Published on May 28th, 2014 | by Ann Rickard0
Italian Feast at Berardo’s
The spectacular Noosa International Food and Wine festival presented so many highlights it’s impossible to single out one.
But I’ll try. The Italian Feast on Sunday night. Hosted by Jim Berardo, Greg O’Brien and the lady of the big hair and bountiful bosom, Maria Venuti, this was the big one of all the biggies.
What can you say about a woman who has aged so gloriously outrageously? Who makes you laugh, makes you sing and makes you feel better just by being in her company?
What can you say about a man who brings our small regional town of Noosa to the attention of the culinary world?
It’s hard to find the words.
The Italian Feast began in typical flamboyant Jim Berardo style.
Guests were bussed up to The Lookout, where champagne, canapés and a white piano awaited them inside a marquee overlooking the gorgeous Noosa views at sunset.
As Maria made her way into the marquee – a glittering vision of blue sequins and extravagant feathers, her legendary cleavage arriving some few moments before she did – guests were already enchanted and responded enthusiastically to her trademark greeting: “daaaaaaaaarlng”.
Minutes into Maria’s first song, she had us all singing and waving our arms. Her outrageous sense of fun and self-deprecation are utterly infectious, completely irresistible.
After a rousing finale of “when the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie’ we were all bussed back down to berardo’s while the lady made a costume change to make a grand entrance into the restaurant dressed as the Italian flag.
Once again, the bosom entered the building moments before her.
Seven of Australia’s best Italian chefs crowded into the tiny berardo’s kitchen with berardo’s executive chef Tim Montgomery to present an extraordinary dinner.
It began with a bagna cauda of Moreton Bay bug from Tim Montgomery.
Bagna cauda is a warm dip, like a fondue, from the Piedmont region in Italy but Tim’s version, with bunya nuts, would no doubt have left the good chefs from Piedmont gasping with admiration.
Next, octopus, cooked in sea water, with garlic, chilli, almonds and celery hearts, from Massimo Mele, of NSW.
Then a dish of intensely deep green trofie pasta with a pesto sauce by Lucio Galletto of Lucio’s in NSW. Trofie is squiggly shaped pasta from Genoa.
Lucio explained the subtlety of his pesto (not so much garlic, it must be creamy) to Maria and his audience, who were already won over by the sense of occasion.
One by one the chefs came out to share the microphone with Maria to talk of their passion for their craft and to present another exceptional offering.
A zuppa di pesce, a spicy Italian soup with pasta fromGiovanni Pilu of Pilu at Freshwater in NSW was rich with tomato and seafood.
Then came an extraordinary dish of egg yolk in a spuma di pecorino, a creamy pecorino sauce, crunchy with grains, from Alessandro Pavoni, from Ormeggio at the Spit in NSW.
In between all this, Maria couldn’t help but bounce up, sing a song, flirt outrageously with the staff, bring another chef out of the kitchen.
Guy Grossi, from Grossi Florentino, and guest judge on My Kitchen Rules, grappled the microphone from Maria to talk about his partridge with quince puree and chestnuts.
Then it was on to Nino Zoccali, from Pendolino in NSW, for a sublime dish of 10-hour cooked pork cheek with a silky parsnip puree and an amarene sour cherry sauce.
All of these exemplary dishes went down with wines from – who else on an Italian night? – De Bortoli. We began with Riesling, went on to a Pinot Grigio, a Rose, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon Sangiovese, to finish with a Moscato.
A dessert of rosewater infused jelly ravioli with chocolate and amaretto mousse and strawberry consommé nougat by Tony Percuoco, from Tartufo in Queensland, finished the evening, and us, off.
The Noosa International Food and Wine Festival is an exceptional event founded modestly 12 years ago by one man with a passion and commitment to follow it through.
Jim Berardo, with his partner Greg O’Brien, has taken Noosa and its culinary reputation out to the world through this festival.
His visits to Hong Kong, Japan, Asia, Italy and New Zealand earlier in the year to promote the festival have resulted in the influx of international guests this year.
Tourism Australia has just launched a $10 million campaign to help promote Australia as a great culinary destination.
Jim and Greg have already paved the way.