10 Questions with Simon Wilson

10 Questions With..., Sydney / 5 March 2014

Simon Wilson is the newly appointed event director for Taste Festivals, taking the lead for both Sydney and Melbourne. With over 10 years experience in Australia and abroad we caught up with Simon to discuss the ins and outs of this highly anticipated global event, what to expect and all the highlights (what not to miss).
 1. You’re the newly appointed Event Director for Taste Festivals. What has been the most challenging aspect of the job so far?
Trying to eat in EVERY restaurant in Sydney! But in all seriousness, the most challenging aspect of the job is having to be so selective with the restaurants we choose for Taste of Sydney. With so many amazing offerings in this city, it is always a challenge to narrow down our line-up to just 15 restaurants.
2. What inspired you to get involved with the Taste Festivals?
Food and hospitality has always been a passion of mine. I worked front of house in restaurants before working on Taste of Dublin, prior to coming to Australia. I’ve always gotten great satisfaction from helping customers enjoy a special occasion. Organizing little details and finishing touches that go into a memorable meal or restaurant experience is something I’ve tried to translate into my role for Taste Festivals.
3. You have worked with Taste Festivals for over 8 years, what was it like to work abroad and did it differ from working in Australia?
Australia is a fantastic market for our business. The passion and enthusiasm for food and food experiences here is unsurpassed by other countries I’ve worked in. That brings its own challenges as the ‘food event space’ is very competitive here. It has been important for Taste to set itself apart as a Restaurant Festival as opposed to a ‘food and wine’ event.
4. What can we expect at this years Sydney and Melbourne Taste Festival?
Taste at its heart should always be a fantastic day out for our visitors, and that’s the central focus behind everything we do. We’re always looking at ways to add to the visitor experience whether that be through our restaurant lineup and showcasing the cities latest, greatest and hottest dining establishments or through creating once off experiences with our brand partners.
5. Any big plans for Taste Festival in the coming year?
Our plans for 2014 include some once off collaborations; pairing chefs together for unique culinary experiences and also championing the up and coming through our association with initiatives like Icon Park; giving a platform to the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs.
6. Are there any countries you would like the Taste Festival to be involved with?
Taste as a global platform is expanding with new launches this year in Mumbai, Rio and Toronto. I think the next big market for Taste Festivals to crack is the US – Taste of New York or Taste of San Francisco is a project I would definitely like to be involved with.
7. During the festival, where can we expect to find you?
I try to cover a lot of ground while we’re open at Taste. I’ve got the routine down pat. Before we open, I generally walk around to all of the restaurants and make sure everyone is ready for service.  Next, I go ‘Front of house’ to where visitors are queuing up to enter. I like to try and personally welcome as many people as possible and give them tips on my favorite dishes. I think people always appreciate a recommendation when making their picks. Then, I’ll do a walk around checking in on all of the attractions and making sure that they’re all flowing well. I generally try and take in one cooking demonstration and one table talk per session, to get some insights on what visitors are experiencing. I also try to eat at least one dish from each restaurant over the span of the festival – because the food is awesome, the hardest part is choosing the dish!
8. Where’s your favourite place to EAT at the Taste Festival in Sydney?
Tough question – it’s hard to pick favorites! Usually I try every dish over the course of the weekend and it’s hard to pick one restaurant from our lineup because all of the offerings are different but equally fantastic! I usually sneak back of house in the Taste kitchen and try to sample what the chefs cook up in their demos. I get to try some amazing stuff ‘backstage’ – a true perk and privilege of the job!
9. Where’s your favourite place to DRINK at the Taste Festival in Sydney?
Although I can’t really drink on the job, I do like to get a bit of a taster of what’s on offer! I always check out what Nick Stock is pouring in the Wine Theatre – he always picks fantastic drops for visitors to try and he usually puts some aside for me to taste. I’m particularly excited for the Gourmet Traveller Wine Pop up Bar by Rushcutters as it is new this year and will focus on biodynamic and organic wines. I always try stop by the Rekorderlig tent on Saturday when the Rekorderlig DJ gets to play the ‘last song of the evening’. It’s a lively finish to the night.
10. What do you do for PLAY when you’re not running the festivals?
I try keep in shape and keep a good gym routine; it’s tough working off all this fabulous food and drink that I get to eat as part of my job! I also try to attend as many Sydney festivals and outdoor events as possible. I recently ran in the Colour Run with my sister which was good fun! And of course, I try to make it to as many food events as possible. Next on my list is a Secret Foodies Dinner!