Biota Dining's James Viles brings a taste of Tasmania to Melbourne Cup

The Emirates Melbourne Cup Carnival has always been associated with glamour, but largely that's been confined to the fashions and the baby pink champers.

This year the food will also get the high-class treatment with wunderchef James Viles getting behind the stoves at the prestigious Birdcage.

Viles, who at 23 became one of the youngest chefs to ever win an SMH Good Food Guide 'hat', will be hosting a chef's table lunch - the 'Harnessed Culinary Experience', on Melbourne Cup Day.

The premier event, supported by Tasmanian brewer James Boags, will see a private front-row marquee become a virtual part of the Tassie landscape, with tree-trunk seating, a ceiling draped with kelp and ropes, and projected imagery of the land and skyscapes.

"I spent a lot time on the Tasmanian east coast from Stanley down to Hobart, scouting for ingredients and developing a seasonal menu for the Melbourne Cup," says Viles. "I have already formed some very close collaborations with growers and suppliers that I hope will endure."

Southern island flavour

Viles says the wild ingredients were also impressive, and he spent time gathering salt bush, and diving for seaweed off Bruny Island.

"I love the seafood of Tasmania; it's some of the best in the country, so there will be a heavy focus on that in the menu, particularly the clams, and the southern squid. The calamari out of Tassie is the size of your arm."

Diners can expect a theatrical experience on the day, with Viles and his sous chef Riley Aitken  personally serving each and every dish, explaining a little about the origin of the ingredients and their rationale for putting them together.

"The chef-cook-serve approach is very Japanese," Viles says. "It will be quite tactile; the dried kelp will be suspended from the ceiling and guests will be invited to stand up and crack a piece off and sprinkle it over their meal. It's mother nature's seasoning and feels a little more special than simply shaking it out of a salt mill."


Hat's off

The private dining room will also be opened to the wider marquee as a cheese room, where race-goers can sample a variety of artisan Tasmanian cheeses, teamed with Boags brews.

"Am I nervous having to put up a meal at the biggest sporting event in the nation? Yeah, of course I'm nervous but a little bit of nerves is good to keep you on your toes," says Viles.

When he's not catering to the movers and shakers at the Melbourne Cup, Viles is back in the NSW Southern Highlands at Bowral running his 'two-hatted' Biota Dining, considered one of the best regional restaurants in Australia.

His ethos at Biota is to support local farmers and growers, and he has a strong commitment to sustainability using only seasonal ingredients and foraging for native Australian wild-foods. His first book, Grow Gather Cook was published last year.

Foodie finish

Viles is not the only chef bringing haute cuisine to the exclusive Birdcage at the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Over at Lexus, Ben Shewry's from Attica has six chefs cooking for just eight seats on the rooftop, with Franklin's David Moyle offering four courses on the middle floor and Mr Miyagi pumping out cool canapes on the ground level. 

Tabcorp has invited legendary chef Jacques Reymond and dessert maestro Darren Purchase to do the nibbles, while Adam D'Sylva is doing the Italian fare at Lavazza and Shane Delia is at the pans for Peter Roland.