After spending a few days exploring the sunny town of Carnarvon, the Boy and I packed up our 4WD hire car and drove back to Exmouth. Exmouth is a four hour drive north from Carnarvon depending on your chosen route. In my usual manner I had pre-planned our trip to take us up the more direct route along the coastal road so we could stop in at beautiful Coral Bay. Unfortunately we were unlucky enough to have our Northwest trip coincide with some of the worst flooding the region has seen in years which meant that this coastal road was closed. Our alternate route took us further inland which added a little bit of extra time to our trip. Although I was a bit disappointed not getting to visit Coral Bay, I got to see some Outback Australian scenery that was totally new to me.
Plus there was the added entertainment of spotting random livestock and wildlife to photograph along the way…
Our Exmouth accommodation was at the 4.5 star Novotel Ningaloo which is the only resort located along the Sunrise Beach and is considered one of the most luxurious options to stay in town. Every hotel room and apartment are positioned to try and maximise views of the water with the ocean and marina both only meters away from our apartment’s doorstep.
We stayed in one of the two bedroom self-contained apartments which had a spacious open plan with the perfect layout for a family with two children. In addition to our type of lodgings, the resort also has two types of hotel rooms, one bedroom apartments and bungalows and their largest accommodation, the two story two bedroom bungalow directly overlooking the beach.
Our apartment had a comfortable King sized bed in the master room with twin beds located in the second bedroom. There was a pillow menu on offer however we didn’t notice this until late in the evening when there were minimal options left. Housekeeping advised us apologetically that our stay coincided with a full house and were given first priority on pillow options for the following morning. The bathroom opened out onto the bedroom with bi-folding doors and had a spa bath with separate shower. There were a variety of Accor branded amenities available.
The kitchen was equipped with most of the basic utensils that you would need for cooking including a stove, microwave, dishwasher and full sized fridge for storing all your leftovers. Despite having good intentions to cook up some local seafood to eat, we never even got around to boiling the kettle!
After spending the afternoon on the road in poor weather conditions neither of us had any desire to hit the town so we made a reservation at the resort’s restaurant Mantaray’s. Although this is the poshest resort in Exmouth, I was relieved to be greeted with a relaxed vibe without any luxury venue pretension.
We had been nibbling on gluten free snacks that I had bought in Carnarvon on the road trip so in a rare moment of restraint we ordered just one entrée to share along with a half a dozen oysters. The prawn cocktail entrée was made using local Exmouth prawns, fresh avocado, cos lettuce and seafood sauce. Whilst not being the most generous of serves for the price, each prawn was super fresh and we literally fought each other over the last one.
The Boy ordered the vegetarian fettuccini for his main course. There was no scrimping on the vegetables in this one with piles of snow peas, carrot, zucchini, rocket, tomatoes and fresh basil with a creamy lemon and pine nut sauce. It was the type of dish that makes him content with his choice of eating a vegetarian diet.
I ordered the local fish of the day, a pan fried snapper served on a bed of creamy pea risotto and pea purée. Crunchy wafers of crisp pancetta topped the dish and added a much needed contrast in textures. The fish was cooked tenderly and fell apart under my fork in delicate flaky chunks.
As I figured that the oysters didn’t counted as a meal I justified ordering dessert on the pretence we had only shared one entrée. I mean, oysters are just an amuse bouche aren’t they? I was thrilled to hear the gluten free dessert options offered were more than the usual standards like crème brûlée and flourless chocolate cake. I chose the raspberry mille-feuille; layers of sweet raspberry mousse and gluten free chocolate cake topped off with a paper thin layer of milk chocolate. It was all very decadent and smooth leaving me dreaming of eating it over and over for most of the following day.
The Boy’s ice cream addiction has come out of its dormancy with full force. These days I am struggling to convince him to order anything else for dessert unless it accompanies ice cream. I will admit this makes me a bit annoyed now that we can no longer share two gluten free desserts, but to be honest I also find it quite endearing. He is normally so easy going and just goes with the flow so to see him so obsessed with something is unusual.
For someone who loves her luxury accommodation, I didn’t think I would find anything of the sort up in the Northwest of Australia. I had prepared myself for motels with grim coloured furniture and postage stamp sized towels. I was more than pleasantly surprised at Novotel Ningaloo and after staying at fairly simple lodgings in Carnarvon it was a welcome relief. We would love to return to stay there next visit to Exmouth and hope our next trip accompanies some better weather!Chompchomp was an invited guest of the Novotel Ningaloo as part of her WA Signature Dish involvement. She was offered a heavily discounted industry rate to stay in the two bedroom apartment in exchange for providing Novotel with some professional photography services around the resort. Sods law meant that for the duration of her stay in Exmouth there were intermittent storms, grey skies and a lot of rain. Consequently her rushed photography taken during the rare snippets of sunshine were not exactly her greatest work. She humbly paid for her meal at Mantaray’s restaurant in full as this was not part of the deal. Novotel Ningaloo & Mantaray’s Bar Restaurant Madaffari Drive, Exmouth WA 6707 | (08) 9949 0000 | novotelningaloo.com.au
For the final blog post on my trip to the coastal town of Carnarvon, I thought it would be useful to summarise my discoveries for my fellow gluten intolerants in a simple gluten free Carnarvon traveller’s guide.
Carnarvon is located about nine hundred kilometres north of Perth on the western coast of Australia. It is easily accessible by car, bus and air. This was my first trip up into the northern corner of our vast country and we originally planned to drive up on a long road trip from Perth. This would have taken us around ten hours excluding stops.
After giving it more thought I changed my mind and decided I wanted to experience more of the Coral Coast further north from Carnarvon on the same holiday. This would add even more hours onto our already long drive. So instead to us save time, we chose to fly into Exmouth with Qantas airlines, hire a car and drive direct from Learmonth Airport. The flight is about two hours and then the drive from Exmouth to Carnarvon is around four hours depending on the weather conditions.
I found driving around Carnarvon and through the Outback onto Exmouth was a type of road trip unlike anything I have previous experienced. The roads are much more remote than any city slicker like me could have even imagined. Roadside stops are few and few between with very little to offer the gluten free traveller. I arrived fully prepared with roads snacks packed in my suitcase and I was able to restock my supplies at the local Woolworths in Carnarvon town where they had a full range of gluten free breads, crackers, muffins and other snacks.
Outback driving is something you need some preparation for. My ten best tips for beginners are:• Check the road and weather conditions before you leave: We encountered some pretty crazy weather and had to change our routes due to road closures on a number of occasions. BOM gives up to date reports. Be sure to check their website daily. • Pack plenty of water. Remember there are minimal service stations once you get out of Carnarvon Town and onto the highway and it can get pretty hot out there! • Stock up on gluten free snacks before you set out. Those few and far between service stations have slim pickings for us gluten free peeps. Come prepared. • Tell someone your plans before you go • Plan your refuelling stops • Obtain a current and accurate map • Use a road worth vehicle ideally a 4WD • Ensure to organise your music devices with good tunes, a charger and a way to play it through your hire car radio. • Watch out for wildlife and livestock on the road. You will be surprised at how much wayward animals are out there. • Don’t drive after dark
We stayed at the Best Western Hospitality Inn where we found the rooms to be simple but clean and are conveniently located within walking distance to the town centre and the picturesque fascine. There are a number of other accommodation options including pubs, motels, backpacker’s lodges and caravan parks. There are currently no luxury styled hotels or chalets.
Where to eat:
My first recommendation for any foodie, whether you are gluten free or not is to get yourself a copy of the Gascoyne Food Trail map and hit the road for your own paddock to plate experience. You will find all sorts of naturally gluten free things to devour including fresh prawns, frozen chocolate pudding fruit and the sweetest bananas you have ever tasted.
For a more traditional feast dining in you need to bear in mind that a lot of the restaurants are closed from Sunday through to Tuesday and some of the tourist cafés are only open seasonally. For two nights of our stay we ate at the Sails Restaurant situated at our hotel because nowhere else was open. Whilst their menu is not marked with gluten free options, the chef was very obliging and could adapt most of the meals for me. We really enjoyed their ginger scallop entrée especially as it came with a substantial number of scallops to share.
It seemed that some other local eateries have yet to buy into the concept of utilising all the amazing fresh local produce available at their doorstep. After speaking with a number of locals I get the feeling this is soon about to change.
One place that has embraced using local produce was the Gascoyne Hotel. Their menu was clearly marked with gluten free options and even had a number of gluten free desserts on offer including cheesecakes, puddings and tiramisu. Whilst their creamy garlic prawns weren’t exactly cheap for an entrée size, they were worth every cent.
Another gluten free item on the Gascoyne’s menu was the salt and pepper calamari. This wasn’t quite the dish we were expecting with only a few pieces of calamari served underneath a mound of crispy rice noodles and generous lashings of a honey, sesame and soy dressing. As odd as this dish looked, the flavours did work well together.
The Boy also ordered himself the local snapper with chips and salad but alas this wasn’t marked gluten free on the menu. I enquired if this could be done gluten free however was informed that I could only have the dishes already marked gluten free on the menu. If you are craving gluten free fish and chips, I managed to find some at the Harbourside Café. They will charge a reasonable amount more for local fish than the alternative option of imported fish but all their staff were aware of how to avoid gluten contamination and prepared a fresh batch of chips in clean oil just for us.
A final recommendation is to head over to “The Precinct”, Carnarvon’s Heritage area on Babbage Island. This area is home to the One Mile Jetty, a beautiful historical jetty built in 1897 and maintained in good enough condition to walk nearly the full length.
The newly opened One Mile Restaurant located in the Centre next to the jetty and has a young and ambitious chef who informed me will be offering gluten free options on her menu. The Centre provides fabulous views of the jetty and looks out over the water making it the perfect spot to stop for a meal.
Coming up next in my Gascoyne series will take you to the stunning beach-side town of Exmouth where we stayed at the luxurious Ningaloo Novotel Resort and nearly became trapped there due to widespread flooding!Sails Restaurant 6 West Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 1600 | www.carnarvon.wa.hospitalityinns.com.au/ Water’s Edge Restaurant at the Gascoyne Hotel 121-125 Olivia Terrace, South Carnarvon WA 6701| (08) 9941 1181 | www.gascoynehotel.com.au Harbourside Cafe 131 Harbour Road, South Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4111 | Facebook
One Mile Restaurant at the Interpretive Centre | Heritage Precinct Annear Place, Babbage Island, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 3423 | http://www.carnarvonheritage.com.au/ The Precinct is open daily from 9 am-5 pm, April to November and on weekends only from December to March. One Mile restaurant will be opening mid-May 2014.
After a long drive through the pouring rain it was a relief to arrive in Carnarvon ready for the WA Signature Dish regional final. It had been a right kerfuffle getting to our destination with missed flights, flight delays and severe weather warnings but we made it albeit one day late.
We arrived in Carnarvon in the late afternoon and checked into our accommodation at the Best Western Hospitality Inn. Our room was clean and simply appointed with a minibar stocked with nibbles, beer, wine and soft drinks. There were also tea and coffee-making facilities, free WIFI and room service however the internet connection was painfully slow.
On our first night we were a little weary from travelling all day so we ate at the hotel restaurant Sails. Sails is considered one of the more refined dining options in town in addition to being one of the very few restaurants that remain open seven days a week.
Having heard great things about Carnarvon’s fresh seafood it was all I was in the mood for. And the best way to start a seafood feast is with oysters. Now I realise the hot climate of Carnarvon excludes it from farming oysters locally this meant the oysters on Sail’s menu would undoubtedly be imported. However, when I get the fanciful idea of eating oysters I just will not stop until I am satisfied. These giant sized babies came from Frankland Bay in South Australia and were plump, creamy and surprisingly fresh. We enjoyed them served natural with a squeeze of cut lemon.
Before ordering anything else the chef kindly came out to speak with me about suitable gluten free options from his menu. I always appreciate this level of concern as it illustrates to me that they will ensure to take care when preparing my food. Our first dish was a seared prawn salad using local prawns tossed through a mighty sized salad of julienned bacon, roasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and baby spinach leaves. It was finished with a lemon, chilli and coriander dressing. The bacon was an odd addition and one we didn’t expect however being cut into such thin slivers it wasn’t overpowering and added just a hint of flavour with each mouthful.
Our second entrée was the grilled ginger scallops. This dish also has a level of curiosity about it as in addition to the enormous scallops served in the shell, there were extra smaller sized ones buried underneath. It worked out quite good value when you consider the price as there ended up being six scallops in total. It came served upon a scoop of steamed rice and wilted Chinese greens.
An unexpected touch of complementary lemon sorbet was brought to our table in the interlude between our first and second courses. After all the spice and ginger flavours it was a welcoming cleanser to prepare for our main meal.
For mains we both ordered the tropical barramundi. The fillet was grilled lightly, served on a bed of bok choy and topped with lemon butter sauce plus a spoonful of chilli mango salsa. A couple of poached prawns topped this collection of ingredients as a strange afterthought. Whilst the fish was soft and tender within, I felt the combination of lemon butter and mango salsa was too eclectic with only a small amount of each so that neither had the chance to shine. The end result was actually a somewhat bland dish. Such a shame because those simple flavours had a lot of potential.
We ended our night which Sail’s cheese platter for two which considering the price once again this was a generous portion size. The chef ensured to serve the water crackers in a separate bowl to avoid any gluten contamination which reinforced to me what a gluten free friendly place this was. There were four different types of cheese; chunks of tasty cheddar, smoked Dutch, Danish blue and Camembert sat among some pieces of fresh fruit and roasted nuts.
The complimentary breakfast provided with our room was very basic including some sliced toast, fruit and cheese plus an array of cereals. There wasn’t any gluten free bread available. You are able to pay a small amount extra for a hot cooked meal if you prefer but instead I bought some gluten free muffins from the local Woolworth’s supermarket which they grilled for me at no extra charge.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Carnarvon and whilst the Best Western is by no means the five-star luxury that I love, it was comfortable and clean with friendly service. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again next time we are in the region.Disclaimer: Chompchomp’s accommodation at Best Western Carnarvon was partly funded for by Buy West Eat Best for my involvement in their WA Signature Dish competition. Sails Restaurant 6 West Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 1600 | www.carnarvon.wa.hospitalityinns.com.au
Despite living in Western Australia for nearly twenty years I am ashamed to admit that I have never journeyed further north than the seaside town of Dongara to visit my Bestie. Whenever I plan a holiday, the centre point of our activities is always based around experiencing the food of the places we visit. I didn’t feel any foodie gravitational pull coming from this region of Australia imagining it to be not much more than white sandy beaches, cattle ranches and red expanses of desert. The Boy on the other hand is a huge advocate of the North West and has tried to encourage me to go for years. He was over the moon to hear I was chosen to be the Gascoyne regional blogger for the Buy West Eat Best WA Signature Dish competition. He knew this would finally be the reason we could go up there together and he was convinced that I would love it.
After a number of hurdles tried to prevent us reaching our destination including missing a flight and battling a storm, we were incredibly relieved to finally drive into the pretty town of Carnarvon. Our first day was hectically busy with duties for the WA Signature Dish regional final which left our second day free to explore the area. With some help from the locals we managed to go on an extended version of the Gascoyne Food Trail; one unlike any other food trail I have gone on. Cast away images of your previous experiences visiting multiple tourist driven sites stocked with samples of artisan gourmet goods. Instead, this self-drive tour will give you a paddock to plate experience of the Gascoyne as you discover the region’s produce in its raw and naturally fresh state.
Our first stop for the morning was located down on Snapper Jetty to watch one of the local Abacus crab boats come in with their catch. Abacus Fisheries is a family run business owned by Peter Jecks and his wife. Living locally in Carnarvon Peter has been in the industry for over 20 years. Despite such a long time in the crab trade, he remains fiercely passionate being highly focused on producing a quality product in addition to proactively supporting the environmental sustainability of his fishing practices.
Peter is well known amongst Australia’s high profile foodies having featured on a number of television programs including Postcards WA and SBS’s Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia. I was very interested to hear that not a single part of the crab is wasted. The water that is used to cook the crab meat gets packaged and sold as crab stock in gourmet food stores. Even the shell is compounded to use as chitin in the medical industry for a number of applications including the manufacture of the dressings used as a second skin for burn victims.
That day, it turned out to be our lucky morning because not only did we get to see the crab fisherman come in with their haul, but we had timed our visit with one of the local fishing boats Cygnet Lass returning from a four day stint at sea.
This fishing boat provided the day’s fresh fish to Pickles Point Seafood which is located just doors down from Abacus crabs. Pickles Point is run by Gayle Dewar, one of our WA Signature dish contestants and they are renowned for providing the local Carnarvon residents with some of the freshest Shark Bay seafood.
Gayle was kind enough to take me behind the scenes where I saw a beautiful 3kg Red Emperor fish get neatly filleted in the blink of an eye with perfect precision. I made a mental note that next time upon our return to the region, we need to ensure arrange accommodation complete with a kitchenette! I would have loved to have bought some Red Emperor and cooked it up for dinner.
After a morning of photographing delicious fresh seafood, the two of us were desperate to grab a quick snack before we headed out onto the plantations. Harbourside Cafe is located along the same stretch of road as the fishing boat jetties so we ducked in there for a bite to eat. It has the vibe of a beach side fish and chip shop with simple décor and no table service. Their menu is literally pages long with an eclectic mix of local and imported seafood in addition to some Indian and Thai styled curries.
Avoiding the cheaper imported fish dishes, I chose the grilled Carnarvon snapper fillet served with salad and chips. The chef was happy to cook the chips in fresh oil to avoid any gluten contamination. My snapper was an enormous serve of two big fillets and I would have preferred a smaller size at a cheaper price. The fish was soft and flaked apart delicately under my fork.
The Boy ordered the crab cakes and prawn nori rolls. The crab cakes were topped with fresh prawns and a sweet chilli sauce. Obviously not being gluten free I didn’t try them but the Boy said they had a satisfying crunchy exterior with a creamy centre however didn’t have a lot of flavour.
The nori rolls were served deep fried which we both thought was quite curious. Stuffed with fresh prawns, seaweed and capsicum these non-traditionalist snacks were a novelty worth trying at least once.
Refuelled and ready for more exploring we headed out to the ring road affectionately known as the “fruit loop” by locals. The area is filled with fruit and vegetable plantations growing a wide variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs. The first stop heading out of town was Morel’s Orchard. Run by the absolutely lovely Jean and Doris Morel, this plantation is open to the public seven days a week including public holidays. Who needs a farmers market when you can buy your produce direct from the farmer? Honestly, it was like a dream come true for me!
Morel’s fruits were all so supersized and delicious looking but the most interesting of them all was the black sapote, or chocolate pudding fruit. This fruit is a species of persimmon with a yellow green inedible skin. The centre of the ripe fruit is a dark chocolate colour with the creamy texture of, yes you guessed it, chocolate pudding.
In addition to growing many seasonal fruits, the Morel’s property has row upon row of herbs and other vegetables growing lusciously. Everything looked so well-manicured and cared for as if it was just their own personal backyard veggie patch, but on a much larger scale. The Boy is an avid green thumb and his dream isn’t to be able to buy direct from farmers like me, but more so to be able to have his own veggie patch of this grand scale and get his veggies from his own backyard.
As we thanked Jean and Doris for their hospitality, Doris insisted that we try some of their chocolate coated frozen fruit before we left. I am so glad we did! Forget about Magnum ice-cream, these Morel freezer sweets are worth the visit in their own right. We struggled to choose which ones to eat and ended up greedily grabbing far too many; trying the chocolate coated black sapote, the custard apple, banana and strawberries along with some frozen mango. The smooth black sapote was definitely our favourite with the banana coming a close second.
Whilst many of you may never have heard of a chocolate pudding fruit before, you will be more familiar with one of Carnarvon’s biggest exports to Perth; the banana. I was grateful that Sweeter Banana’s business manager Doriana was happy to take some time out from her busy day to show us through the banana packing facility.
The Boy and I have had many a debate at home over which bananas are better; I love the smaller, sweeter ones and he prefers the picture perfect enormous ones. Whenever he does the grocery shopping he will always come home with the biggest bananas he can find which inevitably results in complaints from me because I think they taste powdery and bland. What I didn’t know was why this is the case.
Doriana was a proud advocate of the smaller banana which is characteristic of the Carnarvon-grown fruit. Their smaller size and better taste is all due to the different climate of the Gascoyne region in comparison to tropical North Queensland where the larger bananas come from. Carnarvon’s weather tends to be hot and dry having a much lower humidity level. The low humidity means that their crops do not suffer from the diseases and pests seen in the tropics making their produce pesticide free.
Because of these weather conditions, the banana plantations have to plant their trees much closer together than in the tropics. This creates a continuous canopy with the tree’s leaves which helps protect the fruit from the burning rays of the sun. As a result the bananas have a much longer growing time resulting in a smaller but much sweeter fruit. Next time you are buying bananas, look for the lunchbox sized versions and you can taste the difference for yourself. I am happy to say I have converted the Boy to eating our local WA sweeter bananas now!
Our final stop on the fruit loop was at the home store on Bumbak’s plantation. This plantation owner had become frustrated with the amount of good fruit she had to throw away year after year just because it wasn’t up to the commercial standard despite the fact it was perfectly fine to eat.
She created a way to value add to this large component of her harvest by making a variety of jams, sauces and marinades. Many of her natural home made products are gluten free and have won a long list of Awards at the Perth Royal Show. We grabbed a couple of jars to take home to try including her banana jam and some Thai coconut chilli marinade.
Heading back into town there is a cute little place worth mentioning called River Gums Café that is marked on the Gascoyne Food trail. It regrettably did not have a lot to offer gluten free so we didn’t stop there for a bite to eat but it is a very pretty location to stop for afternoon tea for those less restricted with their diets.
The last stop on the Gascoyne Food trail is “The Precinct”, Carnarvon’s Heritage area on Babbage Island. This area is home to the One Mile Jetty, a beautiful historical jetty built in 1897 and maintained in good enough condition to walk nearly the full length.
Until very recently you could buy yourself a drink and an ice cream from the Guardsmans’ Van kiosk to enjoy on your jetty walk. With the opening of the new Interpretive Centre, the kiosk has now been closed as it has been replaced with the One Mile Restaurant in the Centre. This restaurant was the location for our WA Signature Dish regional final. On the day of the final, the chef of One Mile Restaurant and I got chatting and I was excited to hear she plans to accommodate for gluten free customers. The restaurant was opening that week and I offered to return in order to try one of her first gluten free cake creations.
I’m glad we made the effort to return. She made a super moist orange almond cake that was different to your usual almond meal based cake. She included some gluten free flour to make it lighter and fluffier. Suffice to say I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it and the Boy who is “not a dessert person” was very happy to help me finish my generous slice. He even said it didn’t taste gluten free! Winning!
As we drove back to our hotel, the Boy looked over at me very satisfied with himself.
“Am I right?” he asked me.
All these years I had dismissed ideas of a trip up North with the perception that there was nothing up here that would interest me. Swallowing my pride humbly there was no way I could refute him; this is a place in Western Australia that every foodie needs to visit.
Gascoyne Food Trail | www.gascoynefood.com.au Pickles Point Seafood & Boatyard | Facebook Lot H Harbour Road, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4078 | Open Mon-Sat from 9am-5pm (closed Jan-Feb) Harbourside Cafe 131 Harbour Road, South Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 4111 | Facebook Morel’s Orchard 486 Robinson Street, Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8368 | Open 7 days (incl. PH) from 8.30am-5.30pm Sweeter Banana Cooperative Carnarvon | (08) 9941 9100 | www.sweeterbanana.com Bumbak’s at Terra Temptations 449 North River Road, Carnarvon, WA | 0409 377 934 Available at IGA Cottesloe River Gums Café Turn at the Big Banana on Robinson Street then it 34 Margaret R.O.W., Carnarvon WA 6701 | (08) 9941 8281 | Open Wed-Sunday from 10am-3pm during May to October www.carnarvonheritage.com.au The Precinct is open daily from 9am-5pm, April to November and on weekends only from December to March. One Mile restaurant will be opening mid-May 2014.
I recently travelled up to the Northwest corner of Western Australia as the official blogger for the Gascoyne regional final in the inaugural WA Signature Dish competition. Having never visited this part of Australia before, I wanted to obtain a clear insight into its food industry in order to understand why they call themselves the “food bowl” of our State. The Boy and I flew in via Exmouth, collected ourselves a rental 4WD from the airport and drove straight to Carnarvon in the pouring rain to be ready to start early the next morning.
The competition event was held at One Mile Restaurant which is housed in the new Interpretive Centre facing out onto the historical One Mile Jetty in the Heritage Precinct. Whilst this ancient but well preserved jetty was constructed back in 1897, the accompanying restaurant was only built recently and hadn’t even officially opened! Their kitchen was so shiny and new creating a perfect work area for our four contestants to create their signature dishes. The fabulous four finalists for the Gascoyne region are Jerolina, Amy, Paul and Gayle. They all live in Carnarvon and show an obvious love for their home town and its amazingly vibrant produce.
The contestants weren’t scheduled to hit the stoves until mid-morning which gave Channel Seven’s Today Tonight camera team plenty of time to get loads of footage including getting individual interviews with each of them. Also joining the team was professional photographer Anton from Simply Designed, whose talent, skills and awesome equipment reminded me what a complete amateur I am with my little camera!
As each contestant was scuttled away for their private interviews, it gave me the chance to have a good chat with those remaining behind and learn more about what it is like living in Carnarvon and more importantly to plug them for suggestions on where to eat locally.
I was surprised and somewhat saddened to learn that despite being a town surrounded by an abundance of amazing fruit and vegetable plantations in addition to having access to some of the freshest seafood, many of the local eateries preferred to obtain cheaper imported ingredients in order to save on costs. Hopefully with highly publicized and well-run events like WA Signature Dish, it will help promote using local produce and this food culture will start to change. Certainly if the passion and enthusiasm of these four locals was anything to go by, it won’t be long before this happens.
Once all the contestant’s interviews were completed it was time for them to don their aprons and get down to business. Before officially commencing the cook-off, the region’s mentor chef Peter Manifis from InContro wished the contestants the best of luck before gesturing them into the kitchen.
Although the four in the kitchen were far too busy to stop and eat, the rest of us were getting pretty peckish. To our delight the newly appointed chef for One Mile Restaurant had kindly prepared a huge spread of food for us to snack on while we anxiously waited to see what the first dish would be. Our lunch included fresh sushi rolls, pumpkin soup, rice paper rolls, scones and a colourful fruit platter. When I chatted to the chef to find out what was gluten free, I was excited to hear she was a huge supporter in using her local produce and plans to promote this in her new restaurant once it opens.
Each contestant received their signature dish ingredients packed neatly in a crate and seeing them all go through each one was like watching kids at Christmas. Jerolina’s signature dish was a whole grilled Snapper served with Dabu dabu and coconut corn. Dabu dabu is a type of hot sauce found in Manado cuisine from Indonesia.
Her signature dish was the first one to be presented to the judges and she certainly set the bar high for her fellow finalists. The fish was so delicate and moist with a rich, spicy flavour from the Dabu dabu sauce. The chargrilled corn also had a hint of spice which balanced elegantly with the sweet coconut flavours.
Those of you who know me well, you will be familiar with my “flying hands of fury”. It is a term used by my friends to describe my ever-moving and highly expressive hand movements. Well, actually they are sometimes more like arm movements.
Within minutes of meeting Amy I concluded we must have been separated at birth because she also sported a similarly fantastic pair of flying hands of fury. Being such an energetic and vibrant person I was excited to see what creative and crazy dish she would create. Her signature dish was a stunning carpaccio of kangaroo fillet served on a bed of Oriental lentils with pickled beetroot. It was plated immaculately and I found it hard to believe she had no chef training.
As I am allergic to kangaroo meat, unfortunately I didn’t try this dish. Roo causes me to develop a rather unusual anaphylactic like response where my throat swells up and I struggle to breathe. Kind of like what I imagine a nut allergy to be. But to roo! It’s not pleasant. I was informed by those who ate the carpaccio that the meat was uber-tender and matched well with the creamy lentils and sweet beetroot.
Gayle runs the front of house for Pickles Point Seafood & Boatyard in Carnarvon. Pickles Point are renowned for providing the local Carnarvon residents with some of the freshest Shark Bay seafood so it was logical that this would be the main feature of her signature dish.
She cooked a freshly cut fillet of Shark Bay Pink Snapper topped with butterflied Tiger prawns and served on a sweet potato mash with lime and mayonnaise. I looked over at the judge’s faces and I could see they were struggling to choose a winner. It was going to be such a hard call to make as every dish was outstanding.
The lovely, smiling Paul was the lucky last competitor to serve up his signature dish to the judging panel. This didn’t appear to frazzle him whatsoever and he looked so zen and calm as he prepared his dish. I wish cooking had that effect on me!
His dish was titled the “Gascoyne seafood tasting plate”. It comprised of four equally outstanding components each showcasing a outstanding number of key hero ingredients from the Gascoyne region; King prawns with salsa verde, citrus cured snapper, pan fried Pink snapper with lime mayonnaise and pickled vegetables; and snapper tartare with basil drizzle.
Narrowing it down to just one winner was going to be very hard and I didn’t envy the judges having to make this decision. The winner of each regional final will go on to battle it out for the title of WA Signature Dish on WA Day in June. The other three regional finalists are from the areas of Southern Forests, Great Southern and Perth. In order to help prepare the contestants for the big finale, each regional winner will receive intense one-on-one training from their mentor chef. I can see the Peter has a strong competitive streak in him so we couldn’t have asked for a more motivated chef to train our finalist!
As the crowd gathered around to wait for the announcement of the winner I could feel the excitement and tension in the air. The judges had used a points system to score each dish, assessing its flavour, presentation and originality but also on its ability to proudly showcase the produce from the Gascoyne region. Before they declared the winner, we were informed that it was an extremely close call with the top two contestants so close they nearly came in at a tie.
And the winner of the WA Signature Dish Gascoyne regional is……..Paul Kelly with his stunning Gascoyne seafood tasting plate. A huge congratulations to you Paul and also a big well done to Jerolina, Amy and Gayle for creating such amazing and individual signature dishes. Hopefully we may all meet again next year? 😉
Chompchomp is the official blogger for the Gascoyne region for WA Signature Dish competition run by Buy West Eat Best.
I wanted to find the most economical way to get to Carnarvon for the WA Signature Dish regional final. After toying with the idea of driving from Perth with a one way hire car, I ditched that thought in exchange for trading some Qantas frequent flyer points and catching a flight from Perth to Exmouth instead. Chuffed with the sensation I got something for nothing I proceeded to plan our detailed itinerary to explore the Gascoyne. However, despite all my organisation and planning it was soon to be upturned when I received an invite to attend the Taste of Perth Gala night along with my fellow official Eat Drink Perth bloggers. The Gala night coincided with the day we were due to fly out. I changed our flights to leave the following day so I could do both. Not a problem.
We rocked up to Perth airport the next day for our flight only to discover that I got our departure times mixed up with those of our original flight and consequently we missed the plane! To make matters worse, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a weather warning for the Gascoyne region predicting flash floods and a lot of rain. Gulp. Were we actually going to make it up North at all?
The Qantas service desk staff were quite empathetic about our plight which I found surprising given that during our time spent at their desk there were a number of other passengers who had also missed their flights. One passenger was getting quite agitated and as she blame shifted to all those around her I admired the level of patience maintained by the Qantas staff despite being confronted by such grumpy people.
The following day we returned back to the airport for our second attempt at getting to Exmouth. We arrived with plenty of time to spare so we made our way to the Qantas Lounge to relax. There was a disappointing amount of gluten free food available in the Lounge with only plain rice cakes, sliced tomato and capsicum on offer. There was also some gluten free muesli but it contained dried fruit, which is no good for a fructose malabsorber. The Boy had much better options and happily made himself a couple of cheese and tomato toasties. The smell of melted cheese was enough to make me swoon.
After filling up on a stack of rice cakes I noticed the departure screen flashed up with ***DELAYED DEPARTURE*** next to our flight and I really started to think this trip was doomed. I enquired at the Qantas Club desk why the plane was delayed and was relieved to learn that it was simply because a crew member had fallen sick. Boo for them but phew for us!
Finally, over half an hour after the scheduled departure time we made our way to the gate. Our Qantas Link plane was a De Havilland DHC-8 Dash 400. This type of plane is a turbo propeller however it was much quieter than I expected it to be if you excluded the initial noisy climb to cruising altitude. The seats are arranged in a comfortable 2-2 configuration and there was no inflight entertainment available. The flight takes around two and a half hours.
We were served a light complementary in-flight snack of a savoury zucchini muffin and some choc chip biscuits. There was no option to choose a gluten free friendly meal on booking the flight so I was thankful I had binged on those plain rice cakes in the Lounge.
We arranged a hire car with Budget using the Qantas website at the same time when we booked our flights. Given the weather warnings I was grateful we got upgraded to a 4 wheel drive Nissan Pajero. Having already done my research I knew that there is only one roadside petrol station between Learmonth airport and Carnarvon so I ensured my luggage was packed full of gluten free snacks for us to munch on for the drive.
We drove for three and a half hours in the intermittently pouring rain taking great caution on the roads as there were a lot of wandering livestock happily grazing along the roadside. In the breaks in the rain we managed to pull over and take some quick pictures but most of the trip it felt like we were racing the storm to our destination. It was a relief to check into our hotel the Best Western in Carnarvon completely unscathed despite all odds trying to prevent us getting there. I could barely sleep that night as I was too excited about what the following day would bring! Stay tuned as my post on the WA Signature dish Gascoyne regional final will be next in this series!