A ROWDY South Coast team got up to snatch a surprise victory in the 100 Mile Challenge lunch on Sunday, beating more fancied rivals from the Southern Highlands, the Mid-North Coast and the Mudgee district.
As part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival, teams from five NSW regions battled it out for the pleasure of six judges and 500 diners using food sourced only from within 160km of their major town.
The South Coast team was judged to have produced the best main and best dessert and was also highly praised for its matching of the wines with each course – organised by sommelier Toby Evans from Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook.
The lobster main course was prepared by Bannisters chef Alex Dawkins and the panna cotta dessert by the Berry Sourdough’s John Evans.
But when you’re relying on small local supply chains, anything can happen. Evans received a call from the Sussex Inlet strawberry grower last Tuesday. Rain was endangering the crop.
“There was no backup plan. I didn’t allow myself to think about it. This was a major component of the dessert. I just had to think it was going to be all right.”
Evans said the team from the Southern Highlands, featuring chefs from some big-name, hatted restaurants, was the big threat.
“We have the produce – the fish, oysters, fruit and vegetables – but we have not got as many restaurants. That’s going to happen in time. We’ve also got the wineries. The reputation will come in time.”
Each team was assigned an ABC personality for the lunch and the South Coast got Sydney morning presenter and famed nerd, Adam Spencer, who sledged the other teams mercilessly – particularly about the lobster.
“Adam Spencer was out of control,” said Evans. “He rallied the whole South Coast table. And he kept rubbing it in to the other tables that the South Coast had lobster and they didn’t. He must have mentioned it 20 times, making all the other tables jealous.”
“Adam Spencer was insane and I mean that in the nicest possible way,” said Berry Mountain Farm’s Kevin Gorman, who supplied some of the winning team’s vegetables.
“The South Coast had the rowdiest table. He really stirred us up. Every time we needed a cheer we had the loudest one there.
“It was nice to get acknowledgement,” Gorman said.
Spencer told his Sydney radio audience he had become an honorary member of the “mighty South Coast”.
“All I had to do was sit there and eat … and I won. It was the best day of my life.”
Team leader Kath Law from Kiama’s Little Blowhole Café praised her team of volunteers which had no government backing. “I think we could take on Australia now,” she said.
Judge and festival organiser Joanna Saville said the margin between the teams was “incredibly tight” but the South Coast had got over the line on the “strength of its menu and the way they executed it”.
“The wine match was fantastic, the main course divine and the dessert was great with the most amazing honey.”
She said the region had long been underestimated as a food destination.
“When I became director of the festival in 2009, the first thing I wanted to do was get the regions involved and the first region I thought of as deserving more recognition than it was getting was the South Coast.
“There’s so much on the South Coast that perhaps doesn’t get talked about as much as other regions. And here we are almost three years later and the result bears out what I was saying.”
And the highlight dish for her?
“Everybody was talking about the lobster. It was quite extraordinary. It had a lovely mayonnaise, little potatoes from Berry Mountain Farm and jamon from Warrawong – a really cool combination of ingredients.”
Costa Georgiadis from SBS’s Costa’s Garden Odyssey told the audience that Evans’ dessert was the highlight for him.
He told Evans later he would “walk to the Sourdough” to get some more of it.