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Chris' Sydney Trip | Fine Food Australia 2023

Every year as the spring air bursts from hibernation, so does Australia’s biggest food industry trade show - Fine Food Australia, bringing with it a plethora of industry leaders with vast amounts of knowledge in their fields. Producers, chefs, equipment specialist, restauranteurs, the list goes on, as they converge at this year’s host city - Sydney - at the International Convention Centre.
At Porcupine Eatery, one of our main goals is to always be learning about our trade and how we can keep up with the trends both nationally and internationally. Knowledge is always priceless and the expo also gives me the opportunity as a chef to source and talk with local producers.
I represented the team and flew up from Melbourne for two out of the four days. There were two main objectives of my trip; to attend the Fine Food Expo as well as to participate in a fish butchery masterclass by Josh Niland (I'll be posting a blog about this next week).
Our business is now nearly two years old and after the rush of starting a new business, year two has given me more time to refine our products, put more thought into our processes and hone in on what we represent as a brand. We all agree that supporting and showcasing local Australian produce is of the most importance. I truly believe that we, as part of the industry have an obligation to leave the world a better place and do our part, no matter how small, in educating the public on sustainable practices through our vehicle of food.
Sustainability has already been a large part of discussion within the food industry for the last decade, and it was no different at this year’s expo. It is important for us to see in what ways we can continue to improve our business in that sense. One major shift in the last year has been my endeavour to switch a lot of our imported products to local producers. When Porcupine Eatery started nearly two years ago we used imported flours, olive oils, olives, tomatoes etc… This was purely due to the fact that I didn’t know any better and the lie that I was told from the restaurants I worked in, that Italian flour was superior, or olives had to come from Liguria, or that San Marzano Tomatoes were second to none. Yes they are amazing products, but they come from the other side of the world; the food miles is astonishing, but we as a consumer could care less, as we eat this lie - that Italy is best. How can mozzarella frozen and shipped from Italy be better than one That’s Amore Cheese freshly made this morning only twenty minutes away from our head quarters? Or why would we need to import salumi when Puopolo Smallgoods only fifteen minutes from us produces cured meats of similar or better quality. But yet consumers are fed this lie that Italian food needs Italian grown ingredients. The reason why Italian food is great, is the fact that it is sourced locally. So shouldn’t we do the same here?
To combat this, We are making a conscious effort to seek out these producers in a country where we have the variety of climates to really produce anything we want. It’s very exciting! Our flour has now been switched to Wholegrain Milling Co. in country New South Wales. It took me a couple months and over twenty recipes to find the right combination of flours, hydration and fermentation time to achieve a new dough, but I am very proud of it and can confidently say that with the addition of heritage flours and wholemeal flours, there is more depth in flavour than the Italian flours we worked with before. We also use olives and oils from Mount Zero who are just ten minutes away from us. This is why I believe it’s so important to attend the Fine Food expo and local farmers markets. The producers are passionate to share their knowledge and this creates a symbiotic relationship, where as chefs, we showcase the best Australia has to offer and the producers in return have the backing and support to continue producing their goods.
During my two days at the expo, I attended several talks and demonstrations. These were the most fascinating part and allowed me to really learn about new practices and the trend in which we are heading as an industry. There were several great demonstrations from leading chefs such as Matt Stone and Elijah Holland on using fermenting techniques and local ingredients. But what I believe was most useful as a chef were all the talks organised by the team at Straight To The Source. Straight To The Source aims to connect chefs and restauranteurs to local producers. This year they organised talks and demonstrations all-day long on topics such as; the future of farming, sustainability, beyond prime cuts (pork), sustainability in seafood, all the while celebrating and interviewing some of the best producers we have to offer in Australia.
Some of the most engaging talks included the future of farming and the trends in which red meat are heading, mirroring a talk and demonstration on the following day by three young chefs on how to utilise non-prime cuts of meat in producing cured meats or techniques for preservation. The talk on sustainability in fishing practices tied in well with my masterclass the previous night with Josh, bringing in notable figures such as Chris Bolton; who uses hand line to catch coral trout in far north Queensland and Serena Zipf from Rocky Point Aquaculture who is a leader in sustainable aquaculture. Two producers both using sustainable practices in opposite ends of the spectrum. Alex Prichard from Iceberg’s was also present to showcase the produce but it was the dialogue between him and Chris that was most interesting, where chef Alex explains the process of ordering fish from Chris, who catches the exact amount required: no more. But explains that he is in the end, at the mercy of the weather. If there is a storm up in Cairns, then there will be no fish that week. Alex and Chris both implore us to question restaurants and fish mongers as to where their seafood comes from. Many places are happy to put ”wild caught Queensland” coral trout on the menu when in fact it may be imported or farmed, selling it at a cheaper price than true coral trout off the coast. This hurts producers like Chris and eventually stops him from continuing his practices. "Ask questions" - that was the closing line from all three experts.
On the more practical side of business operation, Fine Food was also the perfect setting to seek out a new packaging supplier for our upcoming products. We have recently added new offerings to our menu which required different serving utensils. So on level two of the ICC, a multitude of packaging companies were available for me to converse with to find the right fit for what we need.
My two days in Sydney was a whirlwind, I did my best to take in as much knowledge as I could and I will endeavour to put into practice most if not all of what I have learned. As I am another year older in the industry I find myself more confident in my craft and taking in more knowledge than I did at last year’s show. I hope to share this knowledge to you one day. And please, be curious and ask us questions!
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