SOME of Melbourne’s leading figures in the food industry say Gippsland is on a path to becoming the next big thing for food tourism in Victoria.
This year’s edition of The Good Food Guide was recently released and included two Gippsland restaurants, Hoggets Kitchen in Warragul – receiving a hat for the first time, and Sardine in Paynesville – getting in again after their first entry in last year’s edition.
The consensus from the food industry seems to be that the next five years will show what the future will hold for Gippsland’s food tourism industry, but no one is sure exactly what it will look like.
The guide’s Victoria editor Roslyn Grundy says they have noticed the region has adopted food tourism a little slower than others in the state, but anticipates it will be changing shortly.
“Some regions we’ve noticed are slow to take off – it needs someone with a huge amount of energy just to kind of kick start it, and then others follow,” said Roslyn.
“Gippsland just needs something a bit like that and then it will start to snowball from there.
“There’s already great seafood, asparagus, potatoes, and beautiful beef and dairy – there’s so much great primary produce, it’s got all the literal ingredients to take off.”
Roslyn says they have been keeping an eye on the region at the guide. She predicts things will start happening to get the ball rolling in Gippsland within the next five years.
Melbourne based chef Alejandro Saravia is an ambassador for Gippsland food and says food tourism is developing in the area at a good pace. He warns there are risks in moving too quickly.
“I think it’s a really good approach, and I don’t want to talk bad about other regions, but we have to be careful that we don’t bastardise what the essence of the culture and the beauty about Gippsland is.
“We can sell just what the tourist wants to consume, but we should be more conscious that we can also say ‘this is who we are, this is what we want you to experience and to enjoy, based on our regional culture and our customs as South Gippsland’.”
The Meeniyan Garlic Festival has become one of South Gippsland’s signature food events since it started in 2017 and will be on again this coming February.
Festival founder David Jones moved to Mirboo in 2010 and has seen a huge amount of growth in the area and tips big things to happen in the next five years.
David and Alejandro have recently been working on a project called Farmer’s Daughters, which aims to showcase and introduce Gippsland produce to the Melbourne food scene.
So far, they have been running a series of events in Melbourne and Gippsland, but next year they will be opening a three-level restaurant and deli on Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD under the same name.
“I’ve been progressively more involved in the crop and in the promotion of the garlic industry in the area; encouraging new growers acting as a distributor, reseller point, and helping with some aggregation of small growers to enable us to achieve customers that are beyond the local grocer/farmer’s market segments.”
David says his dream is to see produce from Gippsland be recognised as a mark of quality, in the same way the Yarra Valley and Tasmania are known internationally for their high-quality produce.
“If brand Gippsland becomes recognised, everyone will benefit by the recognition that it’s a clean, green and known source of quality food.”
Roslyn says the small town of Birregurra, about two hours south-west of Melbourne, where the guide’s Restaurant of the Year ‘Brae’ opened its doors six years ago, is a great example of what food can bring to rural areas.
Roslyn says all it takes is someone with talent, energy and passion for local food to get things started, and it often snowballs from there.
“I think any regional restaurant of some standing, or some quality, can potentially have a similar effect… any regional restaurant has the potential to have that kind of ripple effect, whether it be on local farmers, producers wineries or a baker, all of that contributes… but it needs someone with some drive and some vision and some energy to stake a claim, and a lot seems to follow that.”
Developing a “Brae of the east” to kick start that interest in Gippsland food is already on the cards, David says.
“The message from Visit Victoria is yes, we have some great restaurants, but we need to develop something which has that cache, that offering of Brae or the Royal Mail.”
Roslyn says that it would be difficult to use other areas as models. She says regional food is so connected to the produce and the people of each area, but the popularity of regions like the Yarra Valley and Tasmania show that a similar thing can happen in Gippsland.
The 40th annual edition of the Good Food Guide is available in bookstores and online.