27 JAN 2014: In the thick of a polar vortex it was sure nice to feel some Australian heat served up by a team of Australian tourism reps who hosted a heart warming wine and culinary event in Toronto last week.

A group of media guests gathered at the Second Floor on King West to see the sizzle. Heavy duty blow torches swirled their glowing magic onto marinated prawns, bottles dubbed “Are you Game” unfurled their fruity Shirazy bouquets and line-ups were consistent at the yes, kangaroo sliders snack bar.

Like their scorching summer heat wave (try 45 Celsius in areas) the cooking scene is ever so blazing hot in the Land of Oz.

Local Australian foodie event

You might have even enjoyed some Aussie food in January as select restaurants across the GTA and Vancouver have been featuring Australian menus that culminated in a special feast celebrating Australia Day, their national holiday on Jan. 26. You might have even noticed there’s been an extensive Australian wine collection at the LCBO and other provincial liquor stores too.

The Scoop

So what gives?

Tourism Australia will be rolling out a huge global campaign simply called Restaurant Australia in the coming months. Insiders are confident the new slogan will catch on globally and world will take note of their glorious gastronomy.

If this campaign is anything like the Best Jobs in the World campaign in which Canadian Greg Snell won the best job as wildlife caretaker on Kangaroo Island it will surely be spectacular.

Agents, if your clients feel they’ve done Australia then they already know about the culinary wizardry and should do a return trip to imbibe on more local delicacies. And for the never-been-to-Australia types (myself included), tell them now’s the time. And here's why:

Food and Wine Destination

Long hailed for scenery, extreme adventure (think harrowing antics of the sadly departed Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin) and the Aussie’s great gift of friendliness and fun, Australia is adding the culinary feather to its cap.

Australian restaurant critic Jill Dupleix calls it: “A generation shift (that’s) bringing new energy to the eucalyptus-scented air... Technology meets craft. Creativity sleeps with tradition. And everyone falls in love with Australia.”

Jane Whitehead, vice-president of The Americas for Tourism Australia relayed how the country’s food and wine is one of its biggest assets, its biggest strengths but also one of its best kept secrets.

“We’ve been doing some market research over the last couple of years and found our target customer the local traveler increasingly is travelling to experience unique world class food and wine experiences. What we also found is Australia as a food and wine destination is not that well understood. People who haven’t been to Australia don’t associate it as a food and wine destination but where we see the opportunities is people who have been to Australia.”

According to Tourism Australia, international tourists who have previously visited actually rank the country’s food and wine as number one, “ahead of other food and wine destinations,” she noted. You mean Europe too? Apparently yes.

Air New Zealand promotion

Air New Zealand is also celebrating Australia Day by offering one low fare to six of its Australian destinations through February 6. For airfare details visit www.airnewzealand.ca/flights-to-australia.

Air New Zealand flies to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Coolangatta (Gold Coast) from four North American gateways including Vancouver. The airline is working with partners like Goway Travel to create special food and wine themed travel offers. For more information, visit www.goway.com/australia-vacations/vacation-offers/best-australia.

Food trends – yes.

Exotic, indigenous ingredients mesh with the cultural fusions. Watch for miniature livestock of the buggy kind i.e. edible insects. Australian BBQs are getting hotter with chefs using native woods and eucalyptus leaves.

Wine trends – yes.

We all know Shiraz. But did you know regions across Australia each possess their own specialty versions? Matt Fowles CEO of Fowles Wine a family-owned winery in the stunning Strathbogie Ranges likes to point out his Shiraz “Are you Game” was made to accompany rich wild meats like the accompanying white strip lamb, a specialty from Victoria I sampled.

Fowles who hails from the region felt this was the perfect wine-paring. “It’s a wine to match our wild food. We’re looking for fresh. We wanted to help refresh the palette and cut through food so it’s more medium not as a big and bold like typical Shiraz.”

Modern Culinary Academy

Meanwhile Chef John Placko, a Sydney expat who started the Modern Culinary Academy in Mississauga was dishing on the event’s menu he prepared which featured the four Air New Zealand gateways. I must admit it was a fabulous intro to the land known as “Down Under” because judging by the samplings I tried their culinary scene looks anything but down under.

“Two of the top fifty restaurants in the world are in Australia at the moment,” he smiles and turns to offer me a bowl of scrumptious butternut squash flan heavy on cream topped with goat cheese crumbs and a sprinkling of beet powder washed down with a silky Shiraz of course. Delectable.

Banner: The Australian Team

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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