“Build it and they will come” – Felton Food Festival
I love good food, I love good company and I love a good drive; with this in mind Kath (the Caravan), our good friend Gail and I (Rose -the Tent) headed off for the third annual Felton Food Festival.
We rendezvoused at Kath’s place 7:00 am, loaded ourselves into the freshly fuelled car and headed off. Gail and I made comment of the dust settled on and in the vehicle. It was explained that the dust is symbolism for the places the family have been and the wonderful memories that have transpired while travelling in their faithful friend. By return of day old dusty stood proudly in the driveway coated with more journey dust then whence we began. Felton Food Festival (FFF) is anonymously perched on farm land between green crops of Sorghum, Mung beans and the most beautiful rich black dirt you’ll ever see. Dirt roads beckoned us to the entrance, not one who entered returned home without Darling Downs Dust veiled over their vehicle.
Making the most of our day and the spectacular weather, we decided the drive from the Sunshine Coast to Felton would best be personified by hinterland travel. Sun-swept rolling hills and pastoral vistas greeted us between the towns of; Beerwah, Kilcoy, Esk, Crows Nest and on to Toowoomba.
A coffee stop and leg stretch at Esk lead us to the quaint and delightful “Lars Restaurant Cafe and Bar”. Stumbling upon such a wonderful establishment was one thing, but more impressionable was the fact that this place was open and pumping with patrons on a Sunday morning at 8:30am… in Esk… in the middle of nowhere. Most unfortunate for us, we were to save stomach space for the FFF, so a sit down breakfast at one the outside (dog friendly) tables in the morning sun was not to be. Next time though, next time. Upon exiting Esk we drove past several other bustling cafes providing nourishment for weary travellers, day trippers and locals alike. On the return trip at about 5:00pm, Lars restaurant was still open, so, if you’re looking for a remote place to have lunch and are keen for a scenic drive, head out to Esk and take a look around.
Toowoomba and Felton are part of the beautifully picturesque Darling Downs. The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. There are many ways to arrive at Toowoomba but none more spectacular then the entrance via the New England Highway through Crows Nest and High Fields. The view on the drive in was honestly breath taking, I’m so completely disappointed that we didn’t stop for a quick photo. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it and one day go and see for yourself.
Through Toowoomba and on to Felton the scenery never failed us. We knew we were getting close, (cause the Nav-man told us) and because we came to a roaring holt in traffic caused by a “Field of Dreams” moment. For those of you unfamiliar with Field of Dreams, it is a movie starring Kevin Costner. He builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop and famous dead baseball stars comeback and play games. I know what you’re thinking and yeah it wasn’t the greatest movie, but… there is a line in the movie “Build it and he will come”. At the end of the movie cars are lined up for miles and miles zigzagging between the corn fields to go and watch a game. This was like that moment only our experience took place in daylight, not night time with head lights as in the movie.
Some people were discouraged by the traffic, others would’ve been cross or frustrated with the situation but we thought it was a sight to behold. It was magical! After travelling so far to get to there and not fully knowing what to expect, we found reassurance that there was going to be good things on the inside. Witnessing this site made us feel proud for FFF and proud of ourselves for making the effort to be there.
We’d unanimously decided that we should park at first opportunity and walk the long distance up to the festival when one of the many wonderful volunteers assured us there was plenty of parking up near the gate. With pleasant surprise we parked in a freshly ploughed paddock of that richly beautiful black dirt, right in front of the FFF entrance. To greet us was a rogue rooster. At first we thought he was part of the show, turns out he was just an escapee from a chicken run somewhere and was out to have some festival fun himself. We saw him several times during the day visiting the store holders and picking at food droppings. What a day that must have been for him?
Navigating through the sea of people, we headed off to do a lap before getting serious about tackling the festival full strength. That is, until we found the stall serving the grilled Haloumi skewers with Fig jam and Syrup… yum, yum and more yum! These guys had service down pat, luckily too, as I think every single festival participant succumbed to these heavenly morsels of Haloumi goodness from Olympus Cheese. Conveniently situated in the tent next door was the Burleigh Brewing Company. We washed down our cheese with a tasting of their finest brew. Particularly pleasing was their “28 Pale Ale“, oddly, it had a slight pear taste to it that was beautifully palatable and aromatic.
Hungry after our long journey from the Coast we were faced with the daunting decision of what to eat next? There was an Indian curry van (Chef Suda’s Indian Delights), with Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala smells permeating through the clear country air. French Crepes were tempting. I nearly convinced myself that a Lamb burger from Felton Beef and Lamb Burgers was the right choice but the line up was as long as the saliva dripping from the corner of my mouth when I sited a plate of Turkish Meze. Yep, this was me and Kath was on board too.
Queues of people were everywhere. It was extremely difficult to distinguish where one ended and another one started. I thought I was in the queue for the Turkish van only to find I was in the queue for the toilet! This was ok though, it had been a long while since our stop at Esk and relief was welcomed. Finally in the correct line for our Turkish Feast from Sofra Turkish Cuisine, I started wondering if I’d made the right decision? The smell of the Lamb was trying to beckon me away with great persistence. But still, the Lamb line zigzagged more than the traffic on the way in and in fear of finding myself in line for another toilet stop, I held fast with my decision for Turkish fare and I was not disappointed. All the tastings on the plate were extremely delicious but the stand out was definitely the Smoked Eggplant Salad.
Fifty odd stall holders participated in the event. Olive producers, regional Wine makers, Chocolate artisans and Gourmet Salt manufacturers were but a few that made the event the outstanding success that it was. We each purchased an amazing bottle of Caramelised Balsamic from Lira’H. With 6 flavours on offer, Fig, Strawberry, Ginger, Lemon Grass, Apple and Classic, Kath and I decided on the Apple and Gail the Fig. The trip home was spent hoping that our respective partners had Pork Roasts in the oven to compliment our latest purchase. (This was not to be, for any of us)
Music is an integral part of any good festival and we weren’t let down here either. Children could pet animals in the small nursery, play in the sand-pit under a tree or just chase the rogue rooster around the event. But one of the festivals biggest draw cards is the cooking demonstrations under the main marquee. Celebrity chef Alastair McLeod is a regular participant to the event and talks passionately about the local produce. Alastair is most entertaining to watch and listen to with his cheeky Irish accent and wit. But the highlight of the day was when he posed for a quick photo with Kath and Gail, what a great guy.
All in all, the FFF was a pretty darn good day out. I guess my only criticism would be the balance of food vendors verses the crowd. However, I think as this festival grows, so too will the number of vendors and perhaps the line ups for some tucker will be slightly less daunting. Overall, Felton Food Festival should stand proudly at the success of an event in such a remote location. The community spirit, organisation, marketing and thoughtfulness are all but small players in the overall ambiance of the day out. Congratulations to all the volunteers and staff driving the force that was, is and will continue to be the best regional food festival in the Darling Downs.
Stomachs full, gourmet purchases in hand, a visit with our divinely sweet Auntie Christine who lives in the region and we were ready to head home. Thanks Felton for a top day out, see you next year!
Rose (the tent)