Food fight to get Greenhouse finished. Tensions were simmering, we’re told, at the 20th anniversary of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Green is the colour of the key attraction but there were red faces when the $1 million Greenhouse restaurant and bar by “Melbourne visionary and sustainable designer” Joost Bakker was half-finished for the grand opening on Thursday night. And the room was buzzing with questions over just how sustainable the whole thing was. A well-connected Melbourne foodie reports:

“Carpenters and about a dozen trucks, forklifts and scissors lifts were parked near the Greenhouse as VIPs arrived in Queensbridge Square along the Yarra River, the so-called ‘festival hub’ in Freshwater Place, with on-stage demonstrations from chefs and a large portrait of 22 international and Australian chefs. Catering staff were scrambling over builders, there was hardly any food served out of barely-completed catering facilities and when a guest asked a waiter what the wine was, he said it’s red and white.

“If you were to poll pedestrians in Bourke Street, not many would know where Queensbridge Square is — it is across the road from Crown Towers as you head towards Southgate – yet it was chosen as the river-front promenade to celebrate 20 years of food and wine in Melbourne. The precinct has various permanent restaurants, including a McDonald’s, and if this is how a cultured city celebrates a culinary milestone, stop the lazy Susan — I want to get off. Among the VIPs and guests offered a bowl of roasted almonds and a few oysters as canapés were festival CEO Natalie O’Brien, Minister for Major Projects Denis Napthine, chefs Andrew McConnell and Stephanie Alexander and bigwigs from ‘presenting partner’ Bank of Melbourne.

“Strangely, Joost wasn’t at the opening. Napthine was swept away by the moment, referring to the ‘Melbourne Wine and Food Festival’ and calling Natalie O’Brien ‘Natalie Byrne’. For more impromptu theatre, fire alarms went of twice during the speeches. It’s not the aroma you’d expect outside a restaurant but a sewerage truck zips in to the collect the waste and zips out again.

“The website says: ‘All the features of the Greenhouse are carefully considered first for their practicality, recyclability, life cycle and embodied energy and then for their aesthetics and cost. By putting each decision through this rigorous process, it is hoped that the Greenhouse can provide information and examples to builders, designers, restaurateurs and the public, regarding their daily choices of materials, ingredients, and practices.’ And this: ‘With a verdant rooftop bar housing over 30 plants and a luscious garden scaling the walls, it’s a tranquil space to soak up the Festival’s buzzing atmosphere.’

“Do the maths. How can a project be ‘green’ or sustainable when the embodied energy to pop up a massive $1 million steel and timber construction takes over two weeks to build but lasts just 20 days? The Greenhouse is run on two huge generators that run on canola oil, but guess what? The canola oil was trucked down from NSW. Waiter, that’s a lot carbon dioxide in my soup. Just because people are drinking out of trendy recycled jam jars, the supposed green-star rating doesn’t tell the full story behind the scenes.”

No harmony at Newcastle Conservatorium. On Friday, Crikey reported on the whistleblower complaint detailing a war waged by critics of dumped Sydney Conservatorium of Music dean Kim Walker. Today, another tipster points us to a similarly poisonous relationship at the Newcastle Conservatorium: “I don’t know much of the details but know that there are some very good staff there, but they struggle amongst those dripping with venom, sometimes using students as pawns in their malicious adventures”. Sounds nasty — drop us a line or use the anonymous form if you know more.

A gift to Liberals everywhere. Which political commentator were these two Liberal staffers overheard referring to at Parliament House’s Aussies Cafe this morning, fresh from reading his latest offering? “He’s so great for us. All you do is send him stuff and he uses it word-for-word. Gold.”

Tony Abbott rugs up for the winter? “Have you ever considered an alternate universe where the opposition leader didn’t go into politics,” asks a Crikey reader, “but instead pursued a career as a flamboyant international knitwear model?” Well, via Flickr (and the Brunswick Bravo knitting booklet), here’s the answer:

Courier Mail drives subs for SMHSomebody should probably tell someone at The Courier Mail that when you go to the FAQ section on its subscriber site the link for updating your email address, strangely, takes you to a sign-up form for The Sydney Morning Herald — another newspaper from another city by a rival company.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey