Pushing through bushfires, drought and a pandemic: Orange marks 30 years of F.O.O.D
An article shared from SBS Food
By Yasmin Noone
As locals and tourists alike celebrate Orange F.O.O.D Week this April, sampling the best of the region's food and wine, they'll mark the festival's 30th anniversary and a return after a turbulent 2020.
Food and wine enthusiasts from NSW central Tablelands will soon come together to celebrate Australia’s longest-running regional food and wine festival, marking 30 years of F.O.O.D Week in Orange.
When they do unite, from April 9-18, they’ll do their usual thing at a food festival such as this. They’ll toast the quality and provenance of produce from Orange, take pride in the local paddock-to-plate practices, and acknowledge the European immigrant history upon which the region’s food and wine industries are built.
But this year, there’ll be a different air around town as the region’s producers and festival volunteers acknowledge how they’ve made it through recent seasons of bushfires, drought and COVID-19.
“It’s really important for us to celebrate 30 years of continued festival success, but more importantly, I think it's essential that we embrace how we are coming out of COVID."
Orange F.O.O.D president, Dr Michael Sobotta tells SBS he will really appreciate the 2021 festival, given that last year’s event was cancelled due to COVID, following a less-than-average summer.
“From late 2019 to early 2020, NSW experienced devastating bushfires,” Dr Sobotta recalls. “Locally, the smoke and dust that came from the western part of the state affected the majority of our grape growers. This happened on the back of drought. Then COVID hit and there was a real impact. Regional tourism shut down and the doors of local restaurants had to be closed.”
The cancellation of the April 2020 festival – one of the region’s biggest annual events – had a flow-on effect, resulting in a dip in all tourism-related industries.
Thankfully, Dr Sobotta explains, when restrictions started to ease in June, people started to travel again and returned to Orange.
“It’s really important for us to celebrate 30 years of continued festival success, but more importantly, I think it's essential that we embrace how we are coming out of COVID.
“We recognise how much people have suffered over the last 12-18 months almost now. So this year presents an opportunity for us to showcase the produce that we can offer. We also really want to show our appreciation for the support that our city cousins showed us since the 2020 June long weekend when people started travelling to Orange again.”
A COVID-safe festival showcasing local produce
So what’s on the cards for this year’s COVID-safe festival as it hits the big 3-0 milestone anniversary?
Firstly, Dr Sobotta tells SBS that social distancing measures will be in place, as per state government regulations. “We can only plan [an event like this] with the information we have available at the time we organise it. So we are hoping for the best and planning for all eventual outcomes.”
The numbers of people at each event will be reduced to comply with state government regulations. However, Dr Sobotta sees that as a big positive for food and wine enthusiasts in attendance.
“If anything, [the reduced numbers] will give you the chance to talk to more people and enjoy the event because there won’t be big crowds,” Dr Sobotta says. “For example, you will get more time to spend with a particular producer or the person who has made the wine they are pouring for you.”
“But also, I feel, the more people who are here the better. It will be awesome to have a town full of people again. It will just feel so good.”
The festival will also feature outdoor celebrations including a producer’s market and brunch in Cook Park; the Sampson Street Lunch – a long table lunch under the trees; Tastes on the Lawn – local food and drink tasting event on the rooftop of the Orange Visitors Information Centre and Regional Museum; and Forage – a 4.1km outdoor roving degustation of local food, wines and music.
Most importantly, just like other years prior to COVID, the festival will showcase the unique flavours hailing from the region. Locals say this is the result of a local terroir boasting volcanic soil and Orange’s climate encompassing four distinct seasons as it allows for a wide range of seasonal ingredients.
The festival will see a focus on agribusinesses and chefs cooking their produce – from chestnuts to saffron, venison, honey, fruit and cheese. There’ll be ‘meet the producer’ workshops and over 90 satellite events at local restaurants and cellar doors.
Chef Ruben Lopez-Mesa, founder of the non-profit Eat Spanish movement and owner of Orange dining experience A Table of 10, says F.O.O.D Week will also embrace an ethos of sustainable practices and community spirit.
He says with so many food producers and agri-businesses based in one area, Orange-based chefs like himself are able to drastically reduce the food miles associated with a meal, and be proud of their sustainable practices.
“As a Spanish chef, imagine how amazing it is for me to have a saffron, garlic and olive oil producer all in the one town?” Lopez-Mesa tells SBS. “The way that I work in Orange has become a ‘zero kilometre sustainable approach to cooking. To truly prepare food that is sustainable is a dream come true.”
Lopez-Mesa hopes the festival encourages people to travel to Orange once again, pending there are no Covid-related travel restrictions at the time.
“It’s really important to get people to visit Orange for the festival. It’s the perfect opportunity to showcase the quality of our produce and what we do – the food that’s grown here and how we use it.
“But also, I feel the more people who are here the better. It will be awesome to have a town full of people again. It will just feel so good.”
For more information on the festival, visit Orange F.O.O.D Week online or on social media, @orangefoodweek.
Republished from SBS Food © SBS and you can read the original article here.