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Sydney Writers’ Festival Review: ‘Feast’ and ‘The Dinner Dilemma’

As the Sydney Writers’ Festival often evokes the impression of “bookworms”, the “nerds” and the “intellects”, it may come as a surprise that it has a space for the foodies.

The festival featured authors of cookbooks and hosts of food shows, among them Feast and The Dinner Dilemma.

Feast

Jennifer Wong, Chinese-Australian writer and presenter of ABC’s Chopsticks or Fork?, hosted the event. Her guests included James Colley (The Next Big Thing); Alex Elliot-Howery (Cornersmith); Madeleine Gray (Green Dot); Yumi Stynes (The Food Fix); and Oliver Twist (Jali) who all shared their love for food and some “scrumptiously hilarious” anecdotes.

She was an unobtrusive host who seldom asked guests questions in intervals, often acknowledging their stories with appreciation before calling on the next storyteller.

Wong kicked off the show with a cultural fun fact. “In English, we say earn a living. But in Cantonese it’s ‘wan sik’ or to earn an eating.”

The show then moved on to Madeleine Gray, who shared humorous yet poignant anecdotes as a “divorce kid”. She lived with her single father.

“The divorce custody felt like two people fighting over vegan sausage,” Gray quipped.

The most remarkable element in Gray’s story-telling, her funny anecdotes embodied her love for her father and hinted at the father-daughter struggle after the divorce.

As audiences laughed at her father’s culinary learning journey through the Australian Institute of Sport recipes (yes, out of all the cookbooks available out there) and trying to “fold blueberries in half”, we felt Gray’s nostalgic warmth and love.

Next Oliver Twist read excerpts from his book. He shared anecdotes of his mother’s African dishes alongside hilarious “voodoos” and “toilet holes” stories in the Malawi refugee camp where he grew up after his family fled the Rwandan genocide.

Alex Elliot-Howery, former founder of pickled-food-specialising Cornersmith cafe, recounted chaotic tales of herself and her husband as ‘food cowboys’ attempting to make homemade fish sauce, baking “armpit-smelling” food, and buying 10 kg of tomatoes to avoid canned tomatoes.

James Colley also amused audiences with his humorous sushi store waiter conversation, and sobbing over not wanting cucumbers in his sandwich only to have the owner reply “it’s not for us to decide whether or not we love cucumber”.

The show ended with my favorite storyteller, Yumi Stynes who presented her 10 controversial food hot-takes and encouraged audiences to shout out “Oh come on!” if they were offended.

Stynes showed a sassy delivery similar to stand up comedians as she advised that bacon shouldn’t exist because The World Health Organization classified it as a carcinogen; food in mason jars are disgusting and gluten free food doesn’t make sense.

Her exaggerated gestures and goofy facial expressions made her the star of the show, wrapping up the event with thunderous laughter and joking boos.

Overall, Feast was a light-hearted, comedic talk show that evoked constant giggles and occasional laughter. While it certainly wasn’t a comedy banquet that would make you laugh your head off, it was a relaxing jovial experience likened to an aperitif before a meal.

The Dinner Dilemma

Ironically, The Dinner Dilemma was hosted at noon. Hosted by Yumi Stynes, the talkshow involved Simon Davis, Lucy Tweed (Every Night of the Week) and Alex Elliot-Howery (Cornersmith).

It kicked off in an interesting way as Stynes invited the audiences and guests to look at images of fridges and guess their owners. The fridges served as a basis for each speaker to share funny cooking anecdotes and cooking habits, with suggestions on storage tips and sources of cooking ideas. As a host Stynes invited the highest audience engagement.

The talk show began with the question “What are people doing wrong?”, to which the speakers commented that excessive ingredient purchases lead to difficulty choosing what to cook, and excessive food waste.

The funniest fridge belonged to Alex Elliot-Howery. It had a full layer stuffed with broccoli, which took her family the entire week of eating consecutive broccoli meals to finish. She also suggested deciding the “menu of the day” by working with ingredients close to, or past, their expiry date.

The talk moved onto the question “what’s the right thing to do?”. While Simon Davis suggested people “start small”, Lucy Tweed recommended “don’t mind what people say”. Despite no technical advice that directly responds to “dinner dilemmas”, it was an enjoyable chat to listen to.

Guest were then asked to present their favorite cooking utensils: Styne’s toku egg beater, Alex Elliot-Howery’s bucket-sized aluminum bowl, and Simon Davis’ tweezers.

Their explanations were hilarious, as Stynes groaned about beating eggs with a fork, Alex Elliot-Howery cried out her pet peeve of improperly mixed salads and those who mix them with squeezed arms.

The show ended with Lucy Tweed demonstrating how to cook a quick, one-pot dinner. However, due to safety reasons, she could not cook the dish live, meaning it was just a demonstration of pouring rice, stocks and spices into a pan. Alex Elliot-Howery also demonstrated how to store herbs in a towel to prolong shelf life. She then grinded some leftover herbs and greens to make her signature green sauce, of which she had a pre-made version for audiences to sniff.

Overall, the Dinner Dilemma felt like a group of friends chatting about their kitchen red flags, must-haves and must-do’s. It’s perfect for foodies seeking a light laugh. For practical tips, opt for a cooking class or cookbook.

By

Sharon Wongosari
Sharon Wongosari
Sharon Wongosari is a first-year student at the University of Sydney studying Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Media and Communications), majoring in Media and Communications and Project Management. With large enthusiasm for writing and video production, she hopes to pursue a career in journalism.

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