Food fans, wine lovers and beer aficionados flocked to the South West corner of the state over the weekend for the 2018 Margaret River Gourmet Escape.
For one local chef, the work began months ago with planning, organising and testing.
“I don’t remember being this busy, it has been absolutely insane but so wonderful and a lot of fun,” said Margaret River resident and 2018 Masterchef Australia favourite, Samira Damirova.
Tucked away in the commercial kitchen usually occupied by the MaLa Dumplings team, Damirova said her first pop-up restaurant, ‘Lavash’ at the Gourmet Village was a daunting concept but one she was ready to tackle.
“I’m so excited, we are preparing some amazing dishes including a baklava, as well as a rice pilau and lamb flatbread, all with lots of bold flavours and beautiful produce.”
The talented and bubbly foodie was backed by a loyal team of helpers and two familiar faces in fellow Masterchef contestants Brendan Pang and Reece Hignell, who were on deck early last week to help with prep and service.
“I am loving being here, the weather is stunning, the food is amazing and working with Sam and Brendan again is great,” said NSW-based Hignell on his first visit to Margaret River.
Facing the arduous task of delivering around 800 slices of baklava as well as countless servings of her unique, Azerbaijan-inspired dishes to the ravenous Gourmet Village crowds, Damirova said the assistance of other local businesses had helped keep plans on track.
“Teesh and Matt from MaLa Dumplings have been wonderful, allowing us to work in their kitchen,” she said.
“I also have to acknowledge Freya Cheffers from Saharan Daze who has supplied all our beautiful decor, cushions, tables and rugs for the restaurant as well as being by my side in the kitchen, and the amazing Seven Seas Tea and Spice Merchants in Cowaramup where I sourced some special spices for the event.”
Speaking at the Village on Sunday after a whirlwind weekend of service and with lines still snaking down the hill, Damirova reflected on her first foray into the world of food festival pop ups.
“It has been crazy! It a really good way. We haven’t stopped all weekend and I am exhausted, but it has been so worth it and I’m very grateful to be here,” she said.
The Gourmet Village, this year catering towards a more family-focused crowd, welcomed thousands of visitors across Saturday and Sunday, while satellite events at the region’s wineries, breweries and a number of unique locations offered a chance to dine with celebrity chefs and fellow foodies.