Insider’s Guide to Dark Mofo: A Q&A with Jo Cook

Dark Mofo and its iconic Winter Feast is one of Australia’s hottest consumer events right now. We sat down with Food Curator Jo Cook to talk food curation tips, destination marketing and what’s lined up for the 2019 Program.

By Natalie O’Brien

Dark Mofo is one of the hottest events in the country drawing visitors from overseas and the mainland.  What are the overarching objectives for staging Dark Mofo in the middle of Winter in Tasmania?

Dark Mofo is a celebration of Tasmania’s long winter nights. In the past we’ve often hibernated to our cosy homes and while it’s so cold and dark it’s easy to lack the motivation to get out and about. With Dark Mofo we embrace winter, rugging up and keeping warm amongst the fires, food, art, music and excitement.

What do you think sets Dark Mofo Winter Feast apart from other events around Australia?

It’s our climate, the season and the place that makes the Winter Feast so different. We’re a city at the base of a mountain that is often covered in snow, and we’re the last stop before Antarctica. People think of Australia as sunshine, beaches and outback. We do have the beaches, surf and sunshine but you might want to wear a full wetsuit, booties and hood. Or just have a super quick nude swim like we do each year!

Do you think Dark Mofo projects the brand messaging of the destination year around?

Not at all. Dark Mofo is specific to the dark and the longest night. Our summers are equally unique, with long sunny days, and evenings where the sun doesn’t set until after 9 pm. Autumn is colourful and crisp with changing leaves and blue skies and a nip in the air. Late summer and autumn brings superb berries, rhubarb, lemons and stone fruits, and as we move into winter it’s apples, pears, quinces and more apples. In Tassie there’s a real distinction between the seasons and we have festivals that reflect that, like the Derwent Valley Autumn Festival and the Taste of Tasmania in summer.

How do you keep coming up with new food content each year? Do you respond to a central theme?

By inviting chefs to visit our island to meet producers and discover what’s in season in winter, and by showing them a range of equipment to cook on at the winter feast, chefs are able to respond to the theme of cooking with fire by creating delicious food that’s suitable for outdoors – it needs to be hearty and tasty.  

There are two parts to the guest chef program. First, we have guest chefs who come to cook in Mona’s Heavy Metal Kitchen and second, I create collaborations between the guest and a local chef. The local chef has the knowledge of available produce and the guest often brings new flavours and techniques, so the outcome is unique and exciting food designed specifically for the Feast.

What are some of your favourite moments of the Winter Feasts you have curated?

Wow, there have been quite a few! I really loved taking Danielle Alvarez from Fred’s to meet Fiona Hume from Arundel Farm in the picturesque Derwent Valley. Fiona farms English Leicester sheep which have lovely curly fleece. Sarah Joseph, chef from Mona was with us when we went in Fi’s ute to meet the sheep. They were so friendly and funny watching us while we had a hot plum upside-down cake that Fi baked on the tray of the ute washed down with cups of tea. And last year we had our first international guest chef in the Heavy Metal Kitchen, Paula Labaki from Brazil, who cooks with fire. We took her to meet the farmers at Big River Highland Beef who raise Scottish Highland cattle, also in the Derwent Valley. Paula loved the cattle – they’re super photogenic! At the Feast we built a massive rotating BBQ for her to cook a whole beast over 24 hours. She slept on a couch next to it and tended it overnight. It was very sweet… and then delicious.

What are you most looking forward to at Winter Feast June 2019?

Our new kids program! Every afternoon from 4 pm until 5 pm there will be free activities for kids under 10 at three locations around the deck and lawns. The activities, all based around native foods, will encourage them to see, smell, taste and feel some ingredients they may not have been exposed to before, including oysters, warrener (native periwinkle) and roasted potatoes with native herbs.

For more details visit darkmofo.

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