At this year’s Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, one event will involve a ’60s themed beach party on the waterfront. As 200 lucky revellers sip beer and wine on the beach and delight in endless choices of fine foods, a drive-in screen set up for their viewing pleasure will be showing Gidget Goes Hawaiian. “You’re not sitting in a hotel room and often you’re not even in a restaurant when you’re part of a food and wine festival,” says Jim Berardo, festival director for the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival. “Instead you’re out there experiencing the local flavour, barefoot on a beach or in some other memorable location or situation.
A good festival engages the community as well as the industry and creates experiences that are not easily forgotten.” Berardo, who also owns Berardo’s Restaurant & Bar, Berardo’s Kiosk and Berardo’s Bistro On The Beach, all in Noosa, says the 11-year-old festival originally began as a thank you to the local food and wine producers, the unsung heroes of the industry. But soon it became a broader event that engaged not only the food and wine industry but also businesses and residents. More recently the event’s stellar reputation has meant special guests —chefs, winemakers and speakers—from around the country and around the globe have flown in to take part. It’s the mix of talent, knowledge and backgrounds that makes a food festival a truly powerful experience for those who attend and take part, he says. “I come from an academic background in my past career,” Berardo, who worked in medical administration for 25 years in the USA, says. “That involved a great deal of formal, on-going education for everybody in the field, but we have few such offerings in the restaurant industry. “Festivals such as ours have become partly about education. The food, wine and music is the glue, but the cooking demonstrations and cocktail competitions and special experiences and meetings with people from different parts of the industry, and often different parts of the world, are the things that are advantageous for those who participate. Then, of course, there is the mass of media coverage and public goodwill that also comes with such a festival.” Natalie O’Brien, CEO of the Melbourne Food & Wine festival, agrees. The many benefits of participation in a food festival, she says, include media exposure, profile building within current and new markets, and experiences with new food techniques that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. “We see fantastic exchanges of skills at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival,” O’Brien says. “For example, Margaret Xu (a restaurant icon from Hong Kong) visited and she was paired up with Ezard restaurant. She taught them to make tofu from scratch and they taught her how to make chlorophyll (for colouring).” “It can also be a fantastic boost for staff morale. For example, Donovan’s did an incredible seafood event out in the open air. Their staff members loved every single minute of it. It was just such a different and wonderful experience for them.” Festivals are important, O’Brien believes, because our local food culture is a young one with constantly changing trends and tastes. Twenty-two years ago, for instance, when the Melbourne Food & Wine festival first took place, outdoor dining was virtually unheard of in the city. However these days in Melbourne it feels as if every square inch of footpath and laneway is utilised to tantalise the tastebuds. “Food festivals bring an extra layer in to the local food industry,” she says. “They help to stimulate ideas, they generate the exchange of knowledge and they inspire new directions in thought. When local and international chefs, winemakers and presenters come together, they share and exchange knowledge, techniques, skills, ideas and flavours. It’s immensely valuable.” So how does a restaurateur decide whether a festival is a good match for their business aims and goals? Start by looking into who is managing the festival, Berardo says, and what is the specific goal of the festival itself. “Have a look at the types of programs the festival runs,” he says. “Most festivals have their own vision statements and specific things they wish to accomplish. It may be to do with tourism, or to promote a certain segment, such as food production or wine. Who is running the event? What are their intentions? And do those intentions match your needs?” Don’t be afraid to travel to a food festival, Berardo adds. It’s not necessarily important that your business is in the same region as the event. What is important is your attendance, the experiences you have and the knowledge you gain while you’re there. When you do find a festival that matches your needs, ensure your participation is memorable for all involved, O’Brien says. This doesn’t mean you need to spend masses of cash on a dazzling stage show. Instead think about how you might connect emotionally with your audience. “Think about how you might under-promise and over-deliver, and remember that the simple, little things are often the most memorable,” O’Brien says. “Keep something up your sleeve. If you are running a cooking demonstration for a classic meal, for instance, then bring along the Nonna who inspired the meal, introduce her to the audience and have her do some cooking. Things like this create a special moment, an emotive element that people will remember for a long time.” “And always remember that people are truly excited to meet the people behind their meals. On most nights chefs are hidden away in a kitchen out the back, but when they come out to say hello to the diners then the diners are truly thrilled. Food festivals are the perfect opportunity to give your public that thrill by having them meet you and your team,” says O’Brien.