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Masters of Margaret River

[SPONSORED CONTENT] A culinary journey with Lexus into the gastronomic heart and winelands of Western Australia reveals a contemporary dining scene driven by the area’s unique native ingredients.

Published on Jun 13, 2019

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D EAT A LEXUS GRILLE,” marveled one of the guests dining on chef Shaun Quade’s innovative creations at the exclusive Lexus ‘Escape to Amazing’ event in Western Australia. But it’s that level of imagination, attention to detail and originality that links the exquisite craftmanship of Lexus cars with the creativity of the culinary world. And if that sense of wonder and awe was what Lexus was going for, they nailed it with aplomb.

As a partner of the annual Margaret River Gourmet Escape, Lexus whisked 35 guests on a luxury journey through this world-renowned wine-growing and foodie region. Amidst an intoxicating, Australiana-feel backdrop of jarrah trees, pristine coastline and rolling vineyards, Lexus hosted a four-day series of immersive epicurean experiences. It was a collective passion project of the iconic carmaker, some of the country’s best winemakers and chefs, and global food personalities—the fare was delicious and the excitement was infectious.

As one of the most iconic features of the Lexus brand, the 2019 Lexus ES grille, crafted with custard, took front-and-centre at chef Quade’s experimental dinner. “The menu tonight is very playful, we’ve used technology to make the dessert based on the actual physical design of one of the Lexus cars,” chef Quade said, as he put finishing touches on lamb roasted over eucalyptus with broccoli, asparagus and spring garlic miso.

The young chef is acclaimed for his use of tech: in 2016 his Melbourne restaurant Lume became the first in Australia to utilize augmented and virtual reality in the dining experience. Here, surrounded by trees and manicured lawns, the chateau-like Fraser Gallop estate hosted the chef’s ‘Reimagined Wine & Dine’ dinner, one of six exclusive chef-led dining experiences that comprised the Lexus ‘Escape to Amazing’ event.

A short drive from Perth, Margaret River is home to 217 vineyards and 187 wineries, and is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon. The love connoisseurs have for luxury cars and fine wines have long drawn comparisons. But the similarities between Lexus’s range of cars and Margaret River’s grapes have never been more apparent than when paired in the same setting. Guests, chauffeured or self-driven from their base at Pullman Bunker Bay Resort Margaret River in the comfort of a fleet of SUV Lexus NX and RX models, were quick to remark on the smooth drive and sumptuous feel of the leather interior.

Bark and gum leaves cracked softly underneath the wheels as the Lexus convoy approached Leeuwin Estate on welcome night. It was a wonderfully apropos preface to the back-to-basics philosophy of the ‘Feast in the Forest’ dinner, which played with natural elements of open fire and smoke, within a converted shearing shed in a natural marri and jarrah forest. It’s here, in the Safari Barn of Leeuwin Estate, one of the region’s most esteemed wine producers, where Barbados-born, Australian-based chef Paul Carmichael cast his beguiling spell.

As the executive chef of Sydney’s award-winning Seiobo, chef Carmichael is rightfully beloved for his knowledge and exploration of some of Australia’s most underutilized native ingredients. “In essence, I’m a craftsman. Cooking is a craft, it’s not just a job,” said the charming chef. Known for his Carribean flavours, he magicked up a menu that surprised and delighted everyone, highlighting Margaret River’s local produce and seafood, with tastes of plantain, mullet roe and St John’s Brook Cheese followed by jerk pork jowl, abalone caramel, escabeche and sweet potato, salted cod and lobster.

Indeed, the wine region’s unique native ingredients claimed pole position during the Gourmet Escape. And it was inspiring to see how each of the chefs worked them into their dishes. Energetic chef Paul Iskov, who whipped up a four-course meal at Wise Winery titled ‘Bold Ingredients. Amazing Flavours,’ wasted no time in getting us acquainted with the aromatic flavours of the Aussie bush. “I’ve been out foraging this morning, really trying to showcase the native ingredients and beautiful local herbs we have,” he said before the event, as Lexus guests joined him on a merry bushwalk to get the inside track on some of the coastal flavours. “With the range of different ingredients we have, we’re able to take [guests] on a journey and tell them a story.”

Chef Iskov’s culinary tale began with a cast of canapes headlined by bold Australian flavours, such as marron and coastal rosemary, roo tartare with wattleseed lavosh and Davidson plum and brown crouton with cured emu and saltbush yolk. A first course of macadamia, bloodroot and lemon myrtle was paired with dry Riesling, while the second course of kangaroo, youlk, quandong and saltbush was sipped down with a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. For dessert, everyone devoured wattleseed with Geraldton wax, muntries and blood lime. Petit fours of saltbush fudge, riberry jube and quandong nougat rounded off the meal.

Now in its seventh year, the Margaret River Gourmet Escape has brought together 100,000 foodies and wine-lovers since its launch in 2012. The 2018 event featured 60 culinary stars from Australia and the world, including Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein, Julien Royer and Skye Gyngell. Many chefs gave cooking demos and talks at the Gourmet Village, at the Leeuwin Estate. There was an air of excitement around the Lexus ‘Escape to Amazing’ guests, who cheekily snuck off for a curated collection of VIP experiences, including a private art tour, front-row seats at chefs’ cooking demonstrations, and refreshments in the exclusive Lexus Lounge. Try not to be overcome by wanderlust or, indeed, food envy, when checking out the party at

Encircled by rugged bushland and azure coastline, Margaret River is stupefyingly beautiful, so it’s no wonder the event’s biggest name came back for a second serving in 2018. Former journalist, author and TV chef Nigella Lawson made her debut at the Gourmet Escape in 2017 and, while in conversation with host Kate Langbroek at ‘Supper with Nigella’ this year, joked in her self-deprecating style about how easy the choice had been to return. Listening at Xanadu Winery to her cooking tips and favourite reads, it felt like a chat with an old friend—albeit one whose love of snacking could inspire eight wine-paired courses of decadent canapes, designed by Xanadu chef Melissa Kokoti. Savoury bites such as ocean trout, beetroot, black sesame and pearls were trumped only by delicate desserts of rosewater dumplings with pistachio and fairy floss, in homage to Nigella’s sweet tooth.

Nigella Lawson’s flair and flamboyance has made her a household name. But on home soil, chef Aaron Carr is one of the hottest chefs in Western Australia and the apron behind one of Margaret River’s most-talked about new restaurants, Yarri. In keeping with the native theme, the team at Yarri use seasonal ingredients to create simple yet flavourful dishes that celebrate the region’s growers, farmers and fishermen. Doing good by eating well. As a tribute to Lexus’s Japanese heritage, chef Carr dreamed up a finale brunch, beginning with a Japanese rolled omelette with edamame, daikon and trout roe, followed by marron benedict with ox tongue, foccacio and saltbush.

It was a fitting farewell, ensuring the Lexus ‘Escape to Amazing’ guests came away with more than a new appreciation for contemporary Australian cuisine. They dined, dished and drove their way through an experience truly like no other.


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