For many, the concept of gastronomy is a new one. The Oxford Dictionary defines gastronomy as ‘The practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food’. For one cohort of Australians, this term has been in their vernacular for more than 20 years. In recognition of Bendigo’s UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation, the 24th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy was held right here in Bendigo. The topic this year was Reclaiming Happiness: The Epicurean Garden, Simple Pleasures. The four days included talks, tasting and farm visits, too many to outline here, however it would be remiss of us not to give you a small taste of the experience.  

Day 1 

As delegates arrived Sunday afternoon, they were greeted by the Dja Dja Wurrung people with a Welcome to Country in the Tafe Six Seasons courtyard garden and smoking pit. Local Elder and CEO of the Dja Dja Wurrung Group, Rodney Carter led the welcome.  “Our mother country has nurtured Dja Dja Wurrung people for many thousands of generations. This ancient knowledge is again finding its place as being useful to not only help heal country but also heal people”. Rodney Carter. 

Dja Dja Wurrung Welcome to Country

Day 2 

After easing into the event on Sunday, we tackled Monday head on with the enthusiasm and energy of a young child. The morning started with Kelly Donati sharing research undertaken on ‘Gardening in the pandemic: reflection on pleasure, time and hope’. In 2020 during the heart of the pandemic, Sustain: The Australian Food Network sought to understand what food gardening meant during those early months of the pandemic. People were asked to reflect on their gardening, in relation to health. What was initially expected to be a survey of a couple of hundred respondents ended up being engaged with by 9000 people. The findings were remarkable. 2000 people felt better during the pandemic, many found it to be a connector, providing an opportunity to connect and exchange and share fruit and veg. 72% felt that gardening improved their mental health. 

From gardening we moved on to the topic of pleasure. We were asked to explore the possibility of instilling more pleasure in our daily lives in tiny ways. Does listening to your favourite music increase the satisfaction of a cup of tea and a bickie? Does warming a dish of olives increase your gustatory enjoyment? I can tell you the smooth and creamy mouth feel of a nice warm latte is making writing this blog post pretty pleasurable. 

Colette Geier and Amie Sexton teach us all about tiny pleasures

From pleasure we moved on to the rise of foraging within advocacy dining, we discussed women’s food knowledge and why it matters, and we explored the culinary traditions of active older adults. After all that talk and brain stimulation it was time for a well-earned coffee and morning tea, made by the amazing team at Peppergreen Farm. All house made and delicious! We then toured the farm with Manager, Jennie walker. Jenny shared the back story of the property including the Chinese history, she also outlined the current purpose of the property as a training site with Access Australia Group who train more than 100 supported employees across Bendigo. 

Peppergreen Farm

The afternoon sessions were jam packed. Emma Robertson took us through the history of those delicious soft centres in Cadbury chocolate we all love. Rita Erlich tempted us into The Garden of Eden where every plant was pleasing to look at and good for food. It was the land of milk and honey, a land of water courses and the seven spices that we still use today wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and honey. All signifying peace and prosperity. Hilary Heslop journeyed us through the history of bread; the problems that arose from the introduction of dwarf wheat. We learned that it is the most common crop grown in the world and everyone agreed bread provides a real sense of contentment. (Currently eating a warm buttered baguette as we speak). 

It would be irresponsible to hold a Symposium of Gastronomy in Bendigo and not discuss the rich Chinese heritage and of course the infamous Chiko Roll. 

We finished our learning with a warm towel (a tiny pleasure) and a little spritz. Giles from Maidenii shared his locally made vermouth with us. 

Delicious Maidenii amongst the gardens of Peppergreen Farm

Dinner did not disappoint and was the perfect end to a perfect day of gastronomy. We started with a wander around the Yi Yuan Chinese (Garden of Joy) walled garden, followed by the Golden Dragon Museum. Once seated in Hawker restaurant we were greeted by the iconic Elizabeth Chong AM. Elizabeth shared her memories of Bendigo, her father’s history in the region and even disclosed that her father was the original creator of the Chiko Roll! 

Elizabeth Chong AM

The menu for the evening were recipes from Cooking the Chinese Way, Australia’s first Chinese cookery book. Written by Roy Geechoun (Lee Lock Gee Choun) and published in 1948. This culinary trip into the past gave delegates a chance to reflect on the afternoon’s discussions, which included the ingenuity of early Chinese migrants to adapt traditional recipes to available ingredients and the enormous impact that Chinese food has had on Australian cuisine. 

Photo credit. Liz Martin