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Good Food Month takes place in cities across Australia throughout the year. One of its feature events, the Night Noodle Markets, is a Sydney original going back two decades and is now the largest food event in the country. Venessa Cowell of Fairfax Events and Entertainment, which produces Good Food Month and the Night Noodle Markets, spoke to us about food, community and what it means to put on a major event in Sydney.
"The word ‘play’ is such an interesting word, with so many different meanings. It’s part of our development and growing up, and it allows us to explore and push boundaries and use our imagination. Sydney is a city in its youth, in terms of population, history and mindset, so the idea of play in Sydney is strong. We see play and events as really key to bringing people together to share new experiences.
My role with Fairfax Events and Entertainment is focused on creating events that are authentic and showcase Australia’s phenomenal food and dining landscape. We try to respond to the changing needs of our audience and the industry, and a big part of that is the need to play and explore food and dining experiences.
The Night Noodle Market is a free event that runs for three weeks every year in Hyde Park, and it’s a great example of how our events engage Sydney’s playfulness. It’s an Asian-style hawker market that allows people to explore food trends together in a vibrant environment. Over the last 20 years, it has engaged more than 40 million people, growing into the largest food event in Australia.
We see 300,000 people go through the event each year. It’s a safe, family-friendly opportunity for people from all different walks of life to engage in whatever way they choose – you can bring a picnic from home with the family, have a round of after-work drinks, spending $20 on a beer and some steaming hot dumplings, or you can have a big celebration and try a variety of foods from different cultures and cuisines. It’s very inclusive in that sense, and it’s really important that we can provide that in the heart of Sydney.
The crowd demographics have broadened over the years, and we’ve seen a rise in visitors from well beyond inner Sydney, people travelling from towns like Newcastle and Wollongong and other places, which is fantastic.
One trend that we’ve seen is a desire to explore and discover new kinds of food. For example, 7 to 10 years ago the main offerings were Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisine. In more recent times, we have been inundated with requests for Filipino, Taiwanese, Korean, Malaysian and Sri Lankan vendors.
The businesses that we work with have also adapted as the hospitality and food industry has changed. Some have closed their bricks-and-mortar restaurants and chosen to engage solely in events. Some of them travel around Australia with the Night Noodle Markets, testing out new dishes and menus, and then go on to open restaurants. Others with permanent venues just a stone’s throw away participate to engage different demographics and expose their brand to new audiences.
There are challenges in putting on large-scale public events in Sydney, as in most cities. Sustainability is a key focus for us, and we work closely with the City of Sydney and our suppliers to make smart and informed environmental choices, minimise our impact and educate audiences and vendors about how they can make a positive impact. We also work hard to create safe and well-run events for the public, staff and contractors.
Looking towards the future, I think Sydney is finding ways to enhance the city – looking at changing zoning restrictions, allowing spaces to be multi-purpose, and finding innovative ways to engage with the community. We’re focused on food and beverages and dining experiences, but also entertainment – creating a warm aesthetic and lifestyle in a broader sense, because food is one element of life that brings people together. We celebrate with food, we commiserate with food, and it is a real galvanising piece of culture that needs to be fostered and celebrated."
Niki Alcorn is the Office Managing Partner for Sydney. She is a Technology, Media and Telecommunications specialist and a Strategy Partner in the Consulting team. Niki has over 12 years of experience in corporate and business unit strategy, digital strategy and business transformation projects, working with many leading Australian organisations within TMT and more broadly.