Having promised Billy Law that I would be the best person to report back on the ethical, sustainable and vegetarian side of Taste of Sydney after winning double passes through his blog, A Table for Two, I headed to Centennial Park on Sunday afternoon armed with my boyfriend (for fending off hungry crowds), a large camera and a big appetite. This annual event, attended by thousands, is one of the biggest on Sydney’s food calendar. Showcasing the best Sydney has to offer in the way of produce, restaurant selection and cuisine, the focus for this year was more on local, sustainable and ethical eating than ever before. A permanent Sustainable Pop-up Restaurant was tended each day by some of Sydney’s first food truck kitchens, tucked away in a little herb and sunflower filled garden. I was hugely disappointed I didn’t get to catch the girls behind the vegetarian Veggie Patch on the Saturday, but was happy to sample from Agapé Organic Restaurant and get to know some of the vendors in the Sustainable Living corner.
With $150 worth of free crowns (food dollars), we started at the HSBC VIP tent where I headed straight for the bar in search of a celebratory sparkling. Salivating over a corner of cheddar and herb scone I sampled from the buffet, it was time to head out into the millieu and discover what Taste of Sydney had to offer. With an average of 3 dishes per restaurant, few offered savoury vegetarian options. Those that did though, thankfully abstained from roasted vegetable stacks and red sauce pasta and instead there were quesadillas, soups, salads and figs. The stand-out dish for me, by far, was Longrain’s Heirloom Tomato and Cucumber Salad with a tamarind dressing. Seemingly an extra addition to the menu, the simple marriage of freshness and flavour was exactly what this hot, sunny day called for. Otto served a Barbarossa Ravioli (Ravioli of sliced pickled beetroot with goats curd, pistachio and horseradish), while Charlie and Co. dished out The Quesadilla (spicy bean, cheese and jalapeno quesadilla).
I was a little shocked to see Maya Sunny Honey’s display of live bees bottled and on display. While the stall attendant was adamant they had a sufficient air supply, I could see a few dead bees being knocked around by others frantic to get out. Thankfully, apparently the process was only a small example of the real-life scenario where bottles are put atop the hives and the bees come and go as they please, creating their combs inside the bottles which are then sold as is.
Below is an example of the waste management at this year’s Taste of Sydney. On site I saw no evidence of recycling or sustainable waste removal systems. I can only imagine what a task it would be to arrange it, but highly recommended if Australians want to to see themselves leading the rest of the civilised world in the area of sustainability. I have since learnt from the Taste of Sydney team that all of the plates/cutlery were biodegradable and all rubbish taken to a sorting plant for recycling. Very good to know.
The Sustainability Pop-up Restaurant of the day, Agapé Organic Restaurant, served Roasted Rosnay Figs stuffed with quark (a form of cottage cheese), pecorino & mozarella, apple balsamic, popped quinoa and basil. Yum. We couldn’t resist going back to try what we were told was “the world’s best brownie” after we saw a customer go back to the stand to confirm that this was, indeed, the case. I gotta say, by this stage I was so full I could barely manage to force feed myself but it was REALLY good.
Standing amongst the sunflowers and greenery, we headed to “the Garden” to chat to Steve from Urban Greenspace who has made it his mission to make Sydney’s restaurants over into living, breathing environments. His project at (vegetarian restaurant) Yulli’s on Crown St involved growing herb gardens in halved wine bottles from the walls outside, and he is working on an urban permaculture workshop series with some of the other stallholders in the area. He showed us his latest project, “Restaurant Rooftop Gardening” involving sustainable kitchen/restaurant/balcony boxes with herbs and chillis, for which he is taking orders now.
The rest of the afternoon was spent investigating and sampling the range from every other stall in sight. We sipped on ciders, perused the pears and found a beautiful Byron Bay Chopping Board to bring home with us. Inspired by A Table for Two’s Food Styling and Photography workshop the day before, I made it my business to photograph everything in sight, and had a great time introducing myself to stallholders and finding out more about Sydney’s restaurant scene and its future. Thank you to Billy Law for the passes and crowns, what an amazing day! All in all, I think Australian cuisine culture is headed in the right direction in the way of local, ethical and sustainable food. I would love to see more in the way of variety for vegetarians, and more chefs getting involved in the movement, but we’re definitely headed on the right track.