Greater Noosa Local Produce to Platter
Celebrating food in the greater Noosa region
By Robyn Lewis
Queensland wine and food have come a long way since the days of monster steaks cooked for 10 minutes per side, and prawns, pineapple or avocado with everything, washed down with fourex.
No doubt you can still get such fare at any number of shady verandahed pubs, but especially round the eastern coast, Queensland cuisine has moved onto the world stage. Brisbane now has Matt Moran’s Aria and a number of other ‘hatted’ and cutting edge restaurants, and from Coolangatta through to Port Douglas and Lizard Island, both locals and visitors alike can dine as well as anywhere in regional Australia, and some may argue better.
Nowhere more so perhaps than Noosa, a town that is a unique blend of sophistication, laid back lifestyle and simple pleasures. Evolving from a sleepy beachside hollow in the 1900s to a sunshine mecca for those seeking an escape from winters everywhere – an Australian Miami but also for a cooler, younger set, often with children – it’s now home to the annual Noosa Food and Wine Festival in early May, billed as Australia’s leading regional food and wine festival, a three day tribute to Australian food and wine.
To carry off this title however requires year-round quality restaurants, backed by the availability of great produce, much of it sourced locally from the Sunshine Coast’s hinterlands and surrounding waters.
As its name suggests, Greater Noosa Produce to Platter celebrates the region’s food and wine, and its fabulous and passionate producers. However it’s a bit hard to find out exactly what the Greater Noosa region covers, as the book lacks a locational or regional map. I like maps and knowing where places are, so I asked the principal author Jonette Wilton about this absence - she assured me that there are many good quality ones available at the Noosa tourism information centre, or online. However there is one of the local wineries on page 143, which is some help - I didn't have much luck with Google.
So I turn instead to one of Greater Noosa Produce to Platter’s predecessors, Gourmet Odyssey: Noosa to Mooloolaba by Petra Frieser – which does have map – for a bird’s eye overview. Noosa has inspired a number of food books in the past decade. When the latter (now out of print) was published in 2005, the author Petra Frieser (who has also written Noosa Farmers’ Market and Ginger – the flavours and the flowers) stated ‘the Sunshine Coast needs no introduction when it comes to … beaches … What … does need introducing is the cultural fabric … as much about lifestyle as it is about anything else”. Integral to this is of course its food.
Greater Noosa Produce to Platter takes up where Gourmet Odyssey left off, fleshing out the taste of the lifestyle that Petra Frieser so ably introduced. The book is compiled by mother and daughter team Jonette and Daniele Wilton. After several life-changing events including cancer and the loss of her son, Jonette in particular decided it was time to follow her passions: for food, and especially clean, green and ethical food, for the environment, and for the people who produce it. Her rule is ‘love thy neighbour and respect the earth’.
Greater Noosa Produce to Platter is divided by type of producer: fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat, dairy and other, then onto dining, providores (including farmers’ markets) and wine. As Jonette explains, the greater Noosa region is endowed with ‘what we call “fruits” from heaven … good soil, good sun, good rain and good people’. Put these together and you get the best quality produce, grown with love and available directly to the locals – and now thanks to this guide more accessible to visitors as well. No doubt greater Noosa will sound like nirvana to residents of more drought-stricken or fire-prone Australian regions, not to mention our cities.
Aboriginal foods and traditions have not been lost or totally ignored either, as have perhaps occurred in some other regions and their guidebooks (the Barossa springs to mind). Greater Noosa Produce to Platter celebrates these ancient treasures with both some indigenous product descriptions and recipes for them, and also the early multicultural traditions of the region including that of early Lebanese immigrants Edith and Ted Massoud, who arrived in 1900 when there were only thirteen houses in Noosaville. Their daughter Maisie inadvertently established Noosa’s first restaurant during World War II when she reputedly cooked up to 200 kg of fish per night on a wood-fired stove for the troops, and the catches of guests staying in old style accommodation houses around Laguna Street, including flathead of over 4 kg each!
The days when you had to battle through a bush track to get to Noosa’s beach or catch your own dinner are long gone – many of today’s restaurants enjoy absolute beach frontage and the hardest thing you have to do after selecting one on Hastings Street is to decide what to order. However, despite the shops clamouring for attention there is still a laid-back pace and a positive energy, and the typical pace of the region remains relatively slow.
Each fruit and vegetable in Greater Noosa Produce to Platter has an accompanying recipe from a local chef, and most have a local sub-tropical feel, from stuffed zucchini with finger limes through to Noosa spanner crabs with green mango salad. There are plenty of recipes you can cook back in temperate zones however, including char-grilled lamb with green beans, parpadelle with prosciutto and goat’s cheese and eye fillet with figs – some of the produce can of course be found in abundance around Australia.
I’m reminded of a souvenir of an earlier visit, Noosa the Cookbook by Madonna Duffy, published back in 1998. This too is a compilation of local chef’s recipes – some things have changed (the former institution Ricky Ricardo’s is now Ricky’s River Bar, Berardo’s has gone from birth to an international award winner) and some remain (The Spirit House, Bistro C and of course Maisie’s) – but I am surprised and how similar the style of food is. There must have been an inspired food guru ahead of his or her time in Noosa in the 90’s to set this trend going (Cairns and Brisbane were certainly not like this at the time), or perhaps it reflects the philosophy that in keeping with the climate and lifestyle, Noosa food should always be ‘fresh, simple and light’, as Jonette puts it.
There’s a handy section on some current dining options in Greater Noosa Produce to Platter, followed by a brief overview of the farmers’ and seafood markets and then wineries of the hinterlands. ‘The Sunshine Coast is considered one of the fastest-growing wine regions in Queensland’ and the hinterland wine trail is certainly worth a day or two’s outings if the beach ever palls.
Grape and wine varieties include chardonnay, verdelho, rosé, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet merlot, chambourcin and a range of ports and fruit liqueurs. Some grapes are sourced from the higher elevations of Queensland's main wine region, the Granite Belt. The Sunshine Coast is certainly home to one of Australia’s most unusual wine labels, Little Morgue, named after the cellar door’s location in the old morgue and producing wines with appropriately quirky gothic names.
Eumundi Winery – producer of Australia’s first not-albarino wine in 2004 - also has a microbrewery and my bet is that it won’t be the last. Their head winemaker is Andrew Hickenbotham of the Mornington Peninsula, so don’t be surprised at the quality – he makes some excellent beers, too.
None of the growers or makers have paid to be included, although to cover publication costs they pre-purchase a quality of books to sell from their establishments, and fair enough too for a self-funded venture. Apart from the recipes, the text is written by the Wiltons – no advertorial - who visited every location.
Illustrated with over 300 original photographs, Greater Noosa Produce to Platter is a wonderful guide to the food and lifestyle of the Noosa region, which has established itself as a foodie destination on Australia’s eastern seaboard and has pioneered the sunshine state’s move to culinary centre stage.
Greater Noosa Local Produce to Platter is edited and published by Jonette and Daniele Wilton (sc Smudge Publishing, Tewantin, Queensland 2009), RRP A$27.95 plus postage from www.smudgepub.com.au It is also available for sale from all of the included businesses and local bookstores.
There is also an ebook version downloadable for A$9.95.
- Noosa (QLD)
- Noosa, Sunshine Coast and hinterland (QLD)
- South East Queensland (QLD)
- Sunshine Coast (QLD)
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