A SIMPLE toast to local food production it was not, as supporters of the Grafton Regional Art Gallery came together in celebration of food, wine and culture.
Staged in the handsome Grafton showground ‘barn’, recently renovated to its former true glory, the gate to plate degustation was as much educational as it was social, with a variety of locally-made dishes created by regional celebrity chefs and served to a willing and diverse audience.
In common with all of this pageantry was a genuine love of home and pride in promoting the potential of the valley as a diverse foodbowl.
Of course the ultimate aim of the event was to raise sorely needed funds for the Grafton regional gallery, which houses some impressive historic collections
Committee chair Rod Watters said the event was designed to promote the gallery as a community sanctuary of culture open to all comers, and there was a great cross of folk from all corners of the largest river valley on the East Coast of Australia.
Mr Watters, along with his wife Goldie – whose family arrived on the Upper Clarence at the time of Ogilvie – were among those making the longest journey to the regional city from their Keybarbin Station upriver from Baryulgil. The Hart family came from just a bit further upriver, off the alluvial river flats south of Tabulam and gallery board member Michelle Page, from Heifer Station, was also among the historically well-known grazing community. Her distant in-law Sir Earl Page served as the nation’s eleventh prime minister in 1939.
Beef and blueberry producers Michael and Linette Rennes, Corindi Beach, enjoyed the fact that this degustation celebrated local production but of course the primary reason for this social gathering was to raise funds for the regional art gallery, which prides itself on being able to display one of the largest district collections of indigenous art, and is home to a rare photographic collection by German artist from the 1870s John William Lindt. Reproduction of some of those early albumen prints were on display on the day.
However this gallery requires more wall space to hang large travelling collections, and this has prompted the desire to hold enjoyable fundraising functions.
But back to the food: Yamba cafe owner Antony Perring greeted arriving couples with a lemon myrtle ‘switchel’ enhanced with lower river Sunshine Sugar and local citrus and spices.
The rum-soaked cane sticks came from Tyndale sugar producers James Moloney and Scott Price, with Mr Moloney keen to point out that this particular gate to plate event provided a ‘great profile’ of what is on offer in the valley and its nearby localities.
Of course there was beef: brisket sourced from the valley and, later, the auctioning of boxed Angus steak produced by movie star Russel Crowe’s family at Nana Glen. There was lamb shoulder originating from the high country on the western fringes of the valley near Armidale. Yes, there was seafood, with oysters, giant king prawns and snapper landed at Yamba.
Gate to plate was designed to promote the Grafton art gallery as a community sanctuary of culture open to all comers.
Even desert was local, with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and herbs all from the valley, complementing a macadamia shortbread and a ‘bubblegum’ tea tree pannacotta all washed down with Clarence Valley coffee from an original sub-tropical plantation at Wombah cut with milk from Southgate and Sunshine Sugar.
There were special ingredients of course, like locally grown sub-tropical Davidson plum, kohlrabi, finger limes, aniseed myrtle and native Dorrigo pepper all of which added their own unique flavours to the diverse array of dishes prepared by three talented chefs – Clayton Donovan, Mark LaBrooy and Bret Cameron – who hail from the North Coast, if not the valley itself.
For event director and lower river cattle producer, Fiona Leviny, the 10th annual event was a chance to experiment with design, flavour and presentation.
“We had a vision for the barn incorporating local floral sculptures, poppies representing sacrifice by our early settlers and original custodians, forged out of iron by Clarence Valley artist Eoin McSwan and that was the nucleus for our interior decorations,” she said.
“But what we really tried to do was to take the event in new directions by showcasing some of our world-famous chefs who literally live on our doorstep.
“Our locality hasn’t had the opportunity to experience that talent and we tried to showcase what the rest of Australia is talking about.”
Working beside Ms Leviny was Debrah Novak who remains incredibly proud of her valley as a ‘gateway’ to Australia’s foodbowl.
“This was a platform to showcase our potential in a regional context,” she said.