Events like Gourmet Escape make WA a foodie heaven for tourists

Margaret River’s Gourmet Escape beach barbecue. Photo: Tourism WA

VICTORIA has been put on notice – WA is fast becoming Australia’s go-to foodie destination.

Experts say our fine state, once the home of food blunders and limited choice, is now a hot favourite among interstate and international travellers for new and unique culinary tourism experiences.

With new eateries serving tantalising dishes made from fresh local produce in often whimsical settings, WA is quickly rising to the top.

Just ask the cohort of global food stars, including Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein, Rene Redzepi and Massimo Bottura, who arrive this week for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

In fact, our food is becoming so popular and providing millions in tourism dollars that Tourism WA chief executive Stephanie Buckland said food is the future for WA tourism.

“Tourism WA is close to launching a food and wine tourism strategy which outlines ways to build on WA’s culinary credentials,” she said.

“The purpose of the strategy is to enhance the positioning of Western Australia as an extraordinary destination to experience gourmet produce, fresh seafood, premium wines and boutique beverages such as craft beers, cider and spirits.”

Last year, 1.1 million Australian visitors to WA actively sought out food and wine experiences, or determined where they were going to stay based on the culinary experiences available.

Ms Buckland said visitors are attracted to local and authentic produce in beautiful surroundings.

“The research shows culinary events are also popular,” she said.

The Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival is another draw for foodies. Photo: Tourism WASource:Supplied

“One of the most successful examples is the Margaret River Gourmet Escape. In just its third year, it is firmly established as one of the Asia Pacific’s leading culinary events.”

US-based French chef Eric Ripert, who has spent the past week in WA, said the quality of WA food and wine was “amazing”.

The co-owner of New York restaurant Le Bernardin, which ranks 18th on the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, said chefs in the US were “definitely” trying to connect with people in WA to get their produce on the menu.

“Currently we don’t use WA produce (in my restaurant) but I intend to after this trip,” he said.

On Tuesday, Josh Whiteland, of Koomal Dreaming, took the high-profile chef on an Aboriginal native food forage.

“I tasted kangaroo for the first time in my life,” Ripert said. “And I love it.”

In 2013, more than 16,000 people attended the Margaret River Gourmet Escape and generated $10.5 million in direct visitor expenditure in the Augusta-Margaret River region.

Last year, a total of $8.3 billion was generated in visitor spending in WA, supporting 91,000 jobs for West Australians.

WA’s food retail industry averaged a $960 million turnover a month during the 2012 financial year, which equates to an annual turnover of more than $11 billion.

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