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Master of Gastronomic Tourism Residential 2017: Article by Hilary Heslop

Eighteen students attended a four-day Le Cordon Bleu Master of Gastronomic Tourism residential in the Northern Rivers’ (NSW) and Gold Coast’s (QLD) thriving gastronomic tourism regions. In this article, Master’s student Hilary Heslop reflects on her gastronomic experience.

Four Days of Inspiration in the Northern Rivers

by Hilary Heslop

There are days when being an online student for a Master's degree can be a lonely experience. If like me, it has been decades since you studied academically, there can be a tendency to second guess yourself. It is in these moments that your usually reliable computer can fail in supplying any sage advice. Indeed, mine never obliges.

This is when the annual Le Cordon Blue Masters of Gastronomic Tourism Residential comes to the rescue. It affords the perfect opportunity to meet up with fellow students, who often face a similar crisis of confidence while also sharing your love of all things gastronomic. The team from Cordon Bleu Australia, who organise the event, offer advice and encouragement.

This year the four-day Residential was held in the Northern Rivers region, where Southern Cross University is located. Le Cordon Bleu Australia and Southern Cross University collaborate on the degree, so this year's Residential allowed students the chance to meet professors, lecturers and support staff. For many of us, it was the first time we had been on campus.

It is unquestionably accepted wisdom that any successful gastronomic tour should start with your subject matter and it is with that theme firmly to mind that we head straight to Byron Bay and a beer masterclass. This was hosted by the Stone and Wood Brewing Company, whose handcrafted Pacific Ale recently won the hottest craft beer in an annual poll voted on by consumers. We followed this with a cooking class from MGT alumni Sam Gowing, who ran the demonstration on a theme of food, health and wealth. I like to think the afternoon represented a classic yin and yang philosophy; finding balance with wellness, and your inner Zen, countered by some all-important zing from the beer.

We then travelled to nearby Kingscliff to the beachside restaurant, Taverna, where gin was the first order of the evening. Ink Gin is made by Husk Distillers, and its vivid violet hue is achieved by an infusion of flower petals from the butterfly pea flower. With soda water, the violet hue remains intact, but with the addition of tonic water, the colour transforms to a dusky pink. There is nothing like some miraculous alcoholic alchemy to kick-start the evening. At dinner, the Bryon Bay halloumi with bush honey was a standout dish, without a doubt the best halloumi I have ever eaten. Less rubbery resistance and more an unctuous and salty firm custard. Truly sublime. Other dishes included Bangalore pork belly on a carrot and saffron puree and octopus on fava bean whip with pickled vegetables. The relaxed hip beach shack vibe of the restaurant was the perfect finish to the day.

Monday was an on-campus day at Southern Cross University where we were welcomed by the Dean of the School of Business and Tourism at SCU. Roger Haden, LCB's Academic Director, reviewed one of our units in the Masters on the aesthetics of food and wine. Roger's favourite read of the moment is Nicola Perullo's, Taste as Experience: The Philosophy and Aesthetics of Food which puts the pleasure of food front and centre of the human experience and I was reminded of the halloumi the night before. Another MGT alumni Neil Gow highlighted modernist cuisine, with a particular focus on gastrophysics which is the scientific study of those factors that influence the multisensory experience. A spotlight not so much the cuisine itself but the psychophysics that can guide our choices. For example, colouring white wine red, thus tricking our mind into believing we can taste tannins that are physically not there. A reminder perhaps that ambience should never be underestimated.

In the afternoon, Fran Flynn, a local food photographer hosted a workshop on how to use your mobile to take better pictures, and we spent a fun and productive hour working on our new skills.

We were in danger of not having a drink all day but were duly saved with a whisky masterclass run by fellow MGT student Bill O'Connor.

Dinner on Monday night was in Balthazar's private dining room at the Crowne Plaza in Surfers Paradise. David Stevens-Castro, the Sommelier at the hotel, ran a food and wine pairing dinner. An excellent pairing was the pork belly with a goat's cheese tart married with a 2015 Cillar de Silos 'Joven de Silos' Tempranillo Ribera del Duero, from Spain. The creamy mouthfeel and lactic back notes from the goat's cheese were the perfect foil to the tobacco and cherry fruit complexity of the wine.

It was an early start on Tuesday as we headed out to the hinterland to visit fellow MGT student Zeta Grealy at her coffee plantation. Zeta escorted us around the plantation and gave us a tutored cupping session. Her single origin coffee is crisp and bright with a warm mellow note, highlighted with hints of chocolate and citrus. Zeta's passion to produce one of the world's finest cups of coffee is infectious, especially in the evocative setting of her guesthouse in the hills.

We move on to a quick tour of New Brighton Farmers Market, held every Tuesday, it is home to 30 local producers and farmers who champion local product in the area.

Our next stop is The Farm at Byron Bay. The farm is a collection of micro businesses that grow and raise a wide variety of produce and animals. A key aim is to help educate the local community on best practice in agriculture, so tours are actively encouraged to further that philosophy. The farm also supplies the on-site restaurant Three Blue Ducks who run a popular shop and café on the farm After a guided tour we had lunch, feasting on pork belly, greens and potatoes, all grown and raised on the farm. We then returned to the hinterland, to visit Brookfarm and Cape Bryon Distillery, where macadamia trees stretch in unison up the hills, and their gin is carefully pot distilled. I particularly enjoyed their gin infused with indigenous Davidson plum. The sharp citric notes of the plum were the perfect match for the floral and spicy notes of the gin.

After a day of serious eating and drinking, we had a relaxed, free evening to recover from the rigours of the day.

On Wednesday morning, we returned to Southern Cross University, where I presented an outline of my recent thesis for the Hautes Etudes du Goût programme, run in conjunction with Le Cordon Bleu Paris and the University of Reims. Entitled Agriculture without Fences, it presents the history of Aboriginal land management through a culinary lens and how the systems of the past could aide Australia's agricultural future. This was followed by more presentations from SCU professors and lectures on the various units offered by the MGT programme.

David Freeman from Freeman's Organic Farm inveigled us all with an entertaining session on the history of his holding and the unique properties of organic produce. The Freeman family have been farming in the region since 1915, and are widely regarded as pioneers of the banana industry in Australia.

We concluded our Residential programme at the Halcyon Hotel with lunch at this artfully refurbished beachside resort. Think Aussie beach motel chic meets Hampton's swank and you will get the vibe. Paperbark wrapped fish with sugarloaf cabbage, wattleseed and seaweed and coal roast chicken with sprouted grains, parsley and grilled greens were amongst the highlights.

The perfect finish to four days of inspiring producers, breathtaking scenery and great food. Queensland is raising the bar on gastronomic tourism, while at the same time championing ethical food production and that is surely a great incentive. So rather than looking to my computer for advice, the next time I second guess myself on the Master's degree, I will instead, pour myself a Husk Distillery Ink Dry Gin and Tonic and watch violet turn to pink. All the inspiration I need in a glass. Thanks, Queensland.

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