Culinary Christmas Gifts

Published 18th December 2010

I finally got my hands on the finished cookbook ‘Tropical Cuisine – Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen’ when it was launched recently, and what an achievement it is. Clare Richards has done an amazing job of compiling 250 luscious recipes using the most common and the most obscure foods of this region in a 300 page cookbook with stunning images and a great reference A-Z of tropical product. This is a cookbook that every discerning chef in Queensland …and Australia should have on their reference shelf. What a great gift for Christmas.

On the subject of Christmas, you can’t go wrong with a gift of food and wine. It’s something that appeals to everyone and perfect for that person who has everything. To indulge in the decadence of beautiful chocolates, premium sweets, rich fruitcake, sauces and other luxurious foods that you may not normally buy yourself, is a delight when received as a present. Giving a hamper of foods that are specifically from this region adds to the experience.

I recently attended the Club Relish evening at The Edge Food Store, where a wonderful range of beautifully packaged Christmas foods were on show. There is a great selection of local and Australian food gift ideas in all price ranges to choose from and you can buy a ready-made hamper or select your own items and they will gift wrap it.

Mangoes and other tropical fruits are well known to us but to family and friends in southern states, receiving a box at Christmas time has a real Wow Factor. (But check for quarantine regulations first).

Whether you consider a book, a box of mangoes, a beautifully wrapped hamper or a number of food items and make up your own gift or stuff into a stocking, you can be sure you will please the lucky person who receives it.

Soils ain't Soils

Published 11th December 2010

Last week over 140 local people turned out on a Sunday evening to listen to a public talk by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms in Virginia, USA. His introduction was by the hilarious, very passionate, and hirsute Costa of Costa's Gardening Odyssey who always enjoys coming to this region to learn more about gardening and regenerative agriculture.

Joel’s Poly Face Farm is a small property with an array of animals and food crops that symbiotically produce a richness of food products in a diversified system that is profitable. He calls himself a ‘beyond’ organic farmer as he is not ‘certified’ organic but uses a holistic farming methodology that enriches the soil with compost, natural manure and earthworms and without chemicals or pesticides. Using portable electric fences the animals are moved around the property is succession in what Joel calls a ‘salad bar’ of rich pasture that offers landscape healing and greater nutritional food.

Joel works on the transparency theory; he doesn’t have to have a certificate to tell people about his farming methods, you can visit anytime to see what and how he does it. He sells produce to only people within a radius of his community and doesn’t need the ‘big guys’. His product sells through ‘word of mouth’ and he doesn’t have a marketing plan or an advertising budget for his product…and if sales are down, he can’t blame his budget, he looks within!

He talked about how the price of food has escalated due to the many regulations and control and was amused at the governments concern for safety in not allowing a more nutritional raw milk, yet its okay to feed your kids on multinational brand burgers, sweet chocolate breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.

Joel is a world-leading example of how a small family farm can become an extremely diverse and profitable Local Food producer, and how the benefits of Local Food Systems can create resilience, stability and abundance for both local farmers and the wider community.

Joel’s parting words were ‘The food we eat is as good as the soil it is grown in or the pasture it is fed on and as good as the farmer who is the custodian of the land’. Eat well!

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Save our Honey

Published 4th December 2010

Since ‘on the go’ breakfast products have bypassed the breakfast table, the art of smearing honey across a slice of crunchy toast or swirling it on your cereal has shown a bit of a slump. Honey is now also competing with other new highly marketed sugary spreads available. Yet there are great health benefits in bringing honey back to the breakfast table, such as its low Glycaemic Index or GI. (The lower a food’s GI rating, the slower you absorb and digest it, which means a more gradual and healthier infusion of sugars into their bloodstream and helps keep ‘hunger pains’ away for longer).

New Zealand’s Manuka (the NZ name for tea tree) honey is famous for its anti-bacterial power and Tetsuya raves about the Leatherwood honey from Tasmania and South Western Australia where many of the trees don’t blossom till more than 70 years old.

Here in Tropical North Queensland there are a number of apiarist manufacturing honey with very distinct tropical flavours. If bees have access to where a particular blossom predominates, they produce honey with a flavour and colour typical of that plant. Our tropical honey tends to be dark amber in colour with wonderful flavours of red mahogany, Molloy box, grey box, rainforest, macadamia, mango, guava and a number of other exotic blossoms that are unique to this region.

Where larger honey manufacturers blend honey from many apiarists, local honey is often pure honey from one hive. The honey is also most likely to have had less process treatment of preservatives or heat searing so the nutrition and flavour is in its purest form.

However we have one threat to our honey industry that first appeared inside a mast of a yacht here in Cairns in 2007 and that is the Asian honeybee. These aggressive little bees compete with our European honeybees for local flora. They rob honey from hives, which may cause hives to die, but most importantly Asian honeybees are a natural host for mites and other unwanted bee pests and diseases, a major threat to Australia's honeybee industry.

The Asian honeybee has been found nesting in tree hollows, under the eaves of houses, in the recess under the floor of houses, in letterboxes, in a cable reel, and in various other urban locations. It is smaller than European honeybee at approx. 10 mm long, flies fast and erratically, is less hairy than the European honeybee and has distinct yellow and black stripes on the abdomen. So look out for this little blighter and call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 to help save our local honey.

A Future for our Agri-Food Industry

Published 20th November 2010

There was a time where agriculture was the key industry in this region. That's when sugar prices were sweet, tobacco was a cash crop, locally caught fish & chips was the best ‘fast food’, we lapped up the rich milk from our own Tablelands dairy and eating a mango was considered an exotic luxury.

Now the farmer has to contend with being a ‘price taker’ in a market that often doesn’t reach break-even point, the fisher competes with cheap (and sometimes questionable) imported seafood, the dairy farmer is selling out and the exotic fruit farmer is ploughing in his trees.

If all this hasn't sent their motivation into a state on inertia, the amount of red tape and regulations has. So what is the future for our farmers and fishers in a region that is blessed with fabulous soil and clean waters and an abundance of rainfall? It should be the food bowl of the nation?

Last week I attended an Agri-food tourism field day and Food Industry forum held in the Cassowary and Tablelands areas. These four well attended workshops proved that the farmer is interested in the future of the industry.

The field day looked at opportunities to diversify their farming product in a number of ways that included linkages into tourism. Whether it’s selling local food at local farmers markets, processing their product, finding a supply chain to local retail & food services, or opening their property for visitation, these farmers were positively encouraged to take the next step; a series of workshops of mentoring their way through a maze of related business development skills.

The forums were about bringing the industry together; development of a local food supply chain that brings regional produce into the Cairns area, to retailers and restaurants, and developing an accreditation framework that links to the new regional food brand; Taste Paradise.

The sessions provided a great discussion lead by Rose Wright from the Southern Cross University. This lady knows her stuff when working along the supply chain from farmers to the consumer but also works on a political level of compliance support and regulatory reform to address the impediments placed on agribusiness entrepreneurs.

At the end of the forum it was exciting to see a very positive response from farmers, and it goes without saying the more who embrace this framework, the better chance of success. Rose’s work will continue in the region over the next six months.

Good Food & Wine Show

Published 13th November 2010

Last weekend was action packed in Brisbane with Lenard Cohen, James Galway, Valentino Retrospect, and of course the Good Food & Wine Show.

With the consumer clearly in mind the Good Food & Wine Show attracted a crowd well in excess of 20,000 people over three days. Many of them; seasoned attendees armed with their shopper trolley ready to ‘buy up big’ at the special prices of a host of gourmet products and wines from across Australia.

With over 300 exhibitors you could taste cheeses, salamis, sauces, ice-cream, coffee, pasta, health snacks, to name a few, and scoop up some lovely gourmet Christmas presents. This year wines from the Barossa, McLaren, and Margaret River joined a large selection of Queensland wines that were of particular appeal in the late afternoon.

There were hands-on cooking, wine and coffee classes but the star attraction was in the 500 seat celebrity theatre where chefs Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris, Matt Moran, Jane Purcell, and Manu Fieldel applied their skills and with a great sense of humour. Matt Moran was particularly entertaining as he butchered a lamb carcass to show the audience that you don’t have to rely on the most expensive cuts of meat. After Good Food & Wine Shows in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, the celeb chefs have developed a fun repartee between themselves. Having his Aria restaurant in Brisbane, Matt received plenty of flack from the Gary and George about the expense of his menu but also a number of referred invitations to free dinners at his restaurant.

The Queensland Government display hosted 26 food and wine exhibitors from 10 different regions of the State and for the first time our own Taste Paradise regional brand showcased 15 packaged foods of Tropical North Queensland.

This annual event is growing in popularity each year and is worth a visit.

Tempura Bugs - Green Papaya Salad - Sweet Chillie Lemon Myrtle Dipping Sauce

Serves 4 entrée’s
Recipe by: Craig Squire, Ochre Restaurant, 43 Shields St Cairns. “Simple quality local ingredients providing a fresh and lively flavor perfect for the tropics”.

8 pieces of green bug meat
8 fresh lemongrass skewers
‘Red Ochre’ Sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce
Tempura batter
oil for deep frying

1 small green papaya, peeled, cut into long matchsticks
50g green beans cut into 1-inch pieces
40g unsalted roasted macadamias
½ red onion – sliced
12 cherry tomato’s - halved
10 gms mint – chopped
10 gms coriander - chopped

2 fresh small whole green chilli’s – finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
60 ml fresh lime juice
60 gm palm sugar- grated
60 ml fish sauce
30 ml Rainforest Bounty ‘Jeowbong’
1 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients


Cut lemongrass sticks on an angle at the point where the stem starts to branch
Skewer 2 pieces of Bug meat onto each stick of lemongrass
Prepare batter according to instructions
Heat oil to 180 c
Dip bug skewers in batter and fry to golden and cooked thru.
Mix salad with dressingAssemble papaya salad on plate, place skewers across, and serve with dipping sauce.

For this recipe Craig uses local products from NQ Prawn Cutlets, Cairns Produce, Rainforest Bounty, Rusty’s marketRed Ochre retail products, Asian Foods, and Wondaree macadamias.

Taste Paradise Signature Dish

Published 6th November 2010

When you think of a dish that represents the wonderful flavours of this region, seafood tend to come to mind as the star ingredient. Well that's what 22 chefs thought when asked to produce a regional dish for the inaugural Taste Paradise Signature Dish competition. The public have made their choice by voting on-line and the two highest scored dishes will compete against another two finalist chosen by a panel of judges.

With the public voting closed, it was the restaurants from far and wide that gained the most votes with dishes from Cedar Park Resort at Speewah coming in at sixth position, Restaurant 1770 in Cooktown came fifth, Eden House Restaurant at Yungaburra was fourth, and Emerald Restaurant at Green Island, voted third highest by the public.

The two highest public voted dishes; ‘Tropical pan seared Tuna salad laced with a Mango vinaigrette’ by Chriso the Personal Chef’s won top position, followed by ‘Julaymba Journey’ from Julaymba Restaurant at Daintree Eco-Lodge in second place.

Whist the public tended to vote for the dish from their favourite restaurant, a panel of six judges have now voted on another two dish, for their innovative use of local produce.

Mayor Val Shier of Cairns Regional Council, Ross Contarino of Advance Cairns, Jeff Gillies of Tourism Queensland, & Dale Flack of TTNQ, plus two highly professional chef judges; Patrick Biddlecombe, La Chaines des Rotisseur, and Brian Down, Australian Culinary Federation, cast their votes this week.

The Judges chose two finalists; the ‘Tempura bugs, green papaya salad, sweet chilli lemon myrtle dipping sauce’ from Ochre Restaurant and the ‘Tier of mud crab, mango and avocado’ from Kewarra Beach Resort.

Next Saturday starting at 10am at The Farmgate Markets at The Pier, the four finalists will cook off their dish in front of the public and the judging panel to find the winner of the Taste Paradise Signature Dish.

The winner of the competition will receive a trophy as well as a tourism marketing package that will promote their business throughout the next 12 months.So come along next Saturday to see who takes out the trophy.

Special Dietary Menus

Published 30th October 2010

The number of food allergies seems to be growing rapidly in our society and gluten free diets are becoming more popular even to those who don’t suffer Coeliac Disease. At Chelsea Clinton’s (that's Bill & Hillary’s daughter) recent wedding, her gluten free wedding cake made headlines across the nation and bought attention to this dilemma.

Restaurants and caterers are finding there are more requests for special dietary requirements and after a request I made to many of the local restaurants in Tropical North Queensland, it seems most of them are geared to cater for the usual gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian and vegan diets. Many of the restaurants have icons beside the items on their menus or denotations that offers any special dietary dishes.

Whist I sometimes wonder if we are all getting too much gluten in our diets, there are other allergies to foods such as shellfish, nuts, eggs, even fruit, meat and vegetables that can have life threatening effects to some. Anaphylaxis is an issue that restaurants must take seriously. It is too big a responsibility for any waiters to ensure the food from the menu is completely free of the allergic ingredient.

When a guest asks for a special diet, there are two reasons why it is important for wait staff to notify the head chef on duty. 1. The chef will ensure there is no mistake, 2. The guest feels confident their request is being taken seriously. It maybe that the waiter returns from the kitchen with menu suggestions, but best of all is when the chef takes the time to come out of the kitchen and speak directly to the guest.

Functions can be tricky, with agency staff serving canapés. They can be unfamiliar with all the ingredients and not aware of the seriousness of an anaphylaxis. At a cocktail reception I witnessed a good friend of mine suffer before me, an anaphylactic shock from food after she was told there was no seafood in the canapé.

Most of our best restaurants and caterers are geared for special dietary requirements, but as a guest, it is always good to let them know when making a booking at a restaurant or accepting an invitation to a catered function; that you will require a special menu.

Tablelands is really Tasty

Published 23rd October 2010

Nothing brings people together better than food, and what an enjoyable day it was at last weekend’s “Tastes of the Tablelands”? It exceeded my expectations of being one of the best food events in the region and I take my hat off to the organisers and volunteers who made it so. Every year this event gets bigger and better and with 53 stalls, a chef’s cooking competition, ice-carving demonstration and some great community performers, there was something for every one of the 5,000+ people who attended. ..and spending an hour or so on the gate I found there was a good mixture of people from the Tablelands and Cairns region and a surprising number of visiting tourists.

Of course my special interest was with the food growers and producers who displayed, offered tastings and sales of what the Tablelands region has to offer. Local coffee, waters, Indigenous sauces, jams and preserves, fruit wines, ice-cream, Italian nougat and biscuits, spices, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits dipped in chocolate, honey, macadamia’s and peanuts, the list goes on. It was all there – if not sold out. The stall holders all did well on the day.

One stall that caught my attention had books and a display of wonderful food photography from world famous photographer William Yang who was born in Dimbulah. These photos were part of a 2006 exhibition that documented the many cultures of Dimbulah families through their food.

The success of the photographic exhibition led some energetic community members to produce the book that celebrates their artisan foods from their ethnic origins. Aptly named ‘Our Celebration – Stories behind the Food’ the book takes you into the homes and kitchens of the community to expose the richness of their cultural food traditions from Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Philippines, as well as indigenous Australia. Looking like they had been designed, photographed and beautifully produced in Melbourne and not our sleepy little farming community of Dimbulah, I just had to buy a book which was well priced at $30.00.

This event organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton truly shows great community spirit and the amalgamation of all the regions of the Tablelands area. I’ll be sure to be there next year.

Taste of the Tablelands

Published 16th October 2010

One of the best food festivals of the region is the “Tastes of the Tablelands” and it’s on again tomorrow (Sunday 17th October) from 10am – 4pm. This Festival won an Australia Day Award for the best community Event in the Tableland region in 2008, an award the Rotary Club of Atherton is very proud of. Last year 4,000 people attended the festival and this year the numbers are expected to increase significantly.

This great community event is held in the serene grounds of the Chinese Temple on Herberton Road, Atherton, and will once again be a showcase of the very best that the Tablelands has to offer. The day will be filled with cooking demonstrations, music, entertainment, a fashion parade, a vintage car & motorbike display, ice carving displays and children’s activities. The Chinese Temple Museum and the Art Gallery will also be open. All funds raised on the day will go towards community projects organized by the Rotary Club of Atherton.

Just over an hour drive via the Gillies Highway or ninety minutes via Kuranda, it makes for a lovely day out on the Tablelands. Do the circuit and take in some of the other attractions of the region. If you need a caffeine fix, the Mareeba area is ‘Coffee Central’. Drop in to Tichum Creek Coffee, Jacques Coffee or The Coffee works, or meander out to Skybury or Maloberti’s on the Dimbulah Road.

Other stops along the way are Mt Uncle Distillery at Walkamin, The Peanut Place and The Humpy at Tolga and around Atherton you have Gallos Dairyland for a snack, cheese or chocolates. Between Mareeba and Kuranda there is de Brueys Boutique Winery and Emerald Creek Ice-creamery.

A Dining Challenge

Published 9th October 2010

There is a worthy saying in the restaurant industry when it comes to customer satisfaction; ‘If you enjoyed it – tell the world – If you didn’t – tell us”. Although a good restaurant will always strive for perfection in every aspect, as with any highly human service orientated industry there can be times when they fall short.

This was true just recently at a very long lunch with four visiting friends where we enjoyed a few convivial hours of impressive food, wine and great friendly service. Being a long lunch there was a change of shift and where we had experienced nothing but excellence from the first waiter, the new fellow came in cold with a different mindset to a table of people who were (well) enjoying a mellow afternoon.

Now I have experienced this waiter before and he is highly professional and has a friendly attitude. But today with these people – it just didn’t work. However with just one word to this fellow, he quickly apologised and put someone else on our table, and we settled back into a pleasurable lunch. As a result my visitors enjoyed another three meals at this establishment over the weekend.

When things go wrong, a restaurant can be judge on how well they handle the complaint – there and then. A complaint is a plea from a guest who is saying ‘I chose your establishment, something is not right, I am giving you a chance to make amends’. A good restaurant will be thankful that you have given them that chance and will do their very best to make sure their guests leave happy.

With the internet, online website reviews and complaints about restaurants are becoming more prolific. Perhaps valid if a complaint wasn’t handled well, but before an online whinge, a phone call, email or letter to the restaurant manager/owner would be polite. Otherwise it’s a cop-out and downright unfair? No comeback for the restaurateur and unwarranted damage to their business.

If your dining experience does not match your expectations, first give the restaurant a chance to rise to your challenge; before you leave. And if you enjoyed it; then go on-line and tell the world.

Daryl Hannah

Published 2nd October 2010

We have seen Daryl Hannah featured in the newspaper recently and some of us had probably not take too much notice of why she came to this region.

Last Sunday I attended the Australian Permaculture Convergence (APC10) Dinner on a beautiful evening in the grounds of the Rudolph Steiner School in Kuranda where Daryl was the guest speaker. Of the 300 dinner guests most of them had attended the convergence over the past week with Daryl and were privy to some exciting information on permaculture and key-line agricultural methodology that is gaining momentum around the world.

With a stellar cast of international speakers, the convergence was simply about a new (or should I say ‘old’) way to grow our food. “Simply” meaning - less artificial inputs (oil, chemical fertilizers & pesticides, etc) and more natural inputs (bio-fuels, compost, land/soil regeneration) to grow healthy food.

Daryl’s “Love Life” farm in California runs its tractors and machinery on a bio-diesel of used peanut oil, and her sustainable permaculture methods of producing foods and caring for her animals does not buy-in to the escalating cost of petro-chemical fertilizers and pesticides that has most farmers’ in-debt to their banks.

These methods also include the traditional saving of the best seeds from one crop to plant the next crop rather than purchasing GM seeds that are often designed for other characteristics over flavour and with no ability to reproduce future crops. The uptake of using heritage seeds is bringing back the flavour of ‘how it used to taste’ in vegetables that Daryl was obviously familiar with.

It was quite apparent that the surprisingly demure, environmental activist; Daryl had warmed to Tropical North Queensland and to the people she had met over the month in the region. The feeling was mutual for this lady who had a great message to tell about a low impact lifestyle.

This week from Friday 1st to Sunday 10th October is National Organic Week, themed ‘Be Organic: Taste the Difference, Feel the Difference, Make a Difference.’ The annual event highlighting and promoting the country’s growing organic industry, which is forecast to be one of the fastest growth industries in Australia this year. Now in its third year, industry associations the Centre for Organic & Resource Enterprises and Biological Farmers of Australia are hosting and promoting National Organic Week.

Laneway Art & Specialty Coffee

Published 25th September 2010

I have always loved the notion of a specialty coffee shop with superb coffee, interesting snacks & cakes, books, music and art, and now there is emerging a new set of coffee shops in Cairns with identities far placed from that of any coffee house franchise and who selectively choose their coffee beans.

After enjoying a hilarious documentary entitled ‘Exit through the Gift Shop,’ (recommended) presented by End Credits at CoCo, about street art, I was curious to see if Cairns has picked up on the Melbourne trend of laneway renaissance of art and food. So off on an excursion around Cairns I searched for art and cafes of our lanes.

Bang Espresso is not down a lane but does have lane art on its walls at the Boland Centre on Spence Street where owner Roy McPherson set the bar high when opening in 2008 with a feel of Melbourne urban sophistication. Great coffee and food, great music, convivial space and friendly staff. Bang’s coffee blend hails from six different origins and is independently Master roasted in Sydney.

Not quite in a lane but at the corner of an arcade (Mainstreet) is Ever After Cafe Bookstore; another specialty coffee establishment in the Lake Street Mall. Run by mother and son team, Mary and Nick Roberts. Nick has worked as a barista around Melbourne and it has paid off; their coffee was recently praised by an online coffee geek website as the best in Cairns. Popular for brekky and lunch, they have a great selection of books; old and new to browse.

Ah! I find a laneway in Grafton Street with the most fabulous art along the wall and follow it down to Caffiend; a curious little specialty coffee shop run by Ollie and Josie. Ollie really knows his coffee and serves a blend of nine beans. He also has Nigel Giacomi who won the last two years Cairns Barista Competition behind the machine on Saturday mornings. With the same passion he inherited from his previous employer NuNu, Ollie sources local products and produce to make his own jams, sauces for his all-day brekky & luncheon specials.

The renaissance has begun. So watch this space, or should I say ‘the laneways’ as they re-invent themselves into trendy quarters for the next generation of cafes, art and interesting shops.

A Multi Sensory Perception

Published 18th September 2010

The pleasure of eating food dependents on our multisensory perceptions. Our oral or ‘taste’ sensors perceive texture and temperature, and when food hits our taste buds it registers as sweet, sour, bitter, salt, or savoury (also known as ‘unami’) flavours. But there are other senses at play and the popularity of molecular cooking has highlighted the roles of these multisensory receptors. Ferran Adrià of El Bulli restaurant in Spain quotes ‘Cooking is probably the most multi-sensual art. I try to stimulate all the senses.’

I am intrigued by Heston Blumenthal’s (Fat Duck restaurant UK) exploration of the relationships between the senses and a food experience.

What you see is not always what you get and if you saw Heston’s beautiful fruit on the first series of Heston’s Feast; visually your mind registers ‘luscious sweetness’. However Heston’s mandarins were made from chicken livers, apples with minced pork and plums from bull’s testicles - a real shock to the senses. Here in our region we have ‘miracle fruit’ that if eaten just before another food, it reverses the taste. So biting into a sour lemon produces a sweet taste; confusing our perception.

Heston’s signature dishes ‘The Sound of the Sea’ is seafood served on a glass-topped wooden box containing edible sand and seashells, foam and edible seaweed, along with an iPod for the consumer to listen to the sound of waves crashing on a beach and seagulls overhead. A series of tests on this dish at Oxford University revealed that sound can really enhance the sense of taste.

With taste in the mouth, the olfactory sense (of smell) identifies aroma. The aroma of coffee brewing or a cake in the oven is a great stimulus to the appetite. Once again in Heston’s television show ‘Kitchen Chemistry’ he demonstrated feeding his blindfolded, nose pegged chef a spoonful of mashed strawberries.

The chef tasted sweetness and only when he uses his nose, he perceives strawberries. It’s great to know that eating has so many nuances and using all your senses of visual, smell, sound, taste and even touch can further enliven its pleasure.

2010 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence

Winners and Finalists - Far North Queensland 2010

Café Restaurant - Sponsored by Top Cut Foods - WINNER - Lure Restaurant & Bar, Port Douglas
Caterer at an Event - Sponsored by Top Cut Foods - HONOURABLE MENTION - Port Douglas Catering & Events, Port Douglas
Contemporary Australian Restaurant - Sponsored by ALSCO - WINNER - Zinc, Port Douglas
Event Caterer - Sponsored by Bidvest - HONOURABLE MENTION - Ochre Restaurant & Catering, Cairns
Family Restaurant - Sponsored by Coca-Cola - WINNER - The Beach Shack Restaurant Bar & Pizza's, Port Douglas
Fine Dining Restaurant - Sponsored by Vittoria Coffee HONOURABLE MENTION - Tamarind, Cairns
Hotel Caterer - Sponsored by Bidvest HONOURABLE MENTION - Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, Cairns
New Restaurant - Sponsored by HOSTPLUS WINNER - Harrison's Restaurant & Bar, Port Douglas
Restaurant in a Pub / Club / Tavern - Sponsored by Lion Nathan HONOURABLE MENTION - Cairns Courthouse Hotel, Cairns
Seafood Restaurant - Sponsored by Witches Falls Winery WINNER - Tha Fish, Cairns
Specialty Restaurant - Sponsored by Oamps HONOURABLE MENTION - Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant, Cairns
Steak Restaurant - Sponsored by Meat & Livestock Australia WINNER - Paddywhacks,
Thai Restaurant - Sponsored by Lion Nathan HONOURABLE MENTION - Choc Dee Thai Restaurant, Palm Cove
Themed Restaurant - Sponsored by Meat & Livestock Australia HONOURABLE MENTION - Nicks Swiss Italian Restaurant, Yungaburra

Our Price is Right

Published 11th September 2010

A weekend in Brisbane is a refreshing change, but I have to admit we have it pretty good here when it comes to the cost of food.

A visit to the James Street Markets in Fortitude Valley is always interesting and if you are in the food industry and are a seafood, meat, bakery or fruit and vegetable retailer; it’s worth having a look at what is on offer there. Food is fabulously presented, quality very much assured and with numerous quick and easy take home convenience items. However, you pay for what you get and most meats seem to start at around $29.99kg and rise from there. ..and I was staggered to see our Skybury papaya at $6.69kg where here we pay around $2.59kg.

The restaurant scene in Brisbane is now giving Sydney and Melbourne a nudge with chefs such as Mat Moran and Ben O’Donoghue setting up camp on the river and the Spanish Ortiga this week winning the Australian Gourmet Traveller ‘Best New Restaurant’ award. Trying to get into any of these restaurants on the same weekend as ‘River Fire’ was not an option so we chose a trendy bistro in New Farm.

Now some say that Cairns restaurant prices are high, however a dish of swordfish on risotto once you add the (separate) vegetables came in at a hiking $43.00, and the glass of wine that would normally be $9-10 in our region was $14 for the same.

So the reality is that we are not so bad off here and especially if you buy local produce, the transport costs are eliminated from the price.

Kitchen Garden

Published 4th September 2010

The backyard garden of my childhood in Perth was no different from any other in the suburb. It grew Peach, Apricot, Plum, Almond, Orange, Lemon and Mandarin trees and the large vegetable garden grew broad beans, corn, peas, french beans, spinach, tomato, lettuce, carrots, potato and strawberries. Only the ‘new Australian’s” gardens in their quarters grew anything different. It would take years for us to embrace their cuisine. But this is the way it was; you grew your own food. That notion seemed to fade out for a number of years, but now there is a resurgence of backyard vegetable plots, and even apartment dwellers are not missing out.

City gardens, community gardens and balcony gardens are becoming popular and the Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Program now has over 140 Australian schools involved with the thought that if you can teach children to grow food and learn to cook it, they will have a better appreciation of a healthier diet.

A study conducted by two Melbourne Universities credits the Kitchen Garden Program with creating positive attitude changes in primary school children across Australia. It found that 39% of children reporting they would try new foods, compared with 26% at the start of the Program. 71% of children in participating schools reported they enjoyed cooking, compared with just 50% at non-participating schools. The Program was also considered by teachers to be particularly effective in engaging ‘non-academic learners’.

At present there is only one Cairns school participating in this program and thanks to Annie Wolff at Cairns West Primary School, students there are benefiting from the Kitchen Garden Program. It would be good to see more schools join in.

Whether it’s a school garden, community or backyard garden, growing your own food has something for the whole family, not only the healthy food, but for family interaction.

Word of Mouth

School Debate
Published 28th August 2010

If you are a ‘foodie’ then you will enjoy the Word of Mouth foodie chat sessions at The Pier in this weekend’s Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival. All sessions are free to the public and start at 9am with a food debate ‘The Kitchen is the Centre of the Universe’. Here a group of determined high school students will debate their case. Whilst Gordonvale High School will argue for the affirmative, Trinity Anglican School team will argue against the notion that a home kitchen is the centre of the universe.

The ‘Future of Restaurants’ should be a hot session for restaurateurs and diners with panelist chefs Craig Squire, Nic Holloway and Leon Walker discussing where their industry is heading and what’s hot and what’s not.

Food tourism is an emerging niche market that is sweeping the world. What we have to offer here for the culinary visitors is astounding, but how do we get the message out to the world? In ‘Food Tourism Ambassador; Is that Me?’ listen to regional tourism experts Jeff Gillies, Jason Chuck & Ross Contarino, show us how we can be great food ambassadors.

An interview with Marion Grasby is surely going to pack the room in a session that will talk about her life and love of food and her rise to prominence.

With climate change, issues of food security, sustainability and the environmental impact of food production, the growth of agribusiness and the homogenization of food production, how can we ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to eat real food?

A panel of lively enthusiast from APC10 will discuss these issues in a session on ‘Real Food’If you are not that ‘au fait’ with wines, ‘Wine? Wine Not?’ will give you a little introduction to the wine world of Australia and a few tips on matching wine with food in Jane Brentnall’s discussion. And whilst we are on wines, ‘Grape DeVine and Drink Paradise’ is an adjoining event from 2-4pm that for $25 you can taste some of Australia’s great wines from 11 wine companies as well as local beer, fruit wine, spirits and liqueurs from with Pernod Ricard, Yalumba, McWilliams, Red & White, Treasury Wine Estates, Taylors Wines, De Bortoli Wines, Mt Uncle Distillery, Blue Sky Brewery and de Brueys Boutique Wines.

Tropical Pan Seared Tuna laced with Mango Vinaigrette

Recipe By Chris Buckley, Chriso The Personal ChefOn-site Catering T: 0434829218 E: dish showcases this regions amazingly fresh seafood which is complimented by our locally grown tropical produce, creating a tasty, relaxed and vibrant dish which captures the Taste of Paradise.

What you will need:-
300g high grade local Tuna
3 tsp Cajun spiceOlive oil
6 local strawberries
1 yellow local zucchini
1 local ruby grapefruit
1 local organic orange
3 sprigs of fresh local mint
1 local lettuce
3 cherries
A squeeze of lime juice
150g local frozen Bowen mango
2 Tbl coconut vinegar
Salt and pepper

What to do:

Combine olive oil, Cajun spice, salt and pepper to make a thin paste.
Drizzle over prepared tuna and lightly rub in.
Cling wrap the tuna and put aside in fridge.
Make the dressing by blending coconut vinegar, mango and half of the mint. Put aside in the fridge.
Segment orange and grapefruit. Quarter strawberries. Slice zucchini. Set these aside.
Remove tuna from fridge.
Place non-stick frying pan on high heat. Sear tuna on all sides for 4-6 mins (depending on thickness) or until tuna has nice colouration on the outside but is still soft and moist.
Remove tuna and allow to rest.
Add sliced zucchini to the pan and fry for 2 mins.
Put lettuce, strawberries, grapefruit and zucchini in a big bowl and gently fold in the mango vinaigrette.
Assemble salad nicely onto serving plate.
Slice tuna and place on top of the salad and garnish with the remaining mint and the fresh cherries.

A Special Taste of Paradise

Chriso The Personal Chef's Tropical Pan Seared Tuna with Mango Vinaigrette

Published 21st August 2010

What dish could possibly represent the essence of ‘Tropical North Queensland’? A dish with an innovative use of our regional food produce that every mouthful says ‘Taste Paradise’. It’s evident from the 22 dishes submitted by chefs of the region in the Taste Paradise Signature Dish Competition that seafood is very much our local favourite with 100% of entries featuring seafood. So now the voting will probably come down to the other ingredients in the recipes that will bring out the flavours of the tropics in these dishes … and what a diverse range of flavours this region has to offer?

The challenge has been set for our restaurant chefs to throw down the kitchen glove and compete in this inaugural competition where the public can be the judge. On-line voting commenced on August 20 at where you can view all the dishes and recipes contributed by 22 chefs of the region who have taken up the challenge. By voting for your favourite dish you will also be able to monitor the dishes popularity as they clock up their votes. What’s more when you vote, be sure to leave a comment and you could win a dinner at the winning restaurant to the value of $200.

After voting closes on 20 September, the five top dishes will be put to the test when they are cooked up for a panel of food experts to judge the winning Taste Paradise Signature Dish. This will be announced at a gala dinner to be held in October and the winning restaurant will receive a trophy and a fabulous promotional package from Tourism Queensland and Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

Made Marion

Published 14th August 2010

Yes it’s confirmed, Marion Grasby is coming to Cairns. One of the most popular contestants in the MasterChef series 2 will feature at the Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival at The Pier on Saturday 28th August where she will present public cooking demonstrations and a chat session; ‘Word of Mouth’.

This day is set to be a ‘foodies’ paradise with more cooking demonstrations by local celebrity chefs Nick Holloway (NuNu), Jimmy Shu (Hanuman) David Bres (Olivers) and Jason Chuck (Eden House) at the Pier centre stage. M.C. Tammy Barker will keep the heat up on stage with the chefs throughout the day from 9am – 4pm. Kids have not been forgotten with a ‘Kids in the Kitchen’ cooking class at Cho Gao from 2-4pm with limited bookings taken on the day. ‘Palate to Palette’ is an art exhibition on a food theme by the Visual Arts Association of FNQ and well known Australian but local contemporary artist Julie Poulsen will exhibit her ‘Menu’s collection at her Gallery Inc. in the Pier. The Farmgate Market has plenty of stalls to showcase local food produce and Apostrophe Bookshop will host ‘Cook the Books.

Between cooking demonstrations pop upstairs to the Shangri-la’s Trinity room for ‘Word of Mouth’ hosted by local personality Juanita Soper. Juanita will facilitate a series of six foodies chat sessions throughout the day with local chefs and identities, to provoke thoughts and humour in fun fill gatherings including The Food Debate with year 12 high school students.

Drink Paradise & Grape DeVine; a wine tasting expose in a the Shangri-la hotel’s trinity room will happen between 2-4pm and is the only event of the day where there is a charge of $25.00 entry, but what good value for 2 hours of tasting some of Australia’s popular fruit and grape wines, beers, spirits and liqueurs.So if you have any interest in food, spend your Saturday at The Pier.


In Season: June - November. Strawberries are everywhere at the moment but look out for locally grown Shaylees strawberries from Yungaburra.

Buy: Choose strawberries that are firm, plump, deeply red and shiny, with their green leaf caps attached. Unripe strawberries should not be purchased, since they do not ripen further.

Store: Strawberries only keep for a few days after being purchased, so they should be consumed within one to two days.

Taste: The sweet flavour of strawberries is much more pronounced when left at room temperature.
Use: Strawberries and Balsamic vinegar are actually a great combination, use Balsamic vinegar or glaze sparingly. Their size is ideal for children’s snack but dip them in chocolate for a taste sensation.
Good for you: Strawberries are a good source of Vitamin C and antioxidants and said to be one of the healthiest fruits you can eat.

Who's Cooking?

Published 7th August 2010

Ben O’Donoghue will thrill the diners at the Sea Temple and Sebel Reef House in Palm Cove this month but that doesn’t stop other ‘foodies’ from catching up with Ben at a public cooking demonstration in The Pier at the Marina, Cairns at 9:30am on Saturday 21st August. Well known as one of the handsome two guys from ‘Surfing the Menu’, Ben will let you into a few of his (recipe) secrets with his relaxed surfer style that is sure to please the crowd.

Also on that Saturday at The Pier there will be cooking demonstrations by our own local celebrity chefs. As much as we love to have the likes of Ben O’Donoghue come up to our region, we have some pretty good chefs of our own. Local culinary hero such as Craig Squire; this region’s most dedicated advocate of the local food produce that he has been espousing in the 14 successful years of his Ochre Restaurant, will showcase some delights from his menu.

Not so long in Cairns but dedicated to using local produce is Jimmy Shu of Hanuman’s Restaurant whose knowledge of the Asian foods grown in our region, is a part of his psyche stemming back from his own Asian roots.

An art component is added to the festival with the Palate to Palette art exhibition of all thing foodie, presented by the Visual Arts Association of FNQ. Here paintings, pottery, ceramics, photography and even weaving on a food theme will be on display. And in Gallery Inc., well known Australian contemporary artist and local Julie Poulsen will display her ‘Menus’ exhibition.

There will be a renewed interest in stallholders for the Farmgate Market and a good display of locally produced foods will be available. So put it in your diary and come along on Saturday 21st August from 9:30am – 2pm. See you there.

Next week I will update you on the second big weekend of Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival and announce our other special guest chef.

Taste Palm Cove - Taste Paradise

Published 31st July 2010

Now that MasterChef has drawn to a conclusion, there will obviously be many people suffering withdrawal symptoms for their foodie fix. Don’t despair; Cairns is about to get its first real food event with the Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival held in conjunction with the new regional food brand and with Festival Cairns.

It all starts at Palm Cove with a Long luncheon right on the Beachfront at Angsana’s Far Horizon’s restaurant; a superb way to kick-start a host of events to follow. On Friday 20th August, Chef Lee Shaw and his team will serve a fabulous luncheon in an amazing setting that will defy beating. There are not too many places in Australian where you can sit under the shade of coconut palms and take in a five-course platter lunch featuring regional iconic ingredients.

This is surely Paradise.Then the star of the festival; Ben O’Donoghue will be your guest chef for a luncheon at Sea Temple Palm Cove on Saturday 21st August. Ben is well aware of our great local food from filming ‘Surfing the Menu’ here a few years ago, so his four-course luncheon menu assisted by Sea Temple’s chef Patrick Aebi, will be a real treat.

The Taste of Palm Cove on Sunday 22nd August is a casual affair that allows you to just stroll down Williams Esplanade and choose grazing dishes (starting at $10.00) from a number of great restaurants along the beach. You will find the tasting plates at restaurants; Far Horizons at Angsana, Sea Temple, Deli aDrift, Nu Nu's, Bella Baci, Lime and Pepper, Il Forno, Beach Almond, Après Beach Bar & Grill, Vivo Bar and Grill, to name a few. There is even a kids cooking class at Pepper’s Beach Club Look, you may as well check out some good deals with accommodation and stay the whole weekend in Palm Cove.

Then you can finish a perfectly indulgent weekend with drinks at sunset on Sunday evening (22nd August) at The Sebel Reef House where Ben O’Donoghue will be your guest celebrity chef for a stunning four course dinner. Ben is a familiar face at The Reef House and has worked with Chef Phil Mitchell on past ‘Chefs of the Reef’ events, so this is not to be missed.

But don’t think it finishes there. I will tell you more about Taste Paradise Food & Wine Festival next week. Till then check out and go to Taste Paradise.


In Season: May - November

Origin: Jicama (pronounced ‘Hikama’) or Yam Bean is native to Mexico but has spread to South America, the Pacific and Asia.

Colour: The turnip shaped and size tuber root has a yellow brown skin that can be easily peeled to reveal a creamy white interior.

Taste: Jicama’s crisp crunchy texture is similar to an apple or raw potato and has a lightly sweet and starchy taste. More often eaten raw it makes a great crispy addition to salads or stir fry when thinly sliced or julienne. Peeled and cut into wedges it goes well with a squeeze of lime juice or as a crudités in dips.

Use: Jicama is sometimes used as a substitute for water chestnut in Chinese dishes, and added just before serving. It can be juiced or used in stuffing and a variety of other recipes. In addition to having a unique flavour and texture, Jicama carries flavour well, making it well suited to culinary experimentation.

Range of Eggs

Published 24th July 2010

I don’t know about you but I get a little confused when confronted at the egg shelf in a supermarket with caged, cage free, barn laid, free range, premium gourmet, natural living, grain fed, natural grain, whole grain fed, organic eggs... it goes on!

I did smile when I found a carton labeled ‘simply eggs’; they had done away with all the buzzwords - good marketing ploy – but they were caged! Another carton said ‘certified free range’ yet I couldn’t find who certified it and the cute chicken certification logo was not the accredited logo used by the Free Range Farmers Association Inc. Another one nearly got me in when I noticed (in big words) ‘organic’ but on closer scrutiny found that the birds were caged and fed organic grain. It was comforting to find the Australian Organic logo on another carton. I think I will buy this one. Better still, I can find Bio-Dynamic eggs from Bio-Eggs at the Farmgate markets. These bright yellow yoke eggs come from chickens that forage free in grass paddocks at Gordonvale.

Jamie Oliver gave a great television presentation about Britain’s egg industry to awaken the conscious of consumers to the welfare of the birds. Here in Australia consumers are catching on and want to make informed buying decisions, so eggs from free range chickens are gaining popularity.

With current standard for ‘free range’ poultry farming at 1500 birds per hectare, you would think that any shift in these ratios would be to decrease the bird numbers. However the Australian Egg Corporation has launched plans for new standards for free range egg production which allows stocking densities on farms to increase to 20,000 per hectare and permit hens to be kept locked in sheds for up to 25 weeks.

This change in standard could allow large producers to charge a premium for branding their eggs as 'free range' without incurring the additional costs of genuine free range production methods. Is it about marketing or about ethics?

A petition by the Australian Free Range Farmers Association has been set up for consumers to say no to the changes. If you are concerned go to

Tunisian carrots

Brighten up a carrot dish with this simple recipe from Suzanne Quintner’s website

What you need:-

1kg carrots, washed and sliced
2 tablespoon olive oil
3-6 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon (or more!) harissa
3 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoon brown sugar
salt to taste

What to do:

Saute carrots in oil, then add garlic and other ingredients and cook uncovered until carrots are tender and caramalised (you can do this in the oven as well).

Serving Suggestion: Sprinkle with carraway seeds or sesame seeds


Harissa is a spicy sauce which features in Tunisian, Libyan, and Algerian and other North African cuisines. It is generally made from a grind of chilli peppers, cumin, coriander, caraway seed, garlic, and olive oil, although there are many variants.

Freshly made harissa is generally spicier, as you can control the ingredients and use fresh chilli. Roasted chilli can give a smoky flavour.Used as a condiment, in a small dish on the table to accompany North African traditional meals, it is also a major ingredient in many soups, stews, and curries.

The spicy sauce may be used to rub meats before roasting or barbecuing, and is often paired with couscous since the starch of the couscous helps to cut the spice of the harissa.

When purchasing a packaged harissa, always check the expiration date, as it will get progressively less hot the older it is.

Harissa by Suzanne Quintner Fine Food has been chosen by Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant in Melbourne for a soft shell crab recipe.

Suzanne Quintner’s website

Relishing Food

Published 17th July 2010

In May I finally got to go to Club Relish at The Edge Food Store in Edge Hill. I was astounded to find over 100 ‘foodies’ had gathered for an evening of Taste of the Tablelands.

Here Geraldine McGuire and Margo Watkins of Rainforest Bounty showed the audience how to prepare Vietnamese spring rolls which was served up along with a Laos pumpkin curry, both with Rainforest Bounty condiments. Their sauces and chutneys were a treat to accompany the seven cheeses from Local cheese maker and dairy farmer Frank Gallo next on the presentation list.

It was then onto Bella Coffee and Trish Inderbitzen gave an insight to the process of sacred coffee bean whilst the wafting aroma and shwoosh sound of freshly made espresso in the background added to the experience. Served with some fresh friands whipped up with Rainforest Bounty jam and Mungalli cream finished off the night beautifully.

Loren Gillison tells me that their first Club Relish event attracted 20 people, doubled to 40 on the next, then 70 and now 100 eager ‘foodies’ attending a great midweek night out. …and all over in time to watch the ‘state of origin’. As if ‘foodies’ are interested in rugby??

With such interest, Loren is planning her next Club Relish – Meet the Maker for Wednesday 4th August, but has decided that she will limit the numbers to make it more comfortable for everyone. A second night will be considered if there is a demand. So get in quick. The evening will feature Brisbane Based Suzanne Quintner with her Flavours of North Africa.

She is meant to be a real character – so it should be a fun evening. Also our local Missy Moo and her fabulous cup cakes will featured with cup cakes all round. For more information about Club Relish contact Loren or Gary on 4053 2977. For products go to and

Purple Sweet Potato

In Season: May to December

Origin: Originally from Central America and the West Indies, but made their way to Polynesia and New Zealand to become a staple diet in the Pacific and some parts of Asia, purple sweet potato is just one of the varieties of Sweet potato that today are the world's seventh largest food crop. It is an herbaceous perennial vine with edible leaves however the long and tapered root is most popular.
Colour: Light greyish brown skin with purple inside. Purple sweet potatoes maintain their lovely lavender colour even after cooking.

Taste: Purple sweet potatoes natural sweetness with a naturally creamy flavor and texture
Eat: Makes them perfect for baked, boiled, fried (like French fries), or roasted, They
are wonderfully versatile and and hold their shape well for salads.

Good for you: Purple sweet potatoes have a much lower on the glycemic index scale than white potatoes therefore even carbohydrate-sensitive people and diabetics can include these good
carbohydrates in their diets. As with other purple coloured foods they are said to be rich in antioxidants with 150% more than blueberries.

Cooking in Clare's Kitchen

Published 10th July 2o10

At last we will have a unique comprehensive tropical reference cookbook like no other on the market, nationally or internationally. And it's all down to the persistent work of one local lady, Clare Richards.

After moving to north Australia 8 years ago and searching in vain for a reference cookbook that could guide her in the use of tropical produce, Clare decided to research and create the cookbook herself. Tropical Cuisine: Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen is the result.

I have been privy to some afternoons of test tastings at Clare’s kitchen where her confident use of tropical produce in her creative yet simplistic recipes have delighted her guests. These soirees’s have also doubled as the photographic session where Port Douglas photographer Alison George has captured some beautiful images for the book.

More than 350 pages in full colour, with information on over 70 lesser known but available tropical produce, Clare has including instructions on how to select, store, prepare and cook produce in over 200 recipes. Duck with Lychee Salad, Fettuccini with Fresh Pippis from Cairns beaches, Coconut & Tapioca Pancakes; a gluten free mix, to name a few, all with Clare’s personal narrative about the recipes, as with our feature recipe for a healthy breakfast that will sustain your energy throughout the morning.

Clare’s book is the first of what will be a series of comprehensive reference cookbooks, progressively exploring more of the produce that our tropical Australian gardens and farms have to offer in recipes drawn from the rich array of cuisines from the tropical zones of the world.

There are some lovely local cookbooks on the market but this book is different in that it is the first reference tropical cookbook for all lovers of our unique produce grown and used in the region. Tropical Cuisine: Cooking in Clare’s Kitchen is due to be released in October 2010 just in time for Christmas.

For more information go to

Banana Health Loaf

From the Australian Banana Growers Council Inc. website Great for the school holidays.

What you need:-

1 cup All Bran cereal
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup wheatgerm
3 bananas
2 eggs

What to do:
Place All Bran in a small bowl, cover with milk and allow to stand 10-15 minutes.
In a large bowl combine flour, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, dried apricots, sultanas, coconut and wheatgerm. Stir well.
Mash bananas thoroughly, break in eggs and stir to combine.
Add banana mixture and soaked All Bran to dry ingredients. Mix well.
Pour mixture into greased and lined loaf tin and bake at 170C for approximately 1 hour or until skewer inserted in the centre comes out cleanly.
Turn onto a cake cooler and allow to cool.
Slice and butter if desired.


In Season: Year round

The banana plant is actually an enormous herb and because of its continuous reproduction, is regarded by Hindus as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Bananas originated in South EastAsia, New Guinea and Northern Australia.

Buy: Unlike other fruit, they will continue to ripen rapidly at home.

Store: Storing bananas in the fridge will cause their skin to blacken, unless wrapped in newspaper. Bananas can be frozen once the fruit is peels and placed in a freezer bag.

Eat: The original fast food. If slicing and not using immediately, brush with lemon to prevent discolouration. For fresh fruit salads, Lady Finger & Gold Finger are best because they hold their colour better and do not darken.

Use: Ripe bananas are delicious and can be used in smoothies, milkshakes, fruit salads, cake, sweet or savoury dishes, or dried.For a treat, try coating them in melted chocolate. The bells of bananas ( Ducasse & Ladyfinger) can also be eaten. Green bananas and plantains are starchier and contain less sugar, so are served as vegetables. They can be boiled, baked and fried. Banana leaves can also be used as a wrapping for savoury fillings and add an aromatic flavour to chicken and beef.

Varieties: Numerous varieties of bananas flourish in the region, including Red Dacca, Bluggoe, Ducasse, Cavendish, Lady Finger, Sucrier and Plantain.

Banana Perfection

Published 2nd July 2010

I remember my father being happy to wait for bananas skins to go black before he ate them. He said they were so much sweeter! I have never been that ardent; but as a child it was normal to eat bright yellow bananas with a few small brown spots on the skin. I remember them as being sweet with a lovely creamy texture.

Today’s consumer has been conditioned to want perfection and not accept blemishes. Wholesalers and supermarkets now prefer to purchase food crop varieties that present in ‘perfect’ condition on the shelf, often at the expense of flavour. This relates to a staggering 30m bananas wasted per year because of blemishes or shape.

Minor blemishes on Banana skins don’t necessarily relate to damaged inedible fruit… and it could be more likely that they are sweeter. Chefs know this and outside a banana packing shed on a recent chef’s food tour of the regions, they spied a large pallet container full of bananas sitting out in the sun. When queried ‘what is to become of these bananas’? They were told they were seconds and would be thrown out. This surprised all the chefs as they would be happy to pay less for second grade bananas for ingredients of cakes, breads, desserts and smoothies. They didn’t need the skins to be perfect as they would only require first grade for a fruit display.Unless treated roughly, those brown spots are a natural part of the ripening process.

When purchasing bananas don’t discard a few spots and if you buy those ‘perfect’ green bananas, make sure you wait until they are optimally ripened. As a naturally hygienic sealed, easy to eat, highly nutritional fruit, a banana is a perfect snack food especially for children.

Avocado and Mango Temaki

What you need:

240g prepared sushi rice
6 nori sheets
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
Pickled sushi ginger
Roasted sesame seeds

What to do:

Place a small handful of sushi rice on the nori sheet. Add avocado and mango slices. Fold into a cone shape and top with some sesame seeds. Repeat to make 5 more rolls. Garnish with pickled sushi ginger.

Yellow Fin Tuna (Thunnus Albacares)

IN SEASON: Year round

Colour: Flesh Colour Pink, off-white yellowish, reddish or reddish brown, with bands of very dark flesh along the sides. Colour varies with species, condition and cut; lateral cuts are darker. Generally creamy white when cooked

Taste: Tuna has a mild to medium flavour with high oil content.Buy: Look for thick fillets or cutlets that have good colour and no smell.

Use: Cutlets and steaks can be cooked by grilling, barbecuing, baking, smoking, poaching or marinating. Japanese demand for sushi and sashimi has highlighted some species superb eating qualities raw. Grilled or barbecued, tunas are best seared and left rare centrally.

Match: Highlight with intense flavours such as charred capsicum, eggplant, balsamic vinegar & garlic or with Japanese wasabi, soy and pickled ginger.

Good for you: Tuna is low in fat, an excellent source of omega 3, Vitamin B12 and selenium

Tuna & Cucumber Rolls

What you Need:

Prepared sushi rice
Nori sheets
Wasabi pasteTuna – cut into narrow strips

What to do:

Prepare the sushi rice.
Slice the cucumber into narrow strips.
To make the rolls, lay sheet of Nori (shiny side down) on the bamboo rolling mat.
Moisten your hands with water, spread sushi rice on the nori and cover the edges, leaving the tops 2 ½ cm uncovered.
Dab a very small amount of wasabi on rice in a line along the centre of the rice. Lay thin tuna strips and half the cucumber onto the wasabi.
Holding the filling in place with your fingers, lift the front of the bamboo mat closest to you and roll up. Just before reaching the end of the sheet, wet the exposed end with a little water.
Press the mat around the roll to shape it, remove the mat and with a sharp knife cut the roll into six slices.

Sushi Sammy

Published 26th June 2010

Recently I walked into Smithfield Shopping Centre and there at ISP Fish Market was a familiar face –Sammy; in his element behind the counter filleting and slicing seafood, his dexterous hands working his razor sharp knife through the freshest of fish. He looks up, smiles broadly and says ‘hai’ just as he did for years from behind his sushi bar at his Yama Restaurant in Spence Street.

Masami (Sammy) Kawano paved the way for Japanese restaurants in Cairns when he opened Yama restaurant in 1987. Arriving from Melbourne he was aware of the quality of this regions yellow fin tuna, however at that time; procuring sashimi was a challenge. Sammy had to bring tuna from Sydney until he could convince local fishers to supply very fresh, unfrozen sashimi grade tuna.

His other dilemma was that local people were unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine and this also took some time before acceptance set in. With the Japanese tourist boom in the ‘90’s things changed and with that more Japanese restaurants appeared in town.

Interestingly, when you walked into Yama’s you would find not the Japanese tourists but the Japanese tourist operators. It seemed that this was their special (home away from home) eating spot, and away from work. ‘Don’t tell the tourists about Yama’?

Now at ISP Fish Market, what a great partnership this is with the McAtamney family and Sammy Kawano? Here is a reputable local fishing family business with the expertise of a seafood master chef offering a quality product to the Smithfield and beaches area. You can find Sammy there in person at ISP on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and he makes up enough sushi & sashimi for Sunday.

Coconuts (Cocos Nucifera)

IN SEASON: All year

The Spanish called this nut Cocos which means "monkey face" because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resemble the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means "nut-bearing."

Coconuts do not have a long shelf life, especially after the outer husks have been removed.

When purchasing a coconut choose one that is still heavy with juice. Shake it to make sure there is plenty of juice inside. Check the eyes, they shouldn't look dark or moldy. Choose a rich brown shell if you wish to press fresh milk. Inside, the thick flesh should be a pure white color; yellow flesh means rancidity. A lighter brown shell means a younger nut with soft meat that is delicious as a snack, or shredded to use in recipes. Milk pressed from these coconuts may be less creamy but its flavor can be fresher and tastier.

To open a coconut, hold over a bowl in one hand with the tip on one end and the eyes on the 0ther. Whack the coconut with the back of the cleaver a few times all around the center until it cracks open cleanly into two nearly equal halves. Make sure you use the blunt side of the cleaver. Catch he juice in the bowl as it drains from the cracks.

Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a functional food" because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content.

Fruit Wine Awards

Published 19th June 2010

Without a grape wine industry in the tropics our emerging fruit wine alternative has flourished with wines made from mango, jaboticaba, lychee, Davidson plum, pitaya, mangosteen, ginger and passionfruits, to name a few.This region has the most commercial fruit wineries than anywhere else in Australia and so it’s befitting to hold the 2010 Australian Fruit Wine Awards in Cairns.

Next Saturday fruit wines from all over Australia and New Zealand will vie for the gold, silver and bronze medals; judged by experienced and passionate fruit wine judges Amanda Conrad and Wayne Hewitt from Hobart.

I helped out last year and was surprised to see there were over 60 fruit wines and liqueurs entered with 40 from this region. The judging categories are similar to grape wine; Light Flavoured Dry Wine, Full Flavoured Dry Wine, Light Flavoured Sweet Wine, Full Flavoured Sweet Wine, Fortified Wine (Dessert Wine), Sparkling Wine and Liqueurs. I particularly enjoyed some of the fortified wines and tropical flavoured liqueurs.

Last year the Victorian ‘Thieves & Duffers’ won the Best Fruit Wine of the show and this year’s wine judge Wayne Hewitt’s Rebello had a stunning strawberry sparkling winner. However our local Murdering Point scored the best sweet wine for its Pinnacles Passionfruit wine and de Bruey’s Boutique Wines took out the Best Liqueur trophy with two of their Flagship Coffee Elixer and Tropical Temptation liqueurs.

The Australian Fruit Wine Awards is held each year in conjunction with the Cairns Show Wine Awards in a separate room downstairs in the De Jarlais function centre. This year the new Cafe and Market has been added to showcase local foods of the region.

So on Saturday 26th between 3-6pm you can come along to the public tasting of grape and fruit wines as well as local foods. For more information go to .

Black Sapote & Chocolate Devils Foodcake

Recipe courtesy of Silky Oaks Lodge Treehouse Restaurant
6/8 serves

What you need:

100 g chocolate
80 g black sapote pulp
125 g butter
125 g sugar
65 g flour
3 eggs

What to do:

Preheat oven to 200°C
Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water.
Whisk sugar, flour and eggs until light.
Fold chocolate and blended sapote into the batter.
Spoon into 6-8 small well greased pudding moulds
Bake for 15 minutes Once baked let the devils rest in their mold for 2 to 3 minute.
Turn them around gently and serve with coconut ice cream, berry coulis and coconut cream and a toasted pineapple slice.

Black Sapote (Chocolate Pudding Fruit)

IN SEASON: May - January

Otherwise known as Chocolate Pudding Fruit or Black Persimmon the Black Sapote originates from Mexico and is about the size of a very large apple and tomato-shaped.

It is not a fruit to be eaten when the skin is bright green and shiny. The crown on top of the fruit should be raised, which indicates the fruit is mature. During ripening, changes of the fruit are dramatic: overnight it turns dark green and later brown-black, and goes from rock hard to soft and mushy. Do not refrigerate until ripe. Ripe fruit or pulp may be refrigerated for a few days, however, freezing is better. Frozen whole fruit or pulp retains its subtle flavour for more than six months, and frozen pulp is suitable for use in any recipe.
The flesh tastes like chocolate, but only when perfectly ripe. The taste is otherwise slightly bitter. Simply cut the fruit in half around the centre and scoop out the flesh and remove the seeds. Very soft fruit has a delicate skin, which may disintegrate when cut.

Flavour is enhanced by the addition of a little rum, vanilla, cream or coffee liqueur (Kahlua or Tia Maria). It makes a delicious ice cream and is also great in mousses, cakes, cheesecakes, muffins, bread and preserves.

Whey to Go - Buy Local Milk

Published 15th June 2010

It’s simple to just buy a bottle of milk from the supermarket and not think about where it comes from or what is actually in the bottle. Buying the local brands can have an enormous positive flow on effect that supports the local dairy industry and the region’s economy.

But there is more to our local milk! It has a purity that can only be achieve when all the milk in your glass comes from a 70klm radius as it does on our southern tableland. A glass of milk from the Brisbane area could be blend of milk from a radius of 700klm. With such a small output of milk from this region the product moves quickly, and because of our hot climate the milk is refrigerated from the milking shed to the consumer. This means our milk is really fresh.

You may not realise that milk takes on the flavours of its environment and our southern tablelands with high altitude and high rainfall produces rich tropical pastures that imbues milk with a definite tropical flavour of its own. Whereas other drier regions use a much higher percentage of silage or grains for stock feed, our lush tropical pasture impart a rich buttery flavour to the local milk. You can be proud that our region’s milk and cream products have won countless awards and in 2009 Dairy Farmers Malanda was named by Dairy Australia as Grand Champion for their full cream milk.

Mungalli Bio-Dynamic Dairy can’t get enough milk to satisfy the ever growing demand for its organic non homogenised product. Their fabulous milk allows the cream to float to the top, just like it used to years ago before homogenisation. This milk is so popular that even the little extra you pay does not deter the consumers.

So check the brand and buy local milk.

Prawn & Avocado Salad

Very healthy, very quick and oh-so yummy!

Serves 4-6

Recipe from
What you need:

1 large iceberg lettuce
1 truss cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Lebanese cucumber, sliced
50g/2oz snow pea sprouts
1 large ripe (Queensland) avocado, chopped
1kg cooked prawns, peeled, but with the tail section left on
Ground black pepper

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons reduced fat natural yoghurt

What to do:

Break the lettuce up and put the pieces into a large salad bowl.
Add the tomatoes, cucumber and avocado. Toss.
Arrange the prawns and snow pea sprouts on top.

To make the dressing:
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. It should be pouring consistency. If it's too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons cold water.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and garnish with extra snow pea sprouts and ground black pepper.

King Prawns

IN SEASON: Year round, with peak supply from February through June.

Probably the most popular Prawn in Australia, there are a few types of Kings, and they can be found throughout Queensland.

The Eastern King Prawn is the most popular species but you can pay a little less for the Red Spot King Prawn which is a reef prawn that is found within 30 kilometres of coral reefs in the Gladstone to Bowen region

Suggested coatings include batters (regular or tempura) with a touch of saffron. Crumbs made from brioche make a good match with the sweetness of the prawns. Blend in saffron, turmeric, cumin or ground coriander for added flavour. If curried prawns are on the menu, use a light style of curry with coconut milk so as not to overpower the flavour of the prawn. Prawn cocktail is always popular and can be made more exotic by adding mango or fresh citrus fruits and light dressings or mayonnaise.

Appropriate sauces and accompaniments for king prawns include chilli, coriander, citrus, garlic, curry (light), ginger, tropical fruits, burnt butters, basil (pesto), mayonnaise and