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A Feast in the Fast Lane at the World’s Longest Lunch in Melbourne

The 2016 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival went into full gear with the World’s Longest Lunch event, on the very arena that speeding Ferrari and Mercedes race cars will be zooming by in the next few weeks!

The first week of March signalled the start of autumn season in Australia, and I was at the Albert Park Grand Prix race track in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Soon the place will be sporting a different atmosphere for the Australian F1 Grand Prix but on that sunny Friday, it was all about great food, fantastic wine, and classic race cars.

The World’s Longest Lunch is an iconic event of the annual Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, now in its 24th year, with the previous feasts taking place at various panoramic spots including Fitzroy Gardens in 2015 and Yarra River in 2014. A different twist has been concocted this year. Vintage race cars, including the 1958 Ferrari Dino 246 and 1966 Elfin 400, were lined up as a side décor for 1,800 guests dining on a 500 metre-long table set along the main stretch, overlooking the paddock and grandstand.

The driving force behind the menu for this year’s lunch was Guy Grossi, a well-known figure in the Australian dining scene, with restaurants under his ladle including Upstairs, Grill, Merchant Osteria Veneta, and Ombra Salumi Bar. He acquired a love for cooking when he was 15, growing up with a chef as a father. Guy Grossi has written a number of best-selling cookbooks and also co-hosts the SBS television series Food Safari Italy.

With an Italian culinary master and a team of 180 chefs working behind the scenes, the menu was truly a gastronomical delight. The three-course meal started with Tortellini Zucca, which was made from pumpkin, sage, and nut butter, with a dash of parmesan on top. Light and flavourful, it went very well with a glass of Chalmers Fiano 2013 white wine.

Guests of the lunch included trendy Melbournites and gourmands from all over the world, dressed in their classiest cocktail dresses and Sunday best. Sipping Chalmers Aglianico 2011 and chit-chatting with joy, they were no doubt waiting to feast on the main dish, Pollastrino Arrosto. Exquisitely tender and delicious with every bite, the baby roast chicken with rice stuffing, porcini, and Tuscan Kale was definitely the highlight of the day.

In between courses, jazzed-up popular tunes could be heard from a five-piece band that went around the arena. And then it was time for Latte! Nope, not the usual cuppa that you have every morning but rather Guy Grossi’s signature dessert, a sweet and heavenly medley of buttermilk panna cotta, white chocolate, browned milk, caramel, and milk crisp. Coffee came moments later, a cute little bottle of Cold Brew Territory Melbourne that was indeed refreshing!

The event kicked off a platter of more than 290 events and activities for the 2016 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival happening from 4 – 13 March 2016. Aspiring cooks can check out MasterClass sessions with some of the world’s most inspiring chefs including Matt Preston and Pierre Koffmann, while foodies may want to go for gourmet adventures like Dandenong World Fare, Gourmet Cinema, or the Blues Tram & Underground Banquet in Bendigo. There are also a myriad of events alongside the scenic Yarra River, such as the Riverside Pop-Up Seafood Festival, Carnival of Yesteryear, and the Big M Zone where there are dairy demonstrations, face painting, food trucks, music and giveaways. For full event listings, check out www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au.

GETTING THERE AirAsia X flies to Melbourne from various destinations. For flight info and lowest fares, visit AirAsia.com.

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