meal. This year there’s also something called the Ferris Wheel of Death, which, apparently, is exactly what it sounds like it is. “Yeah, it’s literally a giant ferris wheel that we’ll be having performances on,” explains Minervini. “You can actually take a ride and overlook the whole of Hobart which will be pretty cool.”
No thanks. But the atmosphere will be entertaining, even for those who aren’t into macabre carnival rides. “You’ll have to meander through a bit of a forest to get inside and then inside the forest extends, but I’m not going to tell you any more than that,” laughs Minervini, adding “There’s something lurking” between the trees. “It’s nothing terrifying.”
And even if you don’t quite believe her, you’ll probably still be drawn in. It is, after all, a celebration. “It’s that beautiful atmosphere of everyone eating together and the lighting and the performance and the food and the noise, it’s really exciting,” says Cook, dreamily. Now just listen to the music coming through the trees, come closer to the fire and drink this …