South Burnett Cuisine > News Archives > March and April 2005
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Bunnies Restaurant Closes - But Wedding Bells Chime For Phil & Casey
Phil and Casey Russell29th April 2005: Hot on the heels of my recent stories about Steve Gudzinski leaving the region (April 20th); the death of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (April 23rd) and the closure of Barambah Ridge (April 26th). I'm sorry to have to report yet another unexpected sea change in the gastronomic lay of our land: the closure of Bunnies Restaurant at Wondai. A few days ago owners Ruth and Bunny Walters elected to shut the doors of the eatery (which they were leasing from Up Country Bed and Breakfast owners Phil and Casey Russell - pictured at right). This followed several months of very successful trading and thumbs-up reviews from just about everyone who ate there. While the reasons for the closure aren't clear, one thing certainly is clear: Wondai now has one less restaurant and we're all much the poorer for it. I understand that Ruth is now running the kitchens at a Kingaroy motel and her equally talented husband Bunny is turning his hand to local musical gigs. Phil and Casey, meanwhile, (who recently formalised their long-standing relationship with marriage) say they have no immediate plans to re-open the restaurant and/or seek new lessees. The sudden closure of Barambah Ridge had left the facility without cellar door stock and the restaurant really needs full-time personnel to operate it at capacity. So Up Country will be returning to its principal function of focussing on bed and breakfast operations for the immediate future. But if this changes, then you can expect to read about it here first. Photo Phil and Casey Russell of Up Country Bed and Breakfast at their recent wedding.
Barambah Ridge To Close Down
Barambah Ridge26th April 2005: I'm very sad to report that one of the South Burnett's pioneering wineries - Barambah Ridge at Redgate - will be closing its doors this coming Mothers Day, May 8th. Barambah Ridge was one of the earliest wineries established in the South Burnett (it first opened to the public in 1995) and it helped kick off the spectacular growth of the region's wine industry around Redgate and Moffatdale. While it's no secret the Ridge lost money heavily during its first few years while it established its vineyards and acquired wine-making contracts, in recent years the company appeared to have really turned the corner and was making very good progress indeed. In addition to the Redgate vineyards, for instance, the firm also operated two cellar doors at Maryborough and Noosa and supplied two more in the region (Pottique at Coolabunia and Up Country at Wondai). It had also picked up a swag of state, national and even international awards for its wines and was running regular events at its premises every Sunday. In the latter quarter of 2004 it had also undertaken a complete rebranding campaign, unveiling a stylish new logo and labelling and fully refurbishing its Shaking Grape Cellar Door. So the sudden announcement in November 2004 that it had gone into voluntary liquidation took everyone by surprise. All the same, the company had initially hoped to trade out of whatever difficulties it had. And that was the case until just recently when the firm decided that rather than trade on while it waited for a buyer to emerge it would shut up shop completely. Right now (and up until Mothers Day) the winery are clearing out their remaining stock at bargain basement prices (eg: $55 to $77 per carton). But after this the Ridge will be shutting its gates until either a buyer emerges or asset-strippers come in to tear the place down piece by piece. Personally, I'm very sorry to see the Ridge go and I sincerely hope a white knight who'll buy the premises lock, stock and barrel will emerge to re-open it soon. Until then, though, we'll all have to say a sad farewell...
Sir Joh and Pumpkin Scones: My True Story
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen23rd April 2005: In the early nineties I was employed as pastry chef at Brisbane's former Beaufort Heritage Hotel. One morning the General Manager told me former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was coming for a morning tea function. The manager insisted that I make freshly baked pumpkin scones - apparently Sir Joh's favourite. My wife was born in Joh's hometown of Kingaroy and I prayed she'd know the recipe but she wasn't at home when I phoned. So I desperately begged the Manager not to make me do it - I'd never made them and knew I couldn't possibly compete with Lady Flo's famous scones. But my boss sternly roared "You WILL make those pumpkin scones. And they'd better be good!" And since he was a seven-foot tall German I wasn't about to tangle with him. Terrified out of my brain, I tried in vain to make the scones and stuffed them up three-times. The first batch were flat as Frisbees; you could've played golf with the second batch; and the third attempt was just ugly. With only half an hour left until Joh's imminent arrival I gave my wife one last phone call and found to my relief that she'd just got home from shopping. "Not a problem! I've got Flo's recipe right here in the kitchen", she said. I frantically wrote it down and then (delirious with panic) gave the scones a fourth attempt. And to my utter amazement, they actually looked like real scones. Fresh from the oven, the bright orange beauties were raced off to Sir Joh's table and as the manager served them up with jam and cream, he thought it would be a riot to tell Joh about my scone-induced anxiety attack. Sir Joh graciously responded "Well, you go and tell the pastry chef… don't you worry about that!" The scones came back only half eaten but his comment really made my year. We'll miss you, Sir Joh. Footnote: Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, 94, passed away at the South Burnett Community Private Hospital at 6:00pm this evening after a long illness.
Steve Gudzinski Heads For The Gold Coast Hinterland
Steve Gudzinski20th April 2005: With great sadness I have to officially announce that award-winning chef Steve Gudzinski will be leaving the South Burnett at the beginning of May. After an eventful 3½ years cooking in the region, the respected 27-year-old culinary whiz will be moving to Tamborine Mountain Winery near the Gold Coast. "For the last 12 months my partner and I have held a long-distance relationship and I've made the decision to follow my heart and live closer to her" he told me this week. Steve's tour of duty in the South Burnett region has really been quite extraordinary. During his time here he ran the kitchens of three of Kingaroy's best eateries - The Bell Tower Restaurant, the Red Earth Restaurant and (most recently) Explorers Restaurant. Two of these restaurants received rave reviews in the Courier-Mail's Restaurant Guide during his term at the helm. In September 2003 he also featured on the cover of the Courier-Mail's Good Life magazine when they profiled regional chefs. And the same year he was part of team of four local chefs who competed in the LifeStyle Channel's Australian Regional Culinary Competition in Adelaide. He's also taken out the PCA South Burnett Culinary Competition's grand champion award for an unprecedented three years running. And he's steadily become not only one of Queensland's best recognised chefs, but has built up a bit of a cult following in our own region as well. The Cuisine team would like to thank him for his tireless efforts in helping establish the South Burnett's reputation as Queensland's premier food and wine destination - and we're sure we're not alone in wishing him continued success in the future. Photo above:: Steve Gudzinski at the 2005 PCA Regional Cuisine Culinary Cook-Offs (photo by Clive Lowe, courtesy of the Peanut Company of Australia)
Sylvia Comes 5th In State Barista Competition
17th April 2005: South Burnett speciality coffee maker and Kingaroy TAFE hospitality teacher Sylvia Parsons has just come fifth in the Queensland finals of the 2005 Australian Barista Championships. The competition - put on by the Australasian Speciality Coffee Association (AASCA) - was held at Dibella Coffee House in Bowen Hills, Brisbane recently. Competitors had a tight 15 minutes to brew-up four espressos, cappuccinos and signature drinks. Sylvia impressed the judges with her exciting new signature beverage '"Café Mimi". The drink (which was designed specifically for the occasion) consisted of chilled espresso, minted mocha ice-cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a choc mint crisp. Sylvia told me that competitors at the competition came from all over Queensland. "Some were from Townsville and others from Brisbane, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast", she said. The winner of the competition was 24-year-old Daniel Millane from Costa Noosa Espresso on the Sunshine Coast who's since gone on to compete at the National Finals in Melbourne. Sylvia told me she's very happy with the outcome of her first Barista competition. "Competing gave me automatic membership in National Barista Guild," she said, "not to mention a great personal challenge and a learning experience. I'm looking forward to the next competition and hope I can go further".
2005 PCA Regional Cuisine Cook-Off Recipes Now Available Online
Steve Gudzinski14th April 2005: Hello everyone! South Burnett Cuisine is resuming normal operations today after a 6-week break. I'd originally planned a shorter period away from the desk so that I could recover from organising the Regional Cuisine Cook-Offs at this year's Wine & Food In The Park Festival. But several other things (like recuperating from a virus that laid me low for a week and the need to do some university exams) conspired to extend things a little bit longer than anticipated. All the same, rumours that I've died and gone to heaven are premature. And a big thankyou to the many readers who phoned or emailed me to ask what was going on - I'll make sure that next time I take a break there's a note about it here on the site. All the same, South Burnett wine and food news hasn't stopped while I've been away and I have a huge number of stories for you over the next few weeks. Today's one, though, is a wrap-up of where we last left off. The 2005 PCA South Burnett Regional Cuisine Cook-Offs which were held at Wine & Food In The Park last month were the largest yet - both in terms of competitor numbers and the crowds looking on. If you were there I'm sure you had a great day out and I'd like to congratulate the winners. Steve Gudzinski (for the third year running!) took out top honours for the best overall dish. Ruth Walters won gold for most innovative use of peanuts. Ramon Whitten took line honours for the best wine and food match. And Tyler Perkins took out a special award for the most outstanding apprentice. The good news I have to break today is that if you want to get the recipes you saw at the Cook-Offs, you now can. They're available online from PCA's web site. I'd also like to thank PCA for sponsoring this increasingly important event and our two guest judges - Alastair McLeod and Nick Bray - who made it such a fun day out for everyone. Next year's Cook-Offs are going to have a different slant to this year's. But I'll have more to say about that at the appropriate time. Photo: Three time PCA Regional Cuisine Cook-Off winner Steve Gudzinski - photo courtesy of Clive Lowe
2005 Cook-Off The Biggest Yet
Panna Cotta 4th March 2005: Last week I jumped the gun a little bit and let it be known that the 2005 PCA Regional Cuisine Cook-Offs were shaping up as the biggest yet. I was 100% correct about this, even though a surprise pull-out by Brad Clark from the Bell Tower Restaurant (due to other commitments that unexpectedly emerged at the last minute and knocked him out of the running) has reduced the field of contestants to nine. All the same, fans of this annual competition - where each chef has a bare 20 minutes to whip up an innovative dish utilising South Burnett produce and peanuts, matched with a local wine - look like they're in for a special treat this year. The complete programme will run from 10:00am in the morning right through to final summations from judges Alastair McLeod and Nick Bray at 4:00pm and then the presentation of the 2005 awards at 4:30pm. Some of the most talented chefs from right around the region will be taking part and I'll be doing a lunchtime demonstration of how to prepare a Peanut and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Fresh Fruit Salsa (pictured) at around 12:30pm to provide a bit of a break. If you want to come along and barrack for a particular chef you'll find the full schedule for this year's Cook-Offs on the Wine & Food In The Park web site very shortly (just print off a copy and bring it along with you). I'm sure it's going to be one heck of a good day for foodies and I look forward to seeing you there! (PS: You can get my Panna Cotta recipe in PDF format by clicking here - but come to the Cook-Offs and you can see a hands-on demonstration of how it's actually done)
Wondai Gets A Little Pasta and Opera
Pasta under the stars at Dimities 1st March 2005: Last month I was privileged to be a guinea pig for Graham Mitchell, the man responsible for the Wondai dining phenomenon Dimities Cottage. Graham is arguably the shyest chef in the South Burnett and has refused to let me take his photo for years (it's nothing personal: he does it with everyone!). But that hasn't stopped Dimities' regular smorgasbords, fortnightly Sunday lunches, fortnightly Saturday breakfasts and special events (like Christmas In July) becoming a South Burnett legend. The reason I was invited to be a guinea pig - along with about 30 other people - is that Graham wanted to test another new dining experience that I'm certain is going to be a big hit. From this Friday 4th March onwards, Dimities will be holding regular Pasta Under The Stars nights on the first Friday of the month, kicking off 6:30pm and running right through to late in the evening. Guests at these BYO events can get to enjoy alfresco dining in Dimities new courtyard (they'll move indoors in the colder months); a wonderful atmosphere (checkered tablecloths, candlelight and Italian opera playing in the background); and a three-course menu of freshly-cooked Italian foods that was simply breath-taking on the night I attended. The first Friday of the month is also opening night for the Wondai Art Gallery's regular exhibitions, so if you really want to have a big night out you can easily combine both (eg: visit the Gallery for a knees-up opening, then cross the road for a thumping Italian finish). Like everything at Dimities, the prices are inexpensive; the food is terrific; the service couldn't be friendlier; and bookings are highly advisable if you want to be sure of a seat. You can book your own seat for this Friday's Pasta Under The Stars by phoning (07) 4168-5744. Photo: Pasta Under The Stars kicks off at Dimities Cottage in Wondai this Friday night, March 4th.

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