As the dawn of another MasterChef series approaches, Food Bites felt it was time to check in with last year's finalist - Mayfield's Reece Hignell.
Always keen to learn, he has been working with Lesley Taylor at Merewether Surfhouse "helping her with desserts".
Readers might remember that Taylor is someone Hignell hoped to work with when he left the MasterChef kitchen last July and finished just outside the top 10.
"I've been super busy as usual," he told Food Wine.
"Lesley has mentored me in menu writing and we have a new menu coming out shortly where Lesley allowed me to write up the desserts.
"I also helped out at Ginger Meg's and designed some Asian-inspired modern desserts. There are some cool flavours in those desserts, such as the five-spice meringue with chocolate mousse and mandarin as well as coconut sorbet, brick pastry, pineapple and fish sauce caramel."
He has also collaborated with Julie Goodwin to teach dessert-making classes at her Central Coast school, Julie's Place, and partnered with ATWEA College (formerly known as WEA Hunter) to offer cooking classes next term. He will be teaching students how to create dumplings from scratch; how to whip up recipes for a Lebanese, Greek or Asian feast; and exploring the concept of sustainable cooking.
"At ATWEA I'm trying to focus on savoury as I have loads of dessert classes with The Essential Ingredient," he said.
"My upcoming croquembouche class will be a full-day experience.
"Also, I have been looking into cafe spaces to open my own place. Stay tuned."
For more information about Hignell's ATWEA College courses, go online to atwea.edu.au or phone 4925 4200.
The countdown to Easter has well and truly begun.
Murray's Brewery celebrates any occasion in style and Easter is no exception. The Bobs Farm brewery will host the annual Easter Blues Brews festival from April 19 to 21 and, in addition to its famous Hot Cross Bun Beer, a new White Chocolate Easter Egg Beer is making its debut.
"It is a really decadent brew and when it hits your lips it's like an alcohol-infused chocolate explosion," brewery owner Murray Howe said.
Food Bites caught up with Howe for a quick Q A:
So you come up with an idea for a special themed brew. Is it a process of trial and error? We (the brewers) bounce around some ideas. We are always open to input from other staff and after some back and forth we will finalise an idea for what ingredients we want to use and what we envision the final beer to taste like. We then formulate a recipe for a test batch if needed.
How long does it take to "perfect" the brew? If we are using ingredients that we are unfamiliar with we will always do at least one test batch and, depending on how that goes, may then do a final batch if we know it only needs a few tweaks.
But it's not just about the adults. There will be live music; great value $10 children's meals and a special family fundraising event, Easter Sunday Kids Funday. Children can enjoy a giant Easter egg hunt, play an interactive Easter game, make arts and crafts, get their face painted, take part in egg and spoon races, and meet the Easter Bunny.
Parents are asked to pre-pay a $5 donation for each child participating in the morning's activities, with 100 per cent of proceeds then donated to Birubi Surf Life Saving Club and Fingal Bay Surf Life Saving Club. Bookings for children's activities are essential and places are limited.
Don't forget, The Earth Markets are held on the first and third Thursday of each month from 12.30pm to 5pm (or until produce sells out) at The Levee Central Maitland. The next Earth Market is Thursday, April 18. All regular stalls sell produce that is local, seasonal and freshly picked.
Fresh is best
Speaking of fresh food, Michael Jenness and Lisa Cussens of Wollombi Road Providore are still offering quality take-home meals and meal suggestions. Their chicken penne pollo recently sold out quickly. It was a dish by chef Craig Parkinson fondly remembered by Jenness, a Cessnock local who once ran Amicos restaurant in the town. Monday is $5 pasta night at the store.
Rick Stein at Bannisters will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo next month. The May 5 holiday celebrates the date of the Mexican army's victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. Diners will be able to feast on favourites from Rick Stein's book, Road to Mexico, on Sunday, May 5, from 12.30pm until 5pm. On the menu will be classic street food, margaritas, Mexican beers and Latin wines - with a little live music on the side. Bookings are essential by visiting bannisters.com.au/port-stephens/whats-on/ or phoning 4919 3800.
Dinner is coming
Game of Thrones is making its long-awaited return to television this month and, unsurprisingly, 48 Watt's Game of Thrones themed event is selling quickly. But tickets are still available.
Thrones is a two-course medieval-style banquet and interactive show held inside Newcastle's historic former church and featuring a life-sized throne and a dragon. It's being held on May 17 and 18, and May 24 and 25. Go to trybooking.com to book your seat at the table.
Just to be safe, we must share this: The event is not associated with George R. R. Martin, HBO or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing A Song of Ice and Fire books or the popular Game Of Thrones television series.