The Delicious Produce Awards: celebrating the producers

August 5, 2014

The most amazing thing about the Delicious Produce Awards is that they put the emphasis on the most incredible people in food: the producers. And they do it seasonally, with tastings four times a year for the judges.

Back in 2009 when the awards were part of Vogue Entertaining & Living I was asked to be a judge. I accepted, and one of the first things that happened was I was asked to fly to Qualia, which is this incredible luxury resort up in the Whitsundays owned by the Oatleys (Google it, it’s the schmickest thing ever, just incredibly amazing!) and that was my first foresight into it all – being spoilt rotten! It became the Delicious Produce Awards in 2010 and I was a state judge up until last year.

The year just gone I handed my notice in (though I still keep emailing them if I see an amazing producer or piece of produce, they can’t get rid of me that easily!). The awards were a huge kicker in helping me create the culinary life I have now. Back in 2009 I was still at Circa and not really known, the awards really brought me to the forefront of what I was doing in my beliefs about using seasonal produce and supporting small producers before all that became fashionable. It shouldn’t be fashionable, it should just be the norm.

So I figured it should now be somebody else’s opportunity to see all this amazing produce and meet these wonderful new people. But even more importantly than that, the awards are about the producers and I already used about 80% of what was sent in, or knew it from farmers’ markets, so I thought if I bowed out it would create an opportunity for the producers to get their products in front of people and restaurants that hadn’t previously known about them. That’s a big part of what the awards offer.

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Photo by Belinda Rolland

Some people thought I was crazy stepping aside – won’t say who (*cough* my business partner Ben) because it’s a great way to get your name and your business out there, but it’s somebody else’s turn. Hopefully I’ll go back to it. I’d like to knock one of the top judges off somewhere down the track.

So anyway, last year and this year the awards were held at Kitchen by Mike, which is this amazing warehouse space in Sydney. Its owner Mike McEnearney’s ethos is very similar to mine: good produce, simply done. It’s the Oscars for producers and so amazing to see how people have started copying it internationally. This year Victoria romped home, which just goes to show the amazing diversity within its food spectrum. It was like watching a soccer match and every time a Victorian producer won, we’ve scored a goal!

There are four categories with each having one winner, various medalists and an artisan award. The categories are: From the Earth, From the Paddock, From the Sea & From the Dairy.

Then you’ve got your Producer of the Year, Best New Product, Outstanding Farmers’ Market, Outstanding Region, Outstanding Regional Chef, Outstanding Innovation, Outstanding Food Store, ABC Local Radio Community Award, Maggie Beer Award for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Food and the Hall of Fame award.

This year Warialda Belted Galloway Beef won the From the Paddock category. I’m not too proud to say that when Allen and Lizette went up to collect their award I actually shed a tear…I don’t know if that was the champagne or beer talking, or if I was just absolutely elated. We met through the awards back in 2009 and we’ve become really close friends -sometimes I think they’re a little bit silly for how hard they work, but they really do emulate paddock to plate.

They do everything themselves: breed their own cattle, farm it, Allen rounds them up and takes them to the abattoir himself, he stays for the kill and takes them away with his meat truck, he butchers it himself, they pack it themselves, they market it themselves, then they take it to market and deliver it themselves. Twenty years ago when they started, people were telling them they were crazy for taking on these longtime-growing rare breed cattle, when everyone else was going Angus and Murray Grey. There’s nothing wrong with Angus or Murray Grey, Allen just really loved the Belted Galloway. It’s a beautiful cow, but it takes a good extra year to get to the weight that an average Angus gets to. He’s just a really smart farmer; he really cares for the land. Good for the earth, good for the soul.

Other Victorian winners included the beautiful Myrtleford Butter in the From The Dairy category for their crème fraiche, and my mate Frenchy (Andrew French) won best new produce for his Snowy River Station Sea Spray.

Even though I wasn’t judging it was a huge honour to still be invited along. Ben and I flew up and had a real laugh (and a few thousand drinks). It’s not even about the winning – it’s a time for producers to reflect on how well they’ve done, and to see and celebrate peers in a different setting. No one ever stops to tell you you’re good. It’s a nice time to reflect and give yourself a pat on the back.

I’ve been to a lot of parties and Delicious do it really well. I’d love them to have it outside at Pope Joan someday…it’s too small though. Perhaps out the back of Hams & Bacon!? Whatever happens, thank god for the producers and those who celebrate them.