Combing food with art a winning recipe

Tobias Merz performs at the Old Witta School Hall. 286894_01

Erle Levey

Food and The Arts are two industries that were heavily impacted during Covid.

Now a small group of inspired individuals from the food and performing arts industries have started on the road to navigate out of this challenging period.

By utilising produce from Gympie and the Mary Valley to Maleny and the Glasshouse Mountains, calling on local artists and acclaimed culinary professionals – it’s a recipe that could be rolled out in many rural and regional communities.

The project Eat Art has been launched to provide a program of nourishing experiences encompassing local food producers and performing arts professionals.

The selection of the foods to be used in the menu, the pairing with performing artists and the choice of an intimate setting are the key to future events.

The inaugural dinner and performing arts event – Winter Solstice Feast – was held at the Old Witta School Hall on the longest night of the year and proved to be a resounding success.

The high level of conviviality marked this revolutionary look into the way forward for rural and regional communities to celebrate sustainable living.

At the sell-out event, people engaged in animated conversation in an inspiring atmosphere that embraced the best of the region.

All food was sourced locally following regenerative farming processes.

It brought back remembrances of how food was prepared in farming communities in the past.

The shared plates passed down the table reflected the long Sunday lunches of family gatherings.

Locally sourced butter and sourdough bread were placed on the tables.

Simple things done well, and quite honestly they had us at the first bite.

Introducing the evening were directors Kat Atkinson and Fiona Jopp.

“The concept for Eat Art is a desire to amalgamate our passions – food and art of the highest quality,’’ they said in the welcoming. “A food and art pairing.

“It is a concept that isn’t bound to any format or formula and something we are keen to explore and experiment with.

“The only constant elements are food, art and sustainability.’’

Katrina is an agribusiness entrepreneur who has travelled throughout Australia, South America and Europe, discovering her interest and passion for food systems, plants and fungi.

As a producer, she said the eat element of the concept was about connecting people to the source of their food while bringing them together.

“We have spent far too much time apart in the past two years.

“Here is the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy the incredible flavours as well as the many other benefits inherent in small scale, sustainable and conscious farming.

“It’s bringing people and community together in order to shake hands and talk with the person who either grew or made what you are eating.

“It’s also about the chefs, cooks and food artisans who are also inspired by these producers, and who are bringing it all together so that it inspires the guests also.’’

Contemporary dancer Fiona Jopp said the life of the performing artist over the past two years has been frought with uncertainty and impossibility.

“We moved on-line and created and shared work but I hope what has happened is that we have fully realised that the experience and the magic of a live performance is something that cannot be replicated on a screen.

“We wanted to create an intimate, one-off, site-specific event bringing exceptional performance art into our region.’’

The bread was by the Wonky Loaf, Kuluin – a traditional sourdough, crusty and wholesome.

The butter was from the acclaimed Cedar Street Cheeserie – purposefully wrapped in rounded pats to share among two, four, six or eight … for however many needed it. And then to come back for more.

The shared, three-course dinner was prepared by distinguished chef Cameron Matthews, with the evening accompanied by acclaimed classical contemporary musician Tobias Merz.

The producers showcased in this sharing dinner were some of the best in South East Queensland and leaders in sustainable and quality food production.

The Falls Farm, Tin Shed Farm, Cedar Street Cheeserie and Mountaintop Mushrooms were just some of the producers represented.

The crusty bread was put to good use with the entree, this time to mop up the sauces of the pork rillett from Forage Farm at Kybong, the mushrooms from Mountaintop Mushrooms and pickled vegetables from Falls Farm.

The taste and texture of the pork was attributed to the fact the animals are constantly moved onto fresh pasture.

The mushrooms were quite extraordinary. Fresh, nutritious and flavoursome – which reminded me of our time growing up on a farm and waiting for mushroom season.

Chicken from Tin Shed Farm was the main course – the chickens moved onto fresh pastures every day, marinated in black garlic teriyaki miso and served with winter vegetables from Falls Farm.

Dessert was Mt Mellum vanilla rice pudding with local banana, honey and macadamias.

For the evening, singer and composer Tobias Merz reimagined and rearranged a selection of songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (Winter Journey) based on poems by Wilhelm Müller. These evocative songs follow a traveller’s story of love and loss journeying through the harsh winter landscape.

Being sung on the longest night of the year it was an appropriate selection. It evoked the feeling of wood fires, clear night skies and frost on the ground.

Since relocating to the Sunshine Coast nearly six years ago, Katrina and her partner Dan Tibbett, studied permaculture and started a gourmet mushroom farm, Mountaintop Mushrooms.

While this project was in development, she worked at Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies, learning the importance of the seed industry and its role in our food systems.

Katrina’s own personal exploration of the provenance of her food led to visiting farms – farmer’s markets – thereby connecting with a diverse range of growers.

Other interests include having worked at Barung Landcare, as a farm hand at the Falls Farm, and an active member of Young Farmers Connect.

Fiona has danced extensively in both Australia and internationally across many disciplines.

She performed in Disney’s The Lion King for seasons in Sydney, Melbourne and Shanghai and spent her years as a company dancer at The Sydney Dance Company.

Cameron Matthews was an early advocate of the Slow Food movement, having been introduced to it in the early 2000s during his travels in Italy.

The Slow Food philosophy is one of clean, fair and sustainable produce.

The emphasis is local, seasonal food from regenerative practises that formed the basis of the Eat Art evening.

The idea is that food should not just look good but be good for you, and that came through with the selection of produce, the quality, how it was prepared and presented.

In 2009 Cameron became the executive chef of The Long Apron Restaurant at Spicers Clovelly Estate Montville.

Teaching at Spicer’s Cooking School, other independent schools, and events has also been a passion of Cameron’s which allows him to share the art of cooking and showcase local sustainable produce.

In 2014 he also accepted the role as general manager of the Spicers Clovelly Estate which allowed him to introduce additional environmentally-friendly practices and extend the ground’s horticultural projects.

His individual flair and innovation are an integral part of his ever evolving, intriguing and original take on fine dining which is sometimes playful and quirky, and often with a thought-provoking inspirational story or message, but always skilful; a style largely self-taught that delivers a menu of local seasonal sustainable produce created by a passion for his craft.

Cameron is now bringing the Slow Food concept to the menu at Mapleton Tavern, which has been re-branded as the Mapleton Public House to present fresh food from the Blackall Range and Glasshouse Mountains, to Noosa hinterland and the Mary Valley.

Tobias is a singer and composer. He discovered his love of music in his native New Zealand as a boy soprano and in the family jazz band before moving to The Netherlands to study classical singing at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.

His career has seen him performing in some of the world’s best known Opera Houses throughout the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, France, Greece, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

He has performed with Opera Australia, English National Opera, Opera North (UK), Scottish Opera, Grange Park Opera (UK), Opera Della Luna (UK), Carl Rosa Company (UK), The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Company, Buxton, Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra, The Resident Orchestra of The Hague, Sydney Symphony, The Ereprijs Orchestra (NL), Melbourne Philharmonic, Waikato Symphony (NZ) amongst others.

Fiona and Kat met at the Witta Market, while Fiona was working with Trevor Hart at the Cedar Street Cheeserie, and Kat was the market manager.

Fiona, Kat and Tobias had a similar dream to run an event about gathering people together, sharing great food and enjoying this in the company of world-class artists.

“Tobias and I have performed and worked all over the world, and wanted to share as much as we can with the local community.

“The idea is do something site-specific … we will be seeking interesting architectural buildings our outdoor spaces to fill with outstanding food and performing art.’’

“We want to really inspire people.“

Katrina was really happy with how the inaugural dinner went and is looking forward to seasonal events.

“It was so cosy,’’ she said, “ … the feeling was very intimate, like a living room.

“We are already brainstorming something for later in the year.

“One of the main concepts is we are not bound by anything – except the quality food, performance art and sustainability.

“The feedback has been fantastic, especially the importance of consumers reconnecting with the food.

“It’s so important to where we need to go.

“We need to look at what is in our backyard and reward it fairly.’’

That’s exactly what Eat Art has done – made me aware of what is around us and how supporting the local community benefits us all.