Riverland Chef Tour, Workshops and Mentoring

The Riverland Chef Tour, workshops and mentoring leave top chefs ‘blown away’ by Riverland produce on a four-day food, and wine tour.

What did the Riverland Chef Tour, Workshops and Mentoring involve?

Two world-renowned chefs have been “absolutely blown away” by the Riverland’s best produce during a four-day discovery mission that will inspire a Tasting Australia feast in April this year.

Adelaide-based Duncan Welgemoed, whose restaurant Africola garners rave reviews, and Sydney’s Mark Best, whose stellar career includes leading the multi-award-winning restaurant Marque, visited the region recently as part of the Agri Food and Tourism Development (AFTD) Program, an initiative of Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland (RDAMR).

Over four days, the culinary experts explored venues from farms to wineries and eateries, meeting with local producers, chefs and retailers to learn about (and sample) the Riverland’s finest. They experienced local wines, bush foods, figs, yabbies, capers, jujubes, olives and other fresh produce, while exploring regional flavours.

The chefs also used their time to exchange ideas and mentor chefs and business owners, sharing their culinary skills with Riverland’s food and wine sector.

The visit was an incredible success, with both chefs inspired to create a unique banquet of local food for the Tasting Australia Festival, to be held in April along the Loxton riverfront.

Diners will be treated to an exquisite feast on the banks of the Murray River during Let the Good Times Flow: A Feast of the Riverland on 30 April. This will include a progressive matching of the Riverland’s most exciting alternative wine varieties.

But championing the exceptional Riverland produce won’t just be limited to the Tasting Australia event, because both Best and Welgemoed are planning to add the produce to their own award-winning restaurant menus, further strengthening Riverland food on the world stage.

RDAMR AFTD Project Manager Julie Bates said the visit not only linked two of Australia’s leading chefs with local producers, but was also a valuable opportunity to discover ways to increase the value of the region’s produce and build on expertise of local dining outlets.

“We already know the Riverland produces exceptional food and wine, but it can be a challenge for producers to connect with premium partners in the hospitality industry, or to find niches to diversify into,” Ms Bates says.

“Through the AFTD Program, initiatives like this visit are helping build connections with potential markets, while inspiring producers and giving them the confidence to seek out new ways to value-add to their products.”

The tour was packed with highlights – from extracting honey straight from a beehive, yabbying on the river, tree-bathing in 80-year-old fig plantations, tasting local wines with makers, and sampling natural jujube cola.

During their stay, the chefs visited 23 businesses, and tasted 100-plus different food and beverage products. Butchers, bakers, winemakers, fishers, growers and more, all featured on the itinerary with products ranging from a seedless lemon, figs, almonds, capers, and native foods including river mint.

They also shared their skills with over 40 locals across three special workshops, inspiring and mentoring more than 30 Riverland entrepreneurs and growers through meetings during their visit.

Chef Duncan Welgemoed said:

“The quality of produce in the Riverland is absolutely world-class. After having this visit, I honestly can’t believe there’s not more Riverland produce on our Australian menus. I intend to change that. Next time I come to visit, I want to bring a contingent of chefs, winemakers and journalists – because I know they’ll love it. I want to have some influence in not only bringing this produce to more Australian menus, but also supporting producers to learn how to make this happen themselves too – because the food and wine deserve to be there.

“On the [Tasting Australia] menu, we’re planning on using Murray cod, local olives, almonds, jujubes, dates, beef, wine, citrus, figs, capers and other outstanding produce. The produce speaks for itself and you can have a world-class experience without us even touching it. I just hope our menu will inspire young chefs in the Riverland to be brave enough to take it on too. I’ll be putting a few of these things on my restaurant menus too, and I’ve already taken the olive brine to test in our cocktails. We’ll also be exploring the Riverland further for our wine list.”

Chef Mark Best said:

We were completely blown away by the Riverland produce, people and diversity. Part of this visit was for us to use our external influence to see things objectively, and wow did we see them! The Riverland visit has changed any preconceived ideas we had about the area. To see, taste and experience the produce people are growing up here was quite remarkable. I’ve already told everyone to come here and visit, and I’ll be back again soon. For epicureans, the Riverland is a must see destination.

The Riverland has passionate growers and all of the natural resources it needs to become a world class destination, plus it has the physical assets of the river, the light and the history that make it so unique. There is absolutely no reason we should import any of the produce that s available in the Riverland, because what they have is unique and incredible. Being able to meet the growers, see how they do things and taste the freshest products means when we return for the riverfront cook up, we ll have the absolute best of region on show.

s Bates said a key focus of the AFTD program was to uncover ways to assist operators and producers to grow the capacity of their business through diversification opportunities and increase the value of their produce.

“The Riverland Chef Tour initiative compliments the work we’re already doing in this space, which has included special events, capacity building, promotion, stakeholder engagement, marketing, and more,” she says.

“Giving our producers and operators the skills, connections and tools to enhance their business diversification is equipping them to be ready for challenges such as water recovery and COVID-19. More importantly, it’s creating new opportunities for growth that will support further economic expansion across our region.”

The Riverland Chef Tour was a collaboration between RDAMR, the District Council of Loxton Waikerie, Destination Riverland and regional businesses.

The Agri Food Tourism Development Program is funded by the Australian Government under the Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program.


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