Feeding some of the world's biggest and hottest names in food right now would be enough to send any competent chef into a state of performance anxiety. But for Cape Lodge head chef Tony Howell he's taking the formidable task in his stride and keeping it real - at least on the surface anyway.
"Ask me a week out and it might be a different story," he said down the phone line from the Cape Lodge kitchen in Yallingup where he began his career more than a decade ago.
Next month luxury retreat Cape Lodge will be home to the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Rene Redzepi, David Chang, David Gilmour, Neil Perry, Matt Moran, Tetsuya Wakuda, Kylie Kwong and A.A.Gill just to name a few of more than 25 invited chefs and media who will be in town for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape weekend on November 24 and 25.
"Hey, it's what we do and I love cooking for everybody," Howell said.
"We're just so lucky where we live that we have awesome produce to back it up. Live marron or dhufish caught that day, asparagus direct from Albany, venison, beef . . . it'll be great to show them what we've got down here and open opportunities for them to come back.
"It'll just blow their minds when they get straight off the plane, head to Margaret River and see our beautiful coastline where we'll treat them to a beachside welcome dinner."
Howell will be joined by fellow compatriots such as Aaron Carr (Vasse Felix), Dany Angove (Leeuwin Estate) and Nigel Harvey (Voyager Estate).
Creating an environment of calm and inviting guests to switch off and chill out will be the order of the day, something Cape Lodge is very good at, according to Howell.
"At the end of the day, these guys are going to be pretty tired," he said.
"Their priority will probably be a cold beer or a glass of wine, and something simple to eat, so I'm following my instinct on this. We won't over-complicate things but just serve up beautiful, fresh produce and really let the produce speak for itself.
"If the guys want a Wagyu burger, some tempura prawns or a cheese platter from the bar they can, or they can order from the restaurant menu. We change the menu daily according to what's fresh that day and I think they'll appreciate that."
Visions of Blumenthal in his flip-flops, wandering through the herb garden with wine in hand, instantly come to mind.
"Oh for sure, we chefs are all the same," Howell said. "They'll probably start picking from the garden - it's what we do. We've got a vegie patch, fruit trees, herbs and a pile of stuff I planted last week.
"I hope they get to see our suppliers rocking up with fresh dhufish with the boat still attached to the truck. Or producers who might look like wild hippies in beaten-up old utes, but who are guys so passionate about what they do, who care, they really care, and put so much time into making a great product.
"I'm hoping we knock 'em dead and they go home raving about WA and how good it is - and I hope they seek out our producers too."
The Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate winery is where much of the action will be over the weekend. There will be cooking demonstrations from all the celebrity chefs and a stack of exhibitors, plus wine tastings and pop-up restaurants. A series of Satellite Events and Fringe Events will also take place independent of the village.
- Events to look out for *
- MasterChef Live Junior *(Gourmet Village): Here the kids can really muck in and get their hands dirty while learning simple recipes to take home. It's likely one of their favourite celebrity chefs, (we're guessing George Calombaris), will make a guest appearance too.
- From Paddock to Plate *(Gourmet Village): Louise Fitzroy, author of From Paddock to Plate, will host 30-minute cooking demonstrations with local chefs and produce. This feature will take visitors into the hearts and livelihoods of Australia's farming community, emphasising the importance of supporting local, sustainable produce, understanding the provenance of the ingredients and taking mouth-watering recipes home.
- Great Southern Distillery *(Gourmet Village): Cameron Byrne of The Great Southern Distillery was recently awarded the 2012 International Wine and Spirits (London) silver medal for both his Limeburners Single Malt Whisky and Limeburners Whisky Liqueur. The distillery will be a huge feature at the Margaret River Gourmet Village, hosting informal tutoring and whisky-tasting sessions, plus whisky cocktails and shots. Visitors will experience the local flavours and history of the Distillery which is a prominent establishment in the region.
- Peter Kuruvita and Dan Sharp's Great Southern Feast *(Satellite Event): Celebrate the best in local produce with endearing SBS Island Feast host and owner of Flying Fish Restaurant (Sydney) Peter Kuruvita and the Great Southern's very own seafood star, Dan Sharp. This is guaranteed to be a night full of the freshest Great Southern produce paired with theatre and chef interaction at the beautiful Forest Hill winery. A four-course meal will be prepared and served to a long table setting as the sun sets over the Forest Hill deck to breathtaking views. Tickets: $140 per person, including Forest Hill and other Great Southern wines. For bookings email name and contact number to email@example.com with the subject header "Peter Kuruvita", or phone 9848 0003.
- Exclusive Gourmet Traveller Wine Tours *(Satellite Event): Here's an opportunity to visit those mysterious and clandestine cellar doors that are traditionally inaccessible to the public. Created by Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine editor Judy Sarris and Australian wine critic Nick Stock, the tours have been themed into three insightful wine tour options including the Wilyabrup Pioneers Wine Experience, $180 per head, the Best Kept Secrets of Wallcliffe and the South $180 per head, and Behind the Scenes with Wilyabrup Cabernet & Chardonnay $190 per head. Tickets available from ticketek.com.au
- Gourmet Beach Barbecues *(Satellite Event): Smiths Beach will be the stunning backdrop for a series of beach barbecue lunches and dinners over the two-day festival hosted by the likes of Matt Stone (Greenhouse, Perth), Peter Kuruvita (SBS Island Feast), Matt Wilkinson (Pope Joan, Melbourne), David Chang (Momofuku restaurant group) and George Colombaris (The Press Club, Melbourne). Tickets range in price from $150 to $180 and include arrival drinks, barbecue meal and matched wines. Tickets available from ticketek.com.au
- Burch Family Wines Events *(Fringe Event): The Burch family, owners of Howard Park and Madfish Wines, will be hosting three events at their picturesque vineyard including a Wine Dinner with Chris Taylor and Ch'ng Poh Tiong where Howard Park wines will be showcased against Old World varieties. Winemaker, Janice McDonald will host a Blend your own Grand Cuvee session taking guests on a journey behind the scenes in creating a Grand Cuvee in addition to taking a special souvenir home and, Old World and New World cheese with Nick Bath is "a must do" for the wine and cheese devotee. Visit burchfamilywines.com.au for further details and prices.
- Annual Killerby Harvest Dinner and Wine Futures Tasting *(Fringe Event): This crustacean-centric dinner will be one of the most popular events this year with chef Jason Turner bringing crayfish to a whole new level. Every gourmet course will be paired with a Killerby wine. Saturday, November 24 at Killerby Cellar from 7pm-midnight. Price is $150 per person including a six-course meal with wines. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1800 655 722.
Gourmet Village tickets are available from Ticketek - Premium Tickets are $63, Adult Entry is $37 and Junior Entry is $20 or visit gourmetescape.com.au/tickets/buy-tickets. The Gourmet Village will have its own currency called Gourmet Escape Money (or GEMs) intended to make the festival as cashless as possible. 1 x GEM is equivalent to $7 cash. A Premium Adult ticket includes 4 GEMS (equivalent to two glasses of wine and two taster dishes from a pop-up restaurant).
" I love cooking for everybody." Tony Howell
For more information go to gourmetescape.com.au.