My Escape to amazing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – November 25, 2018 – 12:00am

‘At Lexus, we do not just transport people. We transport their senses.’

An invitation came from IMG (International Management Group). It had the word “Escape” on it. I immediately said yes.

Lexus, the luxury car company, had invited writers from Vietnam, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines to an “Escape to Amazing” five-day gourmet and wine experience at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape Festival in Perth, Australia. Started five years ago, this yearly festival has been growing and is becoming more and more popular every year.

While everyone knows Lexus is an excellent car, Lexus wants the brand to denote a bigger experience — more than mere motoring. And yes, a more fun experience in a luxurious kind of way. The car already has great features. Its comfort and feel, its advanced technology and the amenities make any journey in a Lexus fantastic, safe, comfortable and pleasurable.   Akio Toyoda, Lexus Master Driver and former chief branding officer, stated it well when he said, “We do not just transport people. We transport their senses.” Lexus is also about leisure, luxury and an elegant lifestyle.


The author Jim Paredes drives a Lexus 9.

True luxury is about elevated experiences, hospitality and emotional connection. With Lexus as a major sponsor of this year’s Margaret River Gourmet Escape, its message is clear. It certainly attracts the easy-going, fun-loving set who know how to enjoy the fine things in life.

I flew business class to Perth and arrived about 3 p.m. I was picked up in a Lexus, of course. We went straight to the Westin Hotel and attended a briefing on the schedule for the next few days.

Lexus executives David Nordstrom, Charles Taylor and Robert Weitercamp explained to us what the Lexus brand wished to convey. 

At 6 p.m. over cocktails of great wines and hors d’oeuvres, we watched a lively interview of five renowned chefs — namely Rick Stein, Ashley Palemer-Watts, Monica Galetti and Skye Gyngell — who talked about their approach to their craft. It was quite entertaining and informative.

We were excited to begin the escape. The next morning, we had a three-hour drive to the place where we would be staying for the rest of the tour. Russell Lanley, our driver, was happy to answer all our questions about Western Australia and the places we were going to visit. 

Dominic Menor of ABS-CBN, Taiwanese writer Jimmy Mo and I were assigned to a villa at Pullman Bunker Bay. We occupied the Panorama Villa, which had an overwhelming vista of the lush flora of Perth and Bunker Bay Beach. The scenery was nothing short of fabulous. The huge house was stacked with food, snacks and drinks.  And to top it off, we had our own villa chef Greg Olsen who cooked breakfast for us!


The Leeuwin Estate near Margaret River. We left our cars and were led along a lighted forest path to a campfire.

That evening, we drove to the Leeuwin Estate near Margaret River. We got out of our cars and were led along a lighted forest path to a campfire. Amidst Jarra and Marri trees, we were served wine and a few canapés while we sat around the fire. Two aboriginal performers welcomed us by way of a short speech and an ethnic song and dance. Dinner was at a refurbished barn called the Safari Club. Chef Paul Carmichael, originally from the Caribbean and now living in Australia, prepared the food. The theme of the evening was “Crafting a Feast in a Forest.” His entree was eggplant, coconut and trout roe. He also served jerk pork jowl, abalone caramel, escabeche and sweet potato, salted cod and lobster. For the main dish, he served fish head with chickpeas and hot sauce. Sides were Caulilini (a hybrid of cauliflower and brocollini), dog sauce, local olive oil, green tomato, choke, avocado, pumpkin and spicy sofrito. Each one of us was wondering what “dog sauce” was. Paul said it was a sauce originally from Barbados that’s so good, even dog meat tastes delicious with it! He was absolutely right. Everything was indeed delicious. The meal was sumptuously rich. Paul knew how to excite a meal. We savored the different combinations of herbs and ingredients, meats and fish. He topped the evening off with chocolate, rum and crème fraiche. I hardly drink alcohol. Often, all I have is a fifth of a glass to   wet my palate and stop right there. That is because I easily turn red. But the wines from the Leeuwin vineyards were too hard to resist. As wine expert Phil Hutchison explained, good wine is almost entirely dependent on weather conditions. Apparently, the weather was very much in their favor a few years back. The grapes harvested in 2015 and 2016 from the region resulted in great wines which have won awards and have since become some of the top favorites in Australia and in many parts of the world. Leeuwin’s Art Series Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are truly winners.

Drive, he said

The next morning, our home chef Greg cooked us kangaroo meat with an egg white omelet and salmon for breakfast. I have had kangaroo before and I did not particularly enjoy it; it was too gamey for me. However, Greg explained that the best parts of “roo” meat are fillets and rumps. The breakfast that morning was absolutely delicious. The meat wasn’t gamey at all. Greg cooked it with vinegar, a local soy sauce, and a few herbs, and served it medium rare! At around 11 a.m,, we were gathered together to have the pleasure of driving our first Lexus. There were two types to choose from. The NX and the RX. I chose the RX SUV, which is the biggest selling Lexus vehicle worldwide. About three minutes into the drive, the car I was following accidentally hit a kangaroo which unexpectedly darted from nowhere. It was nothing serious. The poor thing had to limp to the side of the road as I slowly swerved to the right to avoid it.


Our daily ride: Lexus RX SUV

Driving a Lexus is exhilarating. On cruise control, it has the ability to sense the car in front so that it automatically adjusts its speed if the car slows down, and picks up speed again if the front vehicle goes faster. It’s not only a beautiful car, it is quite intelligent. And by the way, the model I drove did not have handbrakes. It brakes automatically the moment you switch to park. 

After our drive, Paul Iskov, a very young chef who is known to use traditional aboriginal herbs and spices, took us to the bush by the beach to forage for ingredients. He picked up a few leaves and flowers and let us taste them. He said he would use these plants for the lunch. Since aboriginals do not have a written tradition, John learned everything from the elders by spending time with them and listening to stories about aboriginal cooking. He also discovered some other plants on his own. The theme of his lunch was “Bold Ingredients, Amazing Flavors.” Lunch was at the Wise Winery. He first served a concoction made of sliced macadamia that looked like cheese mixed with bloodroot and lemon myrtle. The second course was kangaroo tail, yolk, quandong (a native peach) and saltbush. The next course was wattle seed, Geraldton Wax, and muntries (local berries) with blood lime. Dessert was Riberry June, saltbush fudge, and quandong nougat. I must say, that meal was quite a unique experience. Paul blended aboriginal and western herbs and spices and the result was an uncommon gastronomic delight!

The following dinner was at the Fraser Gallop estate. The setting was, to put it mildly, fabulous. It looked like a very uppity English estate where one had dinner with Her Majesty the Queen. An English-style mansion stood out in the vastness of coiffured lawns surrounding a lake. The road to the mansion was lined with uniformed tall trees. The theme of the dinner was
“Reimagine Wine and Dine.” In charge of the kitchen was a young chef named Shawn Quade. Let me just say that what he prepared was a delight like no other. He first served spring chicken, asparagus tart, scampi roe and Geraldton Wax. He followed with a seafood concoction called Pearl on the Ocean Floor that had sourdough with goat’s milk quark, marron umeboshi and ume dashi. He followed this with lamb roasted over eucalyptus, broccoli with spring garlic miso. Dessert was a chocolate cake that looked like the 2019 Lexus ES front grill!


A view of the beach

As each course came, the subject of conversation at every table was riveted on the food. People were gushing at how heavenly tasting everything was. We actively speculated on the ingredients and spices. Each serving elicited a memory of something we had tasted in the past but tweaked in a wild, exciting way. At the same time, it was a totally new taste. The food and the presentation certainly had boldness, creativity — and yet, still elegant.

Quade’s dinner engaged us on many levels, not just gastronomically but also psychologically.  We could not help but try to get into his head. It was like a theatrical experience. There was surprise and delight, mystery, an interesting sequence in the way the dishes were brought in. It also had a spectacular ending worthy of a standing ovation.

Chewing things over with Nigella Lawson

On the last day, we went back to the Leeuwin Estate and enjoyed the Margaret River Festival. People filled the grounds and patronized the tents and stalls where you could taste the wine and food offered by the different vineyards. The evening dinner was at the Xanadu Estate where we had wines, cheeses, hams, meats, honeycombs and canapés as we waited for Nigella Lawson, the beautiful host of several popular TV cooking shows such as Nigella Bites. She soon appeared. After a few photos, we went to a tent where she sat for an interview before an appreciative, almost fawning audience. She spoke about her life story, her experiences and philosophies that shaped her as a person and defined her culinary tastes and acumen. She seemed like a very down-to-earth woman. She gave a few practical tips, not just about cooking but life in general. She spoke about being present and focused which she claims can make anything you need to do daily (like cooking) always a wonderful  experience.

We had a late night. We were driven back at 1:30 a.m. to the villa with stomachs and hearts full. The next day, we left at 6 a.m. to head for the airport. What an escape those five days were (just as promised). Once in a while, the heavens pull us out of our mundane lives and throw us into an adventure to remember. Amazing indeed.    

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