Frank Fawkner takes the 2018 Food Fight crown | Food Bites | Newcastle Herald

Frank Fawkner won the popular vote at the Hunter Culinary Association’s 2018 Food Fight on Monday, asserting the Hunter Valley’s dominance in the annual cook-off against Sydney-based chefs.

ALL SMILES: Frank Fawkner, owner of EXP. restaurant at Pokolbin, cooked the winning dish at this year's Food Fight at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley. Picture: Lisa Rockman

ALL SMILES: Frank Fawkner, owner of EXP. restaurant at Pokolbin, cooked the winning dish at this year's Food Fight at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley. Picture: Lisa Rockman

His scampi cocktail was the dish of the day, edging out Hamish Watt’s strawberry Eton mess, Mitch Orr’s carpaccio parmigiana and Joel Bickford’s lamb roast. All four chefs were asked to create unique takes on classic dishes that have stood the test of time.

The ninth annual Food Fight was held at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley and hosted by two of Australia’s leading chefs and long-time supporters of the event, Colin Fassnidge and Matt Kemp, and association chair Gus Maher. An in-form Fassnidge thanked the equally amusing Kemp for helping him dress for the occasion, despite his “cold hands”.

On a more serious note, though, the auction raised $40,000 to support industry scholarships and food rescue charity, OzHarvest. 

Hospitality pioneer Neil Slater, a passionate advocate for the Hunter’s culinary industry, was awarded the Hunter Culinary Association’s highest honour: outstanding contribution by an individual. Former association chairman Ben Neil was presented with a life membership.

The association announced it was introducing a new pastry chef scholarship and we learned that Watt had left his post as executive sous chef at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley and is now residing in New Zealand.

Fassnidge – wearing a sling on his arm due to a recent motorcycle accident – is stepping away from Surry Hills restaurant 4Fourteen at the end of July and Kemp has settled in nicely at The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa.

A class act

It’s hard to believe that Nagisa is now in its 15th year of trading. Time flies. The Honeysuckle restaurant has just released a new seasonal menu courtesy of head chef Chris Schofield who has added exciting new dishes and revisited some old favourites. Highlights include the Beniaka lamb which is marinated in Japanese craft beer and miso paste; the pork belly Kakuni featuring braised, skinless pork belly on a bed of green tea soba noodles; and the Tako Karaage: deep-fried baby octopus pieces coated in savoury batter. 

As for dessert, newcomers include the Tea and Coffee: a fusion of espresso, miso caramel jelly, black sesame sponge, sencha tea and basil-infused cream; and the Matcha Lime Cheesecake: green tea and lime combined with azuki red beans, white chocolate and berry compote.

Manager and wine expert Yohei Namba has curated a wine list that won two glasses at the Gourmet Traveller Magazine awards for 2017 and can be paired with every dish on the menu.

On the move

The Anchorage has a new food and beverage manager in Alex O’Hara. His face might be familiar – that’s because he owned and ran Cazador in Newcastle’s Hunter Street Mall for several years before selling it in March 2017.

FRESH FACE: The Anchorage's Alex O'Hara. Picture: Supplied

FRESH FACE: The Anchorage's Alex O'Hara. Picture: Supplied

In more recent times he has managed The Anchorage’s two on-site restaurants: The Wild Herring and The Galley Kitchen.

“It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” O’Hara said. “Having worked for myself for the past few years, it’s probably one of the very few roles that I’d actually take on. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Woman vs waste

Don’t forget, Food Fighter has its final Newcastle screening tonight, 7pm, at Tower Cinemas. The documentary tells the story of OzHarvest founder Ronni Kahn and is followed by a Q&A with restaurateur Neil Slater. 

Know your wine

Become a wine judge for the day this Saturday, June 23, when winemaker Andrew Thomas guides you through a tasting of Australia’s iconic wine Penfold’s 2011 Grange against Brokenwood’s Graveyard, Thomas’ Kiss and Peppertree’s Limited Release Shiraz.

Andrew Thomas.

Andrew Thomas.

Thommo, as he is known, is originally from McLaren Vale but has called the Hunter Valley home for the past 20 years, 13 of which have been spent as a winemaker at Tyrrell’s. In 1997 he started Thomas Wines with a view to making single vineyard semillon and shiraz that would rival the Hunter greats. In 2008 and 2014 he was named Hunter Valley Winemaker of the Year. Tickets to Saturday’s masterclass at Pokolbin’s Small Winemakers Centre cost $84 per person and include tastings at the cellar door for no extra charge.  Bookings essential at

Made By Mike

Mike De Iuliis is kicking off a series of wine events under a new “Made By Mike” mantra.

A Cork & Pork Wine and Butchery Workshop will be held at Branxton Quality Meats on July 7 and 8, 2pm to 4pm. Limited to just 15 people, the hands-on workshop will teach you how to break down a pork shoulder, brine a ham hock for smoking and make sausages. You’ll be able to take home your creations, too. Tickets cost $150 per person; book at 

And on Saturday, August 4, De Iuliis Winery will host a Cork & Pork Wine and Butchery Lunch from 11am to 4.30pm. The festival-style event will feature salumi, share plates, live music, butchery workshops and, of course, wine. Tickets $150 per person (children under 12 just $25). Watch this space for details of a Sydney version of both events in October.

Mawson opens

A new cafe/restaurant is opening in Caves Beach tonight. Mawson, at 5/3 Mawson Close, Caves Beach, is named after the original Mawson Hotel. It will offer, its website says, a “casual fine dining experience”.