Coming to Geelong for three mouth-watering weeks throughout the month of July is the ‘Tastes of Central Geelong’ festival, celebrating all things delicious in the region. Held throughout Central Geelong, you can sample gourmet food and drink, learn tricks of the trade from local chefs, wine and dine, and participate in food themed events.
With hundreds of activities on offer, it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned foodie or a new-found food lover, young or young at heart, we can guarantee that there will be something new and enticing for you to devour.
One event that we are excited for (and is sure to be one of the biggest treats of the entire festival) is Afternoon Tea with one of Australia’s most successful and recognisable chefs, Shannon Bennett.
Travelling from his hometown in Melbourne, where he is best known for his restaurant Vue de Monde at Rialto Tower, the renowned pre-eminent chef acknowledges that it was his close ties with Geelong that originally drew him to the Tastes of Central Geelong Festival.
“I have always been connected to the area; we have a house on the Great Ocean Road and my family have been, in the past, connected to the Lorne Surf Life Saving Club for many decades.
“I have two very successful apprentices that came through my kitchens from Geelong, plus others including some amazing front of house team members,” Shannon further explains. “Tom Arnel [who owns hospitality company Bull & Roo in Dubai] and Josh Lewis [who owns Fleet Restaurant at Brunswick Heads in NSW] are two industry leaders now so I am very proud and hopefully might inspire the next generation.”
As part of his place within the city’s 24 day food festival, the top chef and food personality will be the special guest at the annual afternoon tea, hosted by GT Editor Kylie Oliver, who will be interviewing Shannon on life as one of Australia’s top chefs.
You’ll be treated to the ins and outs of the chef’s journey thus far, from his time working for some of the world’s great chefs including Albert Roux, John Burton-Race, Marco Pierre White and Alain Ducasse, a stint in Europe, training at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt under the astute tutelage of Roger Lienhard and of course, the culmination of it all in opening his first restaurant Vue de Monde at just 24 years old.
His talent was quickly recognised amongst Melbourne’s diners, and it was in 2003 that he was awarded Australian Gourmet Traveller’s inaugural ‘Best New Talent’ title. More ventures soon followed, including cafes, bistros, the pen behind numerous cookbooks and travel guides, and most recently, Melbourne CBD’s first seafood dedicated restaurant, Iki-Jime, the evolution of the former Bistro Vue.
Now his latest and most ambitious project, Burnham Beeches, will see Shannon restore a historic country mansion in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, into a luxury retreat to accompany the existing Burnham Bakery and Piggery Cafe
“I am inspired by so many great hotels and resorts overseas like Blackberry Farm in Tennessee for example or SOHO House Farm is another,” he explains. “The hotel closed in 1990 and it deserves to be up and running again before the mansion falls into a state where it cannot be repaired. Food is going to play a very important role in the experience.”
Looking at his long list of accomplishments, it’s refreshing to know that the 42-year-old’s passion for food came from a familiar place; in home economics class, followed by a job at McDonalds… “It has always been in the blood,” he laughs.
Alongside the inspiring afternoon tea where you’ll no doubt be blown away by his achievements, strong work ethic and humble nature, Shannon is also bringing his experience of a mentor on Channel 10’s hit cooking show MasterChef to the table as a guest judge at the Tastes of Central Geelong’s Bake Off for Geelong’s best home cooks.
Contestants will go head to head in three categories: cakes and slices, biscuits and cupcakes, and dessert. The winners of each category will win two tickets to the aforementioned Afternoon Tea and a dinner for two at the Davidson Restaurant, while the overall winner (determined by Shannon himself) will receive a KitchenAid Mixer thanks to Chefs Essential’s, valued at $799.
While Shannon is renowned for his edgy approach combined with an obsession for classical cuisine in the kitchen, if you’re looking for any advice going into the Bake Off competition, he openly points to his wife and Australian actress Madeleine West, who along with their six children, have being Shannon’s primary support in achieving his dreams.
“You need to ask my wife Madeleine, she is a far better baker than me,” he laughs. “I love the results of her baking. My tips are go for something familiar, simple and make it perfect… To me, simplicity is perfection. Gluten free Banana sponge is one of my all time favourites.”
Likening his cooking style to ‘I Walk The Line’ by Johnny Cash, all we can say is bring the gluten free Banana Sponge and lock in Saturday 21 July for the rare chance to enjoy sweet treats and bubbles (Shannon’s favourite is Dom Perignon and lemon meringue tart FYI).
Stepping away from the heat in the kitchen this July, all the pre-eminent Chef is hoping for is to bring Geelong some smiles alongside an ignition of passion for food.
“Great produce is where all chefs need to start, then the great chefs of the world are simply curators of this produce. I am at a stage where I didn’t aspire to work along side other chefs, I want my role for the future to be one of as a mentor to enable great young chefs to realise their potential.
“The region [Geelong] is so untapped with the potential for amazing produce and the number of great restaurants are increasing.”
Alongside Shannon’s visit to the region, there is so much more to do at Geelong’s Tastes of Central Geelong festival, including watching culinary students in action, coffee crawls and ‘vegan ventures’, or even your very own self guided tour, as well as a huge range of special offers from an enormous number of cafes. With hundreds of activities on offer, Central Geelong will become the ultimate food hub to indulge in all of your senses.
Where: The Pier Geelong
When: Saturday 21 July
Cost: $55 includes glass of sparkling wine on arrival, presentation by celebrity chef, prizes and an indulgent afternoon tea. Please note bookings are essential.
This event forms part of the Tastes of Central Geelong Festival happening between 6-29 July.