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THE most fantastically brilliant foodie event celebrating excellence in everything was played out to a draw the other night in that most fantastically brilliantly foodie city of all Australian cities – dear, dear old Melbourne.

And lucky old me got to gatecrash the party! (Not very hard: I just wore black and queued for HOURS in the driving sleet, like all the other desperate journos complaining about pay rises and gasping for a drink).

The Good Food Guide 2002 was fittingly launched by minor celebs from Channel 7, home of television’s latest culinary superstar, Arisotosos Yanikopolopopupos, the Really Annoying Chef (not to be confused with the ABC’s Jacqcues Reymond, the Unbearably Annoying Chef).

The guest list read like a ‘who isn’t who’ of the fantastically brilliant and vibrant Melbourne foodie community, who were all kind enough to stop pursuing excellence for just a few moments in order to come to the party and swim in bucketloads of free Peter Lehmann wine, bitch about everyone at the next table in exaggerated stage whispers, walk out in a huff when they only receive one hat, and feign surprise when the fuckn Flower Drum is named best fuckn restaurant AfucknGAIN.

The controversial 2002 guide (published, controversially, in 2001) was not without controversy, however.

Despite the celebration of excellence, no one got the top gong of 5 chefs hats (a subtle point that was utterly lost on the half-cut crowd). Flower Drum – or rather, its owner, Gilbert Lau – got 4, and Lau managed to speak twice, which many onlookers thought ought to have earned him or his restaurant at least another hat. Lau thanked everyone, and cried – which was what the crowd of excellence-pursuers was clearly looking for, as it was met with riotous applause.

Lau even remembered to thank his team. This was not his fault. Earlier in the awards ceremony a Very Famous London chef had thanked his team and that had set a rather nasty precedent which subsequent award recipients felt obliged to repeat. Even the two crazy young kids from Dining Room 211 thanked their team, despite the fact they ARE the team.

Good Food Guide deputy editor and Man About Town, John Lethlean, first apologised for the absence of the Guide’s editor, Stephanie Wood, then publicly quashed rumours that she had been forced to leave the country due to her alleged involvement with the One.Tel collapse and an ‘episode’ with a local Italian restaurateur, and went on to announce the Rural and Regional Australia restaurant of the year as Stefano De Pieri’s The Grand Hotel in Mildura. The famous Italian socialist, living up to his reputation as a TV celebrity by wearing a fetching grey sports jacket, seemed pleased to have received 3 chefs hats and the best regional restaurant gong, but was visibly upset at his Mildura eatery being recommended by Tony Abbott and Phillip Ruddock.

Always pushing the boundaries of food guide innovation, some new categories were also announced for next year. In 2003, chefs hats will be replaced by cuisine-specific head gear. Best Indian restaurant will get 3 turbans; good country restaurants will receive Akubras, and best La Trobe Valley restaurant will be awarded with gold beanies.

Another innovation will see the tables turned when restaurant owners get to nominate which B-grade celebrities and members of the Legislative Assembly they would like to be associated with in print.

But the most controversial change involves the very reviewing process itself. In 2003 the current restaurant review system will be replaced by self assessment. Every restaurant will have a form to fill out asking simple questions like “Do you serve your guests or do they help themselves to piles of seafood extender in a tub in the centre of a barn?”. This will determine if the establishment is either a restaurant or a smorgasbord.

The question “Do your staff approach guests with a pepper grinder tucked neatly into their groin?” will indicate to editors that the eatery is either an Italian restaurant or owned by someone who once ate at one.

Owners will also be asked to weigh their wine list; entries over 1.5 kilograms will be in the running for a special Heaviest Wine List Award – the prize being a year’s free access to a fully-accredited sommelier. And finally, all restaurateurs will be asked to colour in the number of hats they believe they deserve to win next year. As a result, the size of the Guide is expected to increase ten-fold.

The highlight for this particular glamour-junkie, though, was the major sponsor Lavazza’s extended dance-mix advertisement delivered by the company’s Australian ambassador and entitled The Theatre of Coffee. The lengthy discourse on the sophistication of the company’s Turin coffee-roasting and packaging facility was the pinnacle of the evening, and it is rumoured the factory’s cafeteria will receive 1 hat and win restaurant of the year in 2002, when the 2003 guide is controversially set to be launched.

Then again, the editorial panel of non-chefs, non-practising restaurateurs, and non-paying fine diners who preside over these incredibly important awards know what they are doing, so the Flower Drum’s probably a shoe-in.

Final score: Lavazza 4 (all own goals) – Good Food Guide 4 (all penalties).

Peter Fray

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