In the lush foothills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland on a day that feels like an Indian summer, piccolos and pots of steaming tea are being rustled up in a retro caravan called Myrtle. In a fetching shade of cream and aqua, Myrtle is as charming as her owner, Sally Hookey, from Hinterland Feijoas. We take a seat at a rustic outdoor table overlooking the picturesque farm complete with mini-ponies named Twinkle Toes and Smokey the Bandit. The welcome is as warm as the Queensland sunshine. Freshly picked feijoas and a just-baked cake drizzled in honey are rustled up as droves of customers, including homesick Kiwis, stream in for buckets of the luscious tree-ripened fruit.
Sally and husband Peter Heineger started growing feijoas in 2007, wanting to bring a new taste to Australia – one loved by New Zealanders so much many claim the fruit as native. They now sell Australia's first fully certified organic feijoas from their farm gate, a must stop along the Sunshine Coast food trail.
The bucolic farm overlooking a rich, fertile valley will in August host one of the key events at an inaugural Curated Plate food festival celebrating the relationship between chef and producer. Guests will be served cocktails from "Myrtle" before taking seats at garden tables or on picnic rugs under the trees for a substantial farm to table grazing menu designed by Clayton Wells, from Automata and A1 Canteen, and Darren Robertson, from Three Blue Ducks and The Farm – chefs who share a sustainable, locally sourced, whole-foods philosophy. The dessert promises to be extra special – a concoction incorporating Gelato Messina and feijoas.
It's one of scores of world class food experiences taking place across the Sunshine Coast – from its rolling hinterland, to bustling oceanfront and riverside restaurants and bars – for the four-day event. Local chefs will collaborate with a veritable who's who of Australian and international chefs, creating one-off menus, spectacular dining events and everything from jet ski food safaris, a train degustation journey through the Mary Valley and much more. The likes of Chase Kojima from Sokyo Sydney, Troy Rhoades-Brown from Muse, Hunter Valley, and Peter Gilmore from Quay and Bennelong will take over local kitchens to showcase the Sunshine Coast's extraordinary produce.
Another agribusiness to star at the inaugural event is Walkers Seafoods. Walkers are Australia's first tuna fishers to earn the international gold standard for seafood sustainability, the coveted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna and swordfish. We taste sashimi prepared from Walker's tuna with pickled apple and yuzu powder at adjoining Fish on Parkyn. At the breezy eatery opposite the Pandanus-fringed Mooloolaba Beach diners can try a "dock to table" menu, where the food practically arrives still flapping on the plate.
Beforehand we watched Dan Jones from Walker Seafoods expertly butcher a stunning 60-kilogram tuna caught in the plentiful eastern Australia waters. Heidi Walker tells us as soon as they gained their hard-earned certification, the phone rang off the hook from chefs the world over wanting to buy their sustainable seafood.
At the dimly lit Spice Bar that night, Walkers' sustainable seafood also stars on the Pan Asian menu. We sit al fresco on the covered deck as the sun sets over Mooloolaba Esplanade tucking into a "degustation banquet" including locally caught mahi mahi and Mooloolaba prawns wrapped in betel leaf with a decent kick of chilli.
After a morning stroll along the Mooloolaba waterfront the next day, watching the nippers and a torrent of Lycra-clad locals riding and striding the coastline, we veer away from the coast again to meet the inspiring green-thumbed family behind Falls Farm. Three generations of the one family have turned the former lantana strangled property into a farm bursting with rare and heirloom varieties of everything from kale, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, celtuce, shallots, garlic, potatoes and citrus – many bespoke to the restaurant industry.
We take a walk with Christine Ballinger, pint-sized granddaughter Violet, and the happiest black labrador I've ever seen. Violet has to be stopped helping herself to handfuls of the grape-sized cucamelons, a minute watermelon that tastes like cucumbers with a hint of lime. We try one plucked straight from the vine and marvel at its citrusy taste.
The farm's magnificent orchards, market and herb gardens will be the setting for a seasonal tasting of the freshest organic produce, followed by a "Farmer's Bento Box" picnic lunch served with naturally fermented wines and organic cold pressed juices. "Winter's the most productive time on the farm so we wanted to do a farm tasting," Christine explains. "Because we grow mostly for restaurants, there's varieties you'll never see in the supermarket and we want to give people the opportunity to try them. You don't have to just eat broccoli for instance. Everyone knows cavolo nero now but there's also the fabulous black and curly spigarello, which not only looks great but tastes incredible."
From Falls Farm, we're given a sneak peek into other food experiences punters can expect from the Curated Plate. We taste freshly crafted beers at Maleny's Brouhaha Brewery, which shares its spent grain with Maleny Wagyu that is found on its menu – reducing food miles and showing the power of working together. At Yandina Station we meet Sally and Peter Schmidt whose historic property overlooking Mount Coolum will host the Legends Lunch with collaborating chefs Peter Gilmore and his former executive sous chef, the talented young Analiese Gregory, who now heads up locavore restaurant Franklin, Hobart.
At Spicers Tamarind Retreat, we take a seat in the lush al fresco gardens of chef Daniel Jarrett's stunning hatted restaurant, The Tamarind. Fellow diners sip sundowners around a blazing fire pit, while we tuck into an inspiring cross-border modern Asian menu. In this magical setting abutting the rainforest, lucky diners at Curated Plate's Spicers Den event will partake of an epic five-course dinner in collaboration between Jarrett, Zaiyu Hasegawa, the boundary pushing Japanese chef behind the two Michelin star Den (the Best Restaurant in Japan), and head chef Donato Toce of Gelato Messina.
In just a few short days we've seen just how far the Sunshine's Coast's food scene has come since "surf and turf" was the most exciting culinary dish on the menu. Travellers have more reason than ever to swap the sun-drenched coastline to meet innovative producers, taste inspired creations by local chefs and enjoy the spoils of the regions' rich volcanic soil.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Visit Sunshine Coast and Tourism Events Queensland.
Australia's brightest young talent, trailblazing culinary masterminds and international heavyweight chefs will take over kitchens across the Sunshine Coast from August 8-11 for the Curated Plate food festival. The inaugural program boasts a star-studded line-up including Zaiyu Hasegawa, Monique Fiso and Raymond Blanc and local chefs Peter Gilmore, Alejandro Cancino, Analiese Gregory, Troy Rhoades-Brown, Chase Kojima, and others. See thecuratedplate.com.au
Packages for the Spicers Den Curated Plate event at Spicers Tamarind Retreat start from $529 per night for a one-bedroom villa, including breakfast plus $290 event ticket a person. Three nights at Mantra Mooloolaba Beach including The Elements Long Lunch and return airport transfers from $859 a person. See thecuratedplate.com.au/sunshine-coast/visit
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO AND SEE
1. The sleepy hinterland town of Eumundi transforms into a bustling shopping mecca on Wednesdays and Saturdays for its famous markets. Stock up on homemade ginger beer, locally made clothes, leather goods and organic fruit and vegies while being entertained by bongo drums or the didgeridoo. Afterwards grab a coffee at Hum Drum Espresso. See eumundimarkets.com.au
2. Sink into a heavenly hydro pool overlooking rainforest teeming with birdlife and flitting butterflies at Spicers Tamarind Retreat's sublime Spa Anise, followed by a hydrotherapy treatment or massage using Australian made Waterlily products. You'll feel like you've been on holiday. See spicersretreats.com
3. Transport yourself to Asia at the renowned Spirit House where its hatted restaurant's stellar Thai menu is matched by its tropical black bamboo forest surrounds. Take a hands-on cooking class or sink into al fresco lounges at the fabulous new Hong Sa Bar for lush tropical inspired cocktails. The Deep Passion, served spectacularly in a Tiki glass topped with fresh passionfruit, is summer in a glass. See spirithouse.com.au
4. Head for sundowners with the locals at The Wharf Mooloolaba, fast becoming one of the coast's hottest wining and dining precincts. The multimillion-dollar redevelopment now offers waterfront bar The Dock, Italian restaurant Il Vento and burger and dessert bar Ninth Street. See wharfmooloolaba.com.au
5. Learn how ginger is grown, harvested and the myriad of interesting ways it's used at the Ginger Factor at Buderim – a factory cum theme park devoted to all things ginger. See gingerfactory.com.au