Our Executive Chef and Food Ambassador, Peter Morgan-Jones, blogs about his experiences at Adelaide's Tasting Australia food festival.
I arrived at the event on the Sunday feeling quite intimidated by seeing the large celebrity kitchen stage with huge screens and TV cameras.
I felt like an early Christian going to the gladiator arena in Roman times and catching their first fleeting glimpse of the fate that awaited. Bales of hay and picket blankets scattered around ready for the throng of foodies to taste away at what South Australia had to offer; it had quite a carnival feel.
This was the first time that there was to be an aged care food session at a celebrity chef driven food festival. There were some serious heavy weight food gladiators presenting at the week-long event.
One of my ultimate food heroes was there, namely Fergus Henderson along with Skye Gyngall from the UK, plus many more from France and around Australia along with past winners of MasterChef. I spent most of the Monday sourcing products from the great Adelaide markets and preparing for my aged care session on the Tuesday.
The chef on the arena on the Monday offered tastings of pig’s blood macaroons and other strange blood infused dessert offerings. (The macaroons actually tasted quite nice).
Meeting with Maggie
It was Monday afternoon and as all my prep was ready for Tuesday, I rushed off to a meeting with Maggie Beer and a group of colleagues who are involved in an aged care food initiative across Australia, with the emphasis on wholesome, nutritious and fresh cooked food. This is a similar goal to what we strive for at HammondCare.
Maggie then announced at the meeting the launch for her foundation: “What I want to do is to find all the great exponents of aged care, so we can celebrate them with the acknowledgement they deserve from a food interested group; the Foundation.”
The Foundation launch was set to follow my presentation the next day, and so the job at hand suddenly became even greater with the thought of all the media packs waiting the next day. The pressure had just intensified!
The nervous chef
I woke up the next morning at 3 am in a cold sweat, realising what I had to do in eight hours time. I couldn't sleep so I walked around the city for an hour or two practicing in my head my presentation.
Colleague Peter Hallett met me at the hotel reception and we headed to ABC Radio Adelaide where I gave an interview which lasted about 13 minutes. It was a great discussion on food, innovation and dementia, plus included a little plug for our new cookbook.
It was 10 am and I finally checked all my ingredients for the presentation at 1pm, but then was I was needed on stage. The time had come to face the gladiators!
I walked out before a packed audience and took my seat next to Maggie, Simon Bryant and three other industry experts for the aged care panel discussion. Behind us were six nervous Adelaide aged care chefs preparing a mystery box lunch challenge with a food cost of $4.30 per meal.
The Industry panel discussion highlighted nutrition, food delivery and food costs. I discussed the importance of a wonderful dining experience for residents and championed our model of care in our cottages, hospitals and at-home care at HammondCare . I also mentioned our dementia specific care and how our fresh cook policy acts as a mealtime prompt, with wonderful smells wafting through the cottages.
Then the judging started and all the panel, including myself, tasted all the aged care chefs’ chicken mystery box dishes. They were all declared amazing!
Demonstrating food innovation
Then the moment of truth finally arrived and I stood in front of the crowd prepared to start my hour-long cooking presentation. I highlighted four recipes from the new cookery book which showed new ways of modifying meals and drinks using gels and molds. I made salmon, peas and carrots with creamed potato which was a smooth puree, all using molds.
Then I made a watermelon, lime and mint foam, suitable for all diets and fluid thicknesses. I made a fresh fruit salad (using moulds and agar-agar) to reform fruit bought from markets that day - papaya, apricots, watermelon and pear.
I also demonstrated ideas for people on peg feeds, including fresh raspberry juice air, which moistens the mouth and creates basal stimulation for patients who otherwise cannot be given food orally. It was the highlight of a long year trialling new ways to improve the visual presentation of modified food. These recipes will also slowly roll out into all our facilities and cottages now the recipes have been tested and written. Very exciting!
I finished my cooking demo and then Maggie Beer stood up to announce the exciting news of her new aged care food foundation. The media clambered over the stage to speak with her after her announcement. I retired happy and exhausted.
Future of food 'fight'
The next morning the head of Tasting Australia rang to say they needed me to be a member on a panel for the food summit titled "The future direction of foods." I sat up on stage like a reindeer caught in the headlights, sitting next to two very proud CEO’s of large-production food solution companies. At the far other end was a lovely fellow called Rodney Dunn from Tasmania’s Agrarian kitchen (farm food highlighting the emphasis on good food from paddock to plate). We were like two slices of organic bread next to large pieces of processed meat.
Suffice to say the conversation amongst the four panellists became quite heated. The two pieces of organic bread received applause from the crowd as we challenged the alternative food vision which seemed to me like a barren food dystopia of frozen meals, no kitchens and budgets for aged care and hospitals of $2.60 per resident a day.
After receiving some well-needed counselling and like-minded positive support after this baptism of fire, the next two days were spent meeting suppliers who were produce-driven. I discovered high protein Lupin flour which has great potential in aged care and hospital diets. I also talked lentils, legumes and olive oil to suppliers from SA.
For some light relief, I managed also to DJ on the Thursday and Friday evening at a Tasting Australia featured event, "chefs on decks."
HammondCare features in Origins dinner
On Friday I was back to preparing food, helping Fergus Henderson simmer his pigs trotters and also get my HammondCare showcase dish ready for the Origin’s dinner alongside all the hall of fame of culinary and restaurant heavyweights. It was this time I felt very proud that HammondCare and myself were supported to cook alongside all these celebrity chefs. The HammondCare dish I cooked was Barossa Farm Chicken Bang Bang.
It was well received and Stephanie Alexander commented how refreshing and tasty it was. I sold out in record time plating over 120 tasting plates. The other 29 chefs also produced 100 dishes each (3000 dishes in 3 hours to 300 lucky people).
The night was a great success and the chefs managed to have a serious wind down after all the punters were dutifully fed. (Any excuse for a chef to celebrate!) It was midnight as I snuck back to the safety of my hotel room, leaving the other chefs to party until the small hours of the morning.
The trip was very rewarding for myself but also a great showcase for HammondCare’s upcoming cookery book.
It was invaluable exercise to spread the word on what HammondCare does really well and also I felt very proud talking about our wonderful carers who cook every day in our cottages and our larger kitchens where staff tirelessly provide wholesome meals for all our dear residents.
- Peter Morgan-Jones