Finding Food Heaven Down Under

Lyle Fujioka
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Friday - July 14, 2006 - MidWeek the weekend

As a 24-7 caregiver for my late wife Sue, it was a challenge for me to disengage and seek respite time. The nature of her terminal, neuromuscular disease required round-the-clock attention, and it became increasingly difficult to simply sleep. After constant urging from Sue and hospice counselors, I eventually accepted the necessity of restorative rest and I began taking weeklong trips with an emphasis on separating myself from the wine business.

Taking my first trip in July 2002, I considered traveling to Bologna, Italy’s food capital. My travel mentor, Michael Reyes, convinced me to vacate unbearably hot and uncomfortable Bologna in favor of Sydney, Australia. Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise certainly piqued my curiosity, and Michael assured me that the food scene was cutting edge.

Arrangements were made for me to spend five days on the Circular Quay around Sydney Bay Harbor. Before departing, I was assigned two culinary tasks. First, Michael insisted adamantly that I visit the Sydney Bay Oyster House for the most incredible bivalve shellfish feast. Secondly, Chef Russell Siu of 3660 raved about Tetsuya, claiming it was equivalent to Napa’s famed French Laundry.

After checking into my hotel, I immediately sought assistance from the hotel’s concierge to secure reservations at Tetsuya. He laughed and replied that the restaurant generally is booked for 60 days in advance. We agreed upon hoping for a cancellation - my time was completely flexible. The S.B. Oyster House was conveniently located nearby the hotel and it ultimately provided gastronomical joy over the week’s stay.

Australia is known for its big, bold red wines and heavily oaked, fat chardonnays. I had, however, been puzzled by the numerous high-pitched, crisp whites - sauvignon blanc and semillon - which were a sharp contrast in style. The light bulb switched on once I sat down for my first dozen oysters paired with a flight of semillon.

By the fourth day, the concierge advised me that my chances of getting into Tetsuya were dismal. Undeterred, I called Australian winemaker Dave Powell of Torbreck Vintners (personal friend of Chef Tetsuya) to secure a reservation. On the morning prior to my departure, I was informed that a 1:30 p.m. lunch seating was available. I accepted the offer and arrived with great anticipation. Simply put, from 1:30 to 5:30 I was beamed up to food heaven. Sitting privately with the staff, a 13-course meal was presented with many of the dishes served in three different preparations. The wine director sat with me to explain his pairing philosophy and register my opinion. The exquisite delicacy of flavor that Chef Tetsuya delivered exceeded all expectations. One particular course that put me in a meditative state was his presentation of barramundi, Australia’s premier freshwater fish. Returning home the next day, my thoughts revolved around someday creating an event showcasing the incredible food resources of Australia.

Four years later, I find myself at the threshold of realizing the re-creation of my awe-inspiring Australian experience. The vehicle for this will be the 17th-annual Honolulu Wine Festival “From the Vineyard to the Sea Down Under” at Dole Cannery Ballroom July 29, 6-9:30 p.m., benefiting the Lupus Foundation of America, Hawaii Chapter.

With the assistance of co-coordinators Brooks Takenaka of the United Fishing Agency and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya, I developed an all-seafood theme for last year’s wine festival executed by Honolulu’s top chefs.

As our local wine community matures, the focus of the event will be on the “whys” or pairing concepts. The adage of “drink what you like” is politically correct, but there are definite guidelines to enhance your food and wine pairings. At “Vineyards to the Sea,” each participating chef station will be accompanied with wines chosen specifically for that dish.

As a representative of Australia’s Trade Commission, local boy Mark Berwick has orchestrated the shipment of an array of Australian seafood for this year’s Down Under exploration. Barramundi, Tasmanian salmon, Moreton Bay bugs, spotted prawns, ruby snapper and much more will be on the evening’s menu. A special long-table featuring a blue swimmer crab boil with an ample supply of bibs and mallets will be an engaging highlight.

A side-by-side presentation of Australian wine and specialty cheeses will tantalize your senses. Included at the cheese table will be internationally acclaimed Jindi, recognized as the world’s premier Brie producer.

The overwhelming support provided by our local wine, restaurant and seafood industries truly validates the concern over the ever-growing numbers of our residents afflicted by lupus - a debilitating, often terminal, auto-immune disease. Please call the Lupus Foundation, Hawaii Chapter, for reservations: 538-1522. Good day, mates!

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