With love from one foodie to another

Farmers are many things but one thing is certain – they’re passionate about their food.

Why else would they rise early, work weekends and into the night growing fresh food.

So it’s always nice when a farmer meets someone who shares their passion.

This week we were visited by a group of young Australian chefs, waiters and restaurateurs. They’re finalists in the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence competition which seeks to discover and support the country’s rising food stars.

The group of 28 came from around Australia and shared a common love of food.

When they met Mr Bean and his work mates it was a match made in heaven, a meeting of minds … for two hours they fondled, caressed and cajoled the vegetables.

They walked the paddocks, discussed day length, varieties, growing conditions, agronomy, cooling techniques, shelf life and heaps of other stuff that’s really only of interest to die-hard food lovers.

The group – all aged under 30 – work at some of Australia’s best restaurants. Now either they’re excellent actors or they were really having a great time, touring regional Queensland and learning about where the food they cook comes from.

Mr Bean was enthused. He absolutely loves boring the pants off talking to people about the food he grows.

Try going grocery shopping with the man, it’s a nightmare. A trip that usually takes 30 minutes takes 90minutes when he’s on board. He insists of stopping at every vegetable shelf, analysing the produce, the packaging, the storage, the display, the signage and then he goes to talk to the supermarket staff. Those poor people. There they are, trying to earn a good honest wage, and he drags them over to discuss their carrot and onion displays.

How long have they had these carrots, how did they store them, are they selling well, can he come and look in their cold room.

He is a man possessed. It was the same this week when the chefs came to visit.

They were late to leave for their next stop because they got stuck in the bowels of the carrot factory with Mr Bean.

“I hope you weren’t boring them darling,” I said.

He reckons they kept asking questions and were really interested.

Hopefully that’s true. Sometimes Mr Bean isn’t good at reading the signs … the signs that his audience is on the wane.

On Friday night the young chefs will take produce sourced during their tour and use it to prepare a Hunt & Gather dinner at Aria Restaurant in Brisbane.

Mr Bean was hoping for an invite …

The finalists say knowing about the origin of the food served in their restaurants, and having a relationship with the produces was becoming increasingly important.

“Chefs need to be aware of where the produce is coming from, we need to have a relationship with the producer,” says finalist Todd Moses, who is sous chef at Circa, the Prince in Victoria.

“It’s been great to see first-hand how producers go about their daily work; it gives us an insight into how we end up with our produce.

“There’s definitely been a change in how we buy our produce, we try to buy locally … to ensure the produce is fresh and of great quality.

“We also like to know that the produce we’re buying is going to provide income to our local community, which ensures production is kept local and is sustainable.”

Simone Spicer is a waitress with The European in Victoria. She has noticed that diners are growing more interested in where the food they are being served comes from.

“This tour helps us to understand about the quality of produce that we’re getting and it gives us more information to be able to share with our customers,” she says.

“We get questions from customers and until yesterday I had no idea about sugarcane, now I’ve learned a lot about it.

“Knowing about produce is becoming more important to us … due to Twitter, Facebook and Masterchef people are more aware of where their produce comes from.

“From a front of house point of view it’s really good to see what we’re getting, a lot of customers want to know.”

The Electrolux Appetite for Excellence winner will be announced in Sydney on August 8. The national restaurant awards program is judged by some of Australia’s most successful chefs, restaurateurs, and industry leaders.

It was founded in 2005 by Luke Mangan and Lucy Allon as they recognised that the hospitality industry needed to support the next generation. The awards program has evolved to now include young chef, young waiter in 2007, and young restaurateur in 2009, creating a holistic awards program that rewards all aspects of the industry.

The program’s mission is to inspire, educate and nurture the emerging talent who are the future of our industry by providing money can’t buy education, opportunities, and experiences. These young people will ultimately be responsible for sustaining and hopefully improving upon Australia’s reputation as one of the world’s leading food and wine destinations.