For those of us from the northern hemisphere who haven't traveled much, Australia seems odd and amazing. Its seasons are reversed -- Christmas is a perfect time to work on a tan, and winter is in July. Metropolises, deserts, rain forests, snowfields, and sandy beaches can all be found in the land down under, a country that is roughly the size of America but has a tenth of the population. Its entertainment exports include Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. The country is better known for boomerangs, didjeridoos, kangaroos, and koalas than its culinary fare. So what exactly is Australian cuisine? The more infamous foods include kangaroo tail soup, shrimp on the barbie, and the love-it-or-hate-it brown paste known as Vegemite. Fascinated Yanks will get a chance to sample the delicious edibles of this faraway land at the third annual Taste Down Under competition when students from Johnson & Wales University and chefs from all over America convene in Miami to commence the battle Aussie.
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The contestants will work with the finest imported ingredients, Australian barbecue grills, and Furi professional chef knives. Students will start out by creating a variety of lamb dishes. For the dessert challenge, the aspiring chefs will work with wattleseed, which comes from the acacia shrub. When ground, the seed resembles and tastes like coffee muddled with chocolate and hazelnut. This distinctive spice will be added to mousses, cheesecake, and chutney. Alumni competitors get to work with more exotic items, like western rock lobsters, wild tiger prawns, and royal Tasmanian salmon.
This competition comes with more than culinary imports. Audiences can feast their ears on one of Australia's best musical ambassadors, Colin Hay. After finding international fame as the lead singer for Eighties band Men at Work, Hay forged his own path as a well-respected solo artist. At his intimate acoustic concert, he'll perform new songs, such as "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You," which was featured on the soundtrack to Zach Braff's sleeper Garden State, as well as stripped-down versions of "Who Can It Be Now," "Overkill," and his biggest hit (the unofficial Australian anthem) "Down Under." Hay's visit to Miami won't be all work, however. As a man who knows his way around a Vegemite sandwich (having enjoyed a delicious one from "a man in Brussels/He was six foot four and full of muscles"), Hay will sing for his supper and then join the panel of gastronomes to judge the competition. Judges and guests will not be expected to feast solely upon contending entries. Sought-after chef Athol Wark has been flown in from the homeland to show the contestants how the damn thing is done and delight gourmands with his original take on Australian cuisine.
Laura Bradley and Colin Hay
the Conrad Hotel, 1395 Brickell Ave, Miami
8:00 Thursday, April 28, at the Shores Performing Arts Center, 9806 NE Second Ave, Miami Shores. Tickets cost $27.50. Call 305-532-0973. The Third Annual Taste Down Under culinary competition awards dinner will be held Saturday, April 30, at the Conrad Hotel, 1395 Brickell Ave, Miami. Tickets are limited, so don't dally. Tickets cost $106, excluding tax and gratuity. Call 305-503-6529, or visit www.tastedownunder.com a>