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Wonderful, Weird Produce


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Wonderful, weird produce

From eels that ride the Gulf Stream to Vanuatu to breed before returning to Australian dams and lakes, to free-range cool-climate snails, and the most marbled piece of wagyu beef that the restaurateur Matt Moran says he has ever seen.

All of it, and more, was served up to Sydney's hardcore foodies last night at their annual celebration of Australia's most weird and wonderful produce, which Moran says is "second to none in the world".

Also there were the farmers themselves, who travelled from the backwaters and dams of regional Australia to the Sydney Opera House to be feted by the food magazine Vogue Entertaining + Travel at its Audi Annual Produce Awards.

For Ken and Ben Osborne, a father-and-son eel farming team from Skipton, Victoria, it was their first trip to Sydney. The same could not be said of their Oss Eels Silver Lake Smoked Eels, however, which have graced the menu of Moran's two-hatted Aria restaurant since he tasted them in December.

For these elite eels, the Sydney restaurant scene is the end of a journey that began when their forebears made an annual migration from Australia and New Zealand to their breeding ground in the waters off Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean, Ben Osborne said.

When they return on the eastern current, the likes of Ben, 29, and Ken, 58, catch them in coastal lakes and rivers and "farm" them inland.

"They take about six years to reach maturity," Ben said. "We go out and net the waters and we grade all the eels and bring home the ones that are suitable and put them in tanks for three to five days to purge whatever they've been eating."

Australians are eating more eels than ever. Thanks to the drought, catches are down by as much as 80 per cent and volumes are too small to meet the demands of the export industry, so eel farmers are having to find domestic buyers for their product, Ben said.

Last night, the Osbornes' eels won the "From the Sea" category, beating the smoked trout from Tasmania's Woodbridge Smokehouse.

Ross Hill Cool Climate Snails from Orange, NSW and Macleay Valley Rabbits from Kempsey, NSW were pipped in the "From the Paddock" category by Blackmore Wagyu Beef from Alexandra, Victoria, which was also named Producer of the Year.

Moran, who was on the judging panel with Maggie Beer and the ABC's Simon Marnie, among others, said Blackmore's marbled beef is now the best in the world outside of Japan.

And eels can now hold their heads high among fish species, he said.

"I think the influx of different cultures over the years has made people much more adventurous. There's the Japanese eel ... the Europeans eat it. The Scottish eat a lot of it."


Ben Osborne with his father Ken with smoked eels that they have grown.

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