Day 2 of the Gourmet Garden Bloggers Conference started with a bus ride from Noosa to Woodford via Beerwah. I was within a few hundred meters of the Sisters for a few moments there - luckily I'd only been away from them for twenty-five hours at that point - any longer and I may have climbed out of the bus window!
We were enroute to SJW Mushrooms. Steven and Joanne were such gracious hosts - explaining the mushroom growing process and showing us around their farm. It wasn't quite midday when I was handed a glass of Moët and we were invited to sit down and enjoy a three course mushroom-theme lunch cooked by Sammy and Bella of My Kitchen Rules fame.
After lunch we headed to Gourmet Garden Headquarters at Palmwoods for a chat with CEO Nick White and a tour of the facility. We talked about the process of finding six cotton farmers whom were struggling to keep water up to their thirsty crop and convincing them try growing herbs organically. Nick talked about the science behind protecting the essential oils which give herbs their flavours and smells, which was right up this former biologist's alley. We then toured the facility. My favourite part of the tour was learning that the CEO doesn't have the best carpark spot. It belongs to a bloke from Production who - inspired by a trip to the dentist - came up with an innovation that saved the company $146K per year. Success through innovation seems to be a continuing theme for Gourmet Garden.
The final day of the conference dawned and we headed to Spicers Tamarind Resort in the hinterland for our cook off. We cooked in three groups and I don't mind telling you that by the time it was my turn I was shitting bricks. The bloggers I was cooking against set about cooking intricate dishes with lots of processes - all in forty-five minutes. Amanda from Cooking for Busy Mums made fish tacos including tortillas from scratch. Anne from Domesblissity made a pear, thyme and ginger cake with ginger custard and walnut praline. Carolyn from Desire Empire - in typical stylist fashion - served her offering in a giant sea shell. Lisa from Bike Bake Blog turned out a herbed risotto with scallops and chorizo crumb. Jay from the Moodie Foodie steamed a ginger pudding and served it with a lemongrass syrup and ginger cream. Tam from Somewhere Around Here hand made ravioli and topped it with roast pumpkin puree and burnt butter sauce. Margan from At Gusto served barramundi, hollandaise and fries that she made using an apple slinky - clever! Eventually Laney from Crash Test Mummy's dish of pancetta encrusted quiche, garlic mushrooms and salsa was declared the deserving winner.
The crown of Best International Blogger-Come-Chef went to the lovely Filipa from Gourmet Mum. My fondness for Filipa developed long before I realised she is the British version of me. The world needs more scientists turned mums turned bloggers.
I made Asian fish ball noodle soup - give it a whirl. Maybe it'll be a winner in your house!
Asian fishball noodle soup
6 cups chicken stock
1 tbs Gourmet Garden ginger
2 whole star anise
2 tbs light soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
400g boneless white fish fillets (skin removed)
2 tsp Gourmet Garden garlic
3 tsp Gourmet Garden hot chilli
2 tsp Gourmet Garden lemon grass
1 packet of fresh flat rice noodles
zest of 1 lime
100g snow peas (or if you can't get them a bunch of Asian greens)
250g shimeji mushrooms
spring onions to serve
Add the stock, ginger, star anise, soy, 1 tsp hot chilli and brown sugar to a large wok. Bring to the boil and simmer.
Soak the rice noodles in boiling water.
In the meantime, dice the fish fillets. Combine the fish, garlic, remaining 2 tsp hot chilli, lemon grass and lime zest in a food processor. Process until smooth. Using wet hands, roll tablespoon sized balls and gently place them into the broth. While the fishballs poach, remove the tops and the strings from the snowpeas, separate the mushrooms and set aside. Slice the white portion of the spring onion into small rounds and fry until crunchy and golden. Drain on absorbent paper.
Test the fishballs after ten minutes - take one out, cut it in half and test for done-ness*.
Add the snowpeas and mushrooms a few minutes before serving - the peas are nicer if they maintain their crunch.
There's more good news to come out of this week - Gourmet Garden and I are going to host a giveaway later this year - yippee, free stuff for my readers!
The really funny thing about this story is that I was never supposed to be part of this competition. When the bloggers heading onto the cook off round were announced, I wasn't one of them. Then a few days later, when I was feeling particularly brave, I shot Gourmet Garden an email that simply said "I'm a local and I'm intending heading to the Good Food and Wine Festival. If you need a last minute stand-in, I'm your girl." Later, when someone pulled out, I was slotted in. I owe this whole adventure to one moment of uncharacteristic cheekiness!
are you cheeky?
has a moment of courage ever paid dividends for you?
did I miss a herb pun?
* what? that's totally a word!
Disclosure: I won an expenses paid trip to Noosa as part of a competition run by Gourmet Garden to find Australia's best blogger come chef. All opinions are my own. My bad food puns are not for sale and if they were I seriously doubt anyone would pay money for them!