IT'S pouring rain outside and nobody seems to care. Wait a minute. We are outside, in a marquee on a farm several kilometres from the nearest village. The pigs and chickens are close enough to talk to.
Such is the karma of Meals In The Fields - an annual event celebrating local produce in the Greater Port Macquarie region, that a deluge of rain does not dampen spirits one bit.
The concept was created by farmers Andrew and Therese Hearne, who operate Near River Produce on the banks of the Pappinbarra River, 45 kilometres west of Port Macquarie among rolling hills.
"Its all about fun," says Andrew Hearne.
This was the fourth year for the event, with tickets ($125 a pop) sold out within days of the announcement.
The celebrity chef was Clayton J. Donovan, the most celebrated indigenous chef in Australia. His forte is using Australian native foods to produce top-shelf food and he was in his element for this event.
Near River farm is renowned for its pork - we are adjacent to a paddock with several free-ranging pigs - and greens, particularly rocket. And it's probably the most unlikely thing to say about a four-course meal, but the bowls of micro greens and rocket were a highlight for me. I could have eaten two bowls of those greens and been totally satisfied.
The evening included beer from Little Brewing Company (Port Macquarie) and organic wines from Tamburlaine.
Before the sell-out crowd sat down the first course was served - Hastings River oysters with fingerlime and coconut foam. The taste matched the magical dreamy white appearance. Oysters refuse to play second fiddle when given the chance to precede a gastronomic adventure; this was no exception, signalling something far from our daily world was on its way.
The Near River pork belly with pumpkin, micro greens, davidson plum and apple was superb, a delicate dish handled with care.
The braised Burrawong gaian duck followed, with pumpkin, greens and rice (from Nimbin). Again, a subtle treat, as duck is one of Donovan's favourites. Beth and Hayden McMillan, who run the Burrawong property near Stuarts Point, were proudly on hand. While their poultry products can be purchased at a local markets, they are also on the menu at restaurants like Rockpool. Tonight, diners didn't have to travel that far.
Dessert was like a crescendo ending. Donovan's "Eucalyptus & Chocolate" featuring strawberry gum and white chocolate mousse, ryberry with wattleseed, peanut butter, chocolate and macadamia nut, was complex dish. Donovan had picked up the ryberries, on the way from his Nambucca Heads home, at Dennis Ryan's Valley of the Mist farm near Macksville, which specialises in native produce.
While most of the attendees came from Port Macquarie, there were others from Melbourne, Brisbane and overseas. Food adventures are becoming popular, just as celebrations of locally grown produce are growing, too.
Make no mistake, Meals in the Fields is a home-grown event, with the Hearnes first experimenting with weekend breakfasts for the public before venturing into this event.
It's clearly a labour of love, there's nothing easy about pulling together a gastronomic event in the bush. And nothing beats food made with passion.
Near River Produce, 1466 Pappinbarra Road, Hollisdale, NSW. nearriverproduce.com.