Words by Jessica Gadd Images supplied
It’s been going on in Ballarat for years – a quiet, but very definite food revolution. There’s Nahm-trained chef Damien Jones’ Catfish Thai, described by restaurant critic John Lethlean as ‘home to some of the best Thai food you’ll find in Australia.’ There’s chef Derek Boath’s Underbar, which opens to seat 12 people only, twice a week – and is consistently booked out a month in advance. There’s – well, actually, there are too many amazing venues to list in this short article.
Observing this burgeoning culinary scene sparked local events organiser and self-confessed foodie Kate Davis to action. There was nothing else for it – Ballarat must have a food festival. Cue Plate Up: Ballarat’s month-long food celebration that connects produce to plate, with local venues hosting more fun and inventive events than you can poke a fork at – 38 of them, to be exact.
We wanted to do a Ballarat food festival essentially so that our venues could push the boundaries and do something that they wouldn’t normally get to do
‘We wanted to do a Ballarat food festival essentially so that our venues could push the boundaries and do something that they wouldn’t normally get to do,’ Kate says. ‘Because then we could show not just our own community – but also tourists or anyone intrigued by Ballarat – that we actually have a great culinary scene thriving here. We also wanted to connect the local producers to our local cafes and chefs and restaurants.’
And that’s where the Pie Competition comes in. Yes, that’s right – a town-wide pie-off that pits venue against venue, each charged with creating a pie using three locally produced ingredients. It’s to be judged by a team led by food writer and Plate Up patron Richard Cornish, but there’s also a People’s Choice award. Everyone’s encouraged to have their say by rating each pie on the Pie Charts that are available at participating venues.
Kate is thrilled by the connections, collaborations, partnerships and community pride that Plate Up has inspired. She says the idea caught on quickly, firing the imaginations of local venues and producers. Out of this enthusiasm grew the creative ideas for the events hosted by the venues.
‘In the lead-up to the event Richard Cornish and I had some really great conversations with operators – for example, Scott Barclay of The Forge Pizzeria has spent some time in India, and he loves cooking Indian food. So they thought why not invite Ronnie Singh from the East India Trading Co to come in and collaborate on an Indian Food Takeover?’
While the festival creates an opportunity for local chefs to push the limits of the everyday, ultimately Plate Up’s mission is to put Ballarat firmly on the foodie map as a culinary destination, every day of the year.
‘When Ballarat has events like White Night, or hosting the Archibald Prize touring show, if people are already identifying Ballarat as a culinary capital, they will know they can go out for dinner here and be assured of a really nice food and wine experience.’
What: Plate Up Ballarat Food Festival
Where: Various venues, Ballarat
When: Throughout May
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