Many of us have the dubious pleasure of attending conferences for various reasons and have experienced the equally dubious pleasure of the food on offer. Typically this would be pastries and instant coffee mid-morning, another heavy hit of carbs at lunch in the form of pre-made sandwiches and then another injection of sugar and caffeine in the afternoon to try and keep you from dozing off.

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As befitting a city with world-class dining options, Sydney’s new International Convention Centre (ICC) has aimed for considerably more than the standard mass-produced fare. ICC has developed an industry-first ‘Feeding Your Performance’ philosophy to deliver menus comprising fresh, seasonal and ethically sourced ingredients, expertly combined to drive physical and mental performance.

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Executive Chef Tony Panetta and his experienced team have been able to unlock the science behind ingredients by working in partnership with nutritionists and create ‘smart’ dishes. The aim is to offer food options that nourish both body and mind and provide delegates and speakers with the energy they need to get the most out of their conferences.

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The other guiding principal for Panetta has been to source as many ingredients as possible from local providers be it Blue Eye Cod from Coffs Harbour, tomatoes from the Hawkesbury or kangaroo from Paroo, just over the Queensland border. From the chef’s perspective, why would you look further when there is an abundance of world-class produce on Sydney’s doorstep?

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Considering these dishes can be served to up to 8,000 delegates depending on the size of the event, the presentation and attention to detail is breathtaking. The cod is diced to the point it almost resembles rice and is served with pickled beetroot and creamy goats cheese, the saltiness of the fish combining perfectly with the dairy flavours.

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Elsewhere Hunter Valley quail is served as a ‘lollipop’ designed to be eaten with the fingers on a bed of pureed pear, pomegranate, amaranth and vanilla. It is a very unique way to enjoy the strong, almost gamey flavours of the bird.

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ICC has applied the same local-first policy to their wine selection and it is delightful to see a fine mix of NSW varieties on offer. In the process of creating the wine list, Beverage Operations and Cellar manager, William Wilson tasted more than one thousand wines from three hundred wineries over a seven day period although he assured us that this was not as much fun as it sounded!

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The result is a variety of wineries including big-name Hunter Valley producer Tyrrells and smaller producers such as Tamburlaine from Orange. The 2011 Stevens Semillon from Tyrrells demonstrates all the citrus fruit flavours you expect from the grape while the 2016 Pinot Noir from Tamburlaine delivers a characteristically fruitful palate and some savoury tannins.

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As it happened the most impressive wine (from our perspective at least) was served with the most impressive dish. Outback Cowra Lamb served as a cigar with a wattle seed yoghurt was matched with an Allandale Tempranillo from the Hilltops region of southern New South Wales. The strong, hearty flavours of the lamb were enhanced by the creamy yoghurt and the dish was completed when washed down with the smooth, gently fruit taste of the Spanish variety wine.

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The concept and execution of ‘Feeding Your Performance’ are both outstanding and we can only hope that other, similar venues embrace it. With the dedication of the culinary team at the ICC, hopefully the days of piles of pastries at conferences can be a thing of the past!

Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre
14 Darling Dr, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9215 7100

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Sarah's weekdays are spent immersed in the hectic and ruthless corporate world but her weekends and evenings are dedicated to pursuing her true passion: food. Equally comfortable in a three-hat fine dining restaurant or a pop-up, hole-in-the-wall eatery, Sarah tries to satisfy her obsession for all things culinary with a never-ending quest to seek out the newest and most exciting dishes in Sydney. She has also travelled extensively across Europe and Asia and the first part of any trip-planning is, of course, in-depth research into the local food specialities. This globe-trotting has led to a fascination with a great variety of cuisines - from Shanghaiese dumplings to modern Australian seafood, from Turkish Gözleme to Yorkshire puddings. If there is a new restaurant or dish on the scene, Sarah won't be far away!


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