Food & Wine


Truth brings out the best in New South Wales and Australian produce

Written by Grant Jones

Photography by Alana Dimou

Smoke and mirrors can distract us from what is really going on and it’s often hard to see the truth through the fog. But honesty and authenticity always eventually shine through.

Truth is a supporting pillar of the philosophy held close to the hearts of the culinary crew at ICC Sydney: from knowing the faces at the farm gate, to understanding the complexity of the quality wines which grace the dining tables of any ICC Sydney event.

“There is so much diversity, talent and so many cultures represented within our kitchens, which we draw on as we create menus with the best local produce on offer,” says ICC Sydney Executive Chef Rakesh Pillai. “Then you have to do something exceptional with that produce, I love the team’s creativity and development of introducing new dishes to the menu collection.

For Pillai, it’s about using really good seasonal produce from local suppliers that is as, fresh as possible. It could be produce from Block 11 Organics or The Gourmet Potatoesblack garlic from Garlicious Grown, ALTO olive oil and Pepe Saya’s Cultured Butter, or goat’s cheese from Willowbrae and cured meats and salami from Pino’s La Dolce Vita.

“The more we do, the more we discover other opportunities to work with new producers,” Pillai says. “From taking “windfall” fruit off the hands of orchardists, to creating house made jams or chutneys from often unloved produce”.

And while Pillai has a considerable compendium of dishes, it’s merely a guide. “Clients want and can have their own little twist on everything,” he says.

“Most of the time the culinary food and beverage offerings can be changed to suit whatever needs they have, and that includes cultural or dietary.” 

He is also happy to surprise clients. “It is challenging, yet so rewarding. I get satisfaction from the ‘wow’ factor guests experience when they taste an unusual dish that shocks or surprises. ‘Why can’t you have avocado chocolate mousse?’” he says. Customising menus is the result of a closer relationship with clients, says Director of Culinary Services, Lynell Peck. “We love the opportunity to work closely with our clients who are looking to create tailored dishes for their guests,” she says.

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ICC Sydney’s Butler Service has also been expanded, with several more fully-fledged butlers added to meet the demand for the existing 5-star service it already offers.

“The exhibition pods and smaller meeting rooms are often used as executive offices by clients,” Peck says.

“Most clients prefer not to have their meetings disturbed, so the menu was modelled around that requirement and is a little more refined and bespoke”

ICC Sydney has also developed a new outdoor entertaining service — Connect Outdoors — that allows attendees to enjoy styled, reimagined networking opportunities featuring health and wellbeing culinary trends. The new service invites event organisers to rethink their networking opportunities by taking advantage of the venue’s outdoor spaces and uninterrupted views across Darling Harbour and the iconic Sydney CBD skyline.

Patrons have a host of options, from traditional charcuterie platters, cheeses and olives, to lighter on-trend plant-based dishes, including a soy-based mascarpone cheese.

“In general, our whole Menu Collection has a lot more plant-based focus to it,” Pillai adds. “We have a broad range of locally sourced plant-based sustainable dishes to offer.

”As for beverages, New South Wales wines now make up 100 per cent of ICC Sydney’s Wine Collection.

“It was always something that I wanted to do,” says ICC Sydney Beverage Operations and Cellar Manager, William Wilson. Clients have an epiphany when I explain to them why we only source our wines locally, realising, “Of course we should be having local wines and eating local food at our conference in Sydney.”

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“If someone wants French Champagne or Barossa Shiraz we can of course order it, but those requests have become fewer and fewer as more clients realise they can have world class wines from New South Wales.”

Being able to tell the story of local winemakers and how their wine is made is equally as important to Wilson, who travels far and wide in his search for the right drops. In doing so, he is able to fully appreciate the challenges those on the land face, be it drought, fire, smoke taint, hail, floods or knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All you’ve normally got to talk about is the taste of the wine. But by visiting these winemakers, we are able to tell stories about those producers, their families and their history – all of that is what you get from actually going out and talking to winemakers. It just makes it a much fuller story to tell.

”Rewarding his passion, the sommelier and wine judge received the inaugural President’s Medal for Outstanding Industry Support from the NSW Wine Industry Association.

Wilson’s experience is extremely valuable when choosing ICC Sydney’s wine collection, which features over 100 wines from across NSW. The wines were selected from a blind tasting larger than many wine shows, with standout brackets being Shiraz, Chardonnay and Semillon, alongside individual bottles such as the organic Tamburlaine Malbec from Orange and Hungerford Hill Dalliance sparkling from Tumbarumba.

Also keeping pace with the times, a nonalcoholic spritz bar has been introduced at the venue. Alcohol-free options include Pink Cloud kombucha and cold pressed juice blends. Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits are served in cocktails from pop-up bars, including Amalfi Spritz, “Free G&T” and a Passionfruit Caipiroska. ICC Sydney has introduced Sobah Beer onto its beverage list — an alcohol free craft beer proudly sourced from a First Nations supplier.

It all sits neatly within the ICC Sydney culinary philosophy of Feeding Your Performance, which enables delegates of events to focus on the big day ahead, without being weighed down by alcohol, a big lunch or deep-fried afternoon canapés. 

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While Pillai creates in the kitchen and Wilson shares his knowledge of NSW winemakers, all team members in the close knit family that is ICC Sydney get to have a say in the running of this global harbourside attraction.

“We really invest in our team members and want to share their knowledge,” Peck says.

Every month there is a team meeting of the kitchen and front-of-house teams.

“No matter how busy we are, we always have a monthly meeting whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour and a half,” says Pillai. “Everyone gets to ask questions and no one ever goes home wondering.”

Initiatives that have come out of those meetings include team members bringing in their own reusable drink bottles and coffee cups, and the kitchen using containers with lids instead of plastic wrap. “It’s the year of questioning,” says Peck. “We are all trying to walk a little bit lighter on this planet.”

Minimising food waste is also big on the agenda, with ICC Sydney supporting organisations such as Matthew Talbot Hostel in feeding the less fortunate by repurposing surplus food.

Honesty abounds here and the team strives to connect people in meaningful ways. ICC Sydney’s focus for 2022 and beyond is on the importance of truth in what is placed on the table that enables better outcomes — for both guests and the community — at every turn. 

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