The Birdcage: 2014 Melbourne Cup Carnival

Author: MAGGIE SCARDIFIELD
Photography: Courtesy Lexus

This year marks 154 years of the Melbourne Cup. Over the years, something just as well-heeled as the horses (and perhaps even more so) has come to be: it's called the Birdcage. With their lavish custom builds, pop up restaurants, high-profile caterers and spare-no-expense approach to entertaining, the 32 marquees that make up the exclusive Birdcage enclosure have become just as big a focus, as the races themselves. So what's all the fuss about?

According to Bruce Keebaugh, co-founder and director of Melbourne catering and events company The Big Group, the magic of the Birdcage is in its ability to up the extravagance, year upon year.

"Back when we started, the Birdcage was just a grassed car park with some very chic hampers in the boot," says Keebaugh. "Today it looks like a small city."

The Big Group has been involved in the planning and coordination of the marquees at the Melbourne Cup for 25 years, and while other premier racing events like Royal Ascot attract only 30,000 people, the Melbourne Cup carnival hosts up to 120,000 revellers each day. "It's an extraordinary international event and the Birdcage is part of that. It's truly like nothing in the world and we should be very proud of it," says Keebaugh.

Lexus, GH Mumm, Emirates and Myer are just some of the many big names forking out big hours (and even bigger bucks) to keep their clients entertained trackside this year; and with multi-storey viewing platforms, live entertainment and a modest 10,000 bottles of Mumm popping over the four days, things are looking good for the 2014 set-up.

Although the carnival lasts only a week, planning for the Birdcage, Keebaugh tells us, is months in the making.

"It's very big behind the scenes," he says. "It's physical; there are hundreds of men down at Flemington who start on the builds in August. Next week it will be frocks and fascinators and fun, but by New Year, we're redesigning for the next year."

The Birdcage is strictly invitation-only and reserved for corporate investors to the Victoria Racing Club, their VIP guests and a healthy smattering of boldface names.

For those who aren't among the lucky few to get a look in, here's our behind-the-scenes form guide to some of the golden tickets. 

The Birdcage marquee form guide

Lexus
The décor Together with Melbourne's Mim Design Studio, sustainable architect Joost Bakker and gardening guru Jamie Durie have taken over three levels of The Lexus Design Pavilion, inspired by the new Lexus NX model. Head to the Sky Deck where coppiced smoke bush trees and aluminium cabling have been fashioned into a dramatic eco-canopy.
The food On the ground floor, Neil Perry's all-new Burger Project will serve up crowd-pleasing burgers, ranging from a Korean-style with kim chi and gochujang, to a chicken banh mi option (not to mention the classic cheese, our pick of the bunch). Upstairs, Attica chef Ben Shewry presents a more formal offering of salted red kangaroo with Bunya Bunya; walnut in its shell (with spring pea surprises) and in tribute to his New Zealand homeland, chocolate Pukeko eggs, to finish.
The drinks A selection of wines, beer and a steady flow of GH Mumm Champagne.
The people Racing identity and fashion commentator Kate Waterhouse, UK designer Henry Holland and Shine By Three fashion blogger Margaret Zhang.

Schweppes
The décor Inspired by the deep South, Schweppes' American plantation-style bar will feature dark wood flooring, hanging mirrors, French provincial furniture, and touches of brass and stone.
The food Pulled pork and apple kohlrabi slaw in miso buns from the newly opened Bluebonnet Barbecue; lobster mac 'n' cheese from Meatmaiden; Texas chili cheese fries and stewed brisket by Le Bon Ton and Texas burnt ends sandwiches by Meatmother.
The drinks Using Schweppes mixers, bespoke New Orleans-style cocktails such as Le Bon Ton's Julep' (Bulleit Rye, peach liqueur, mint, lemon juice and ginger ale) and the Black Pearl's Fixed Race (a rye, apricot Massenez, orgeat and absinthe blend, topped with Schweppes bloody orange and bitters).
The people Guests including Mad Men actor Rich Sommer, mixologist Sam Ross (Attaboy, New York) and model/actress Pia Miller will enjoy getting down to a live New Orleans-style brass band.

Swisse
The décor Swisse is bringing the outdoors in, with Australian plants, timber flooring, multi-paned steel windows and white-painted timber-panelled walls. The centrepiece? A giant glass encased garden pergola with herb garden, naturally.
The food Epicure Catering and Karen Martini present a paleo-inspired and almost entirely gluten-free menu. Each dish features a different Swisse ingredient such as Tasmanian salmon, leek and black pepper frittata.
The drinks Super-food cocktails will see spiced rum combined with pomegranate and Swisse vitality; and a mixture of cloudy apple, green tea and honeydew-infused vodka on pour. Cut to 4.30pm each day, and the garden will also come to a standstill for Swisse Liver Detox shots. 
The people Actress Margot Robbie, athletes Cadel Evans and Ricky Ponting, spring racing ambassador Ashley Hart, model Megan Gale, and musician Timomatic.

Lavazza
The décor Floor-to-ceiling windows, parquet flooring, marble accents, café-style bentwood chairs and the recreation of a Raphael's The School of Athens fresco will recall days spent sunning and socialising in Italian piazzas.
The food On any given day of the carnival, guests could choose from beetroot-infused cavatelli from Sarti's Paolo Masciopinto, Giovanni Pilu's carnaroli rice risotto, egg yolk carbonara with pecorino foam by Ormeggio's Alessandro Pavoni, cumin-roasted pulled-lamb sliders from Black Bird Brisbane's Jake Nicolson or one of Huxtable's famous burgers.
The drinks A traditional Italian espresso bar will serve Lavazza coffee, plus specialty mocktails like the Coffeetail No.10, a shot of espresso topped with Italian cherry soda and crushed ice.
The people Missoni designer and global ambassador Margherita Maccapani Missoni, neo-soul musician Erykah Badu, TV personalities Magdalena Roze and Rebecca Judd, AFL star Jimmy Bartel and  designers Arthur Galan and Helen O'Connor.

Myer
The décor In response to Myer's spring/summer '14/'15 trends which span bold geometrics and graphic colour, a mixture of timber and powder-coated metals will play against modern textural fabrics in popping colours.
The food Melbourne's the Big Group will serve spring/summer inspired canapés along the lines of citrus salad with cucumber, goat's curd, smoked almonds and flowers; or for something sweet, Nectar and Stone pastel pyramid chocolates and Burch & Purchese cakes.
The drinks Myer's 10-metre long bar will pour, at a glance, more than 780 bottles of Mumm Champagne, and serve 1500 Boags premium beers and 4000 cocktails across the carnival.
The people Myer ambassadors Jennifer Hawkins, Kris Smith, Laura Dundovic and Kate Peck, radio hosts Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, model Jesinta Campbell and designers Alex Perry, Yeojin Bae and Toni Maticevski.

Emirates
The décor Emirates will pay tribute to old and new Germany with a custom-built Neuschwanstein Castle façade. Expect fairy-tale trimmings along the lines of turrets, flags and garden hedging, with a commission by Hamburg-born Australian artist, Mark Schaller, as the star of the show.
The food Re-imagined German favourites such as veal schnitzel, sauerkraut and apple strudel will be served in the Birdcage's only sit-down restaurant. For a quick trackside pick-me-up, a mobile pretzel bar will provide simpler sustenance.
The drinks A mixture of German and Australian wines, plus specialty cocktails like the Plum Shrub, a mix of spiced rum, ginger ale, bitters and whole plums, soaked in sugar wine and red wine vinegar.
The people International models Gigi Hadid and Ann-Kathrin Brommel, former star of The Bold and the Beautiful  Ronn Moss, and Nicole Warne of fashion blog Gary Pepper Girl.

Mumm
The décor The GH Mumm marquee will transform at 4pm each day from a glamorous Cote d'Azur beach-club setting  to a sleek nightclub, reminiscent of the Champagne-soaked clubs in Saint-Tropez.
The food Ex Queensland Art Gallery chef Josue Lopez will cater a luxury brunch on Cup Day, however with Mumm spending $8,000 per guest, luxury may be an understatement. Oscietra caviar (air-freighted from Abu Dhabi 24 hours prior to serving), seafood, freshly shucked oysters and ice-cream churned by Gelato Messina will also keep indulgence levels to the max throughout the carnival.
The drinks Limited edition 12- and 15-litre bottles of GH Mumm Cordon Rouge, created especially for the carnival, will require three handlers just to pop the corks.
The people International DJs Robin Schulz and Fred Falke, model Bambi Northwood-Blyth and designer Dan Single, E! Australia host Ksenija Lukich, football player Anthony Minichiello and wife Terry Biviano, and Bachelor stars Tim Robards and Anna Heinrich.

Johnnie Walker
The décor Silver and grey surfaces, Baroque-style furniture, ornate picture frames and colour shifting LED lighting will form a unique installation representing the various personalities of the Johnnie Walker portfolio.
The food Epicure Catering, together with Sean Baxter (a Masterchef Australia contestant) serve up a menu spanning everything from whisky-cured Tasmanian salmon with wasabi crème fraiche, cucumber gel and Yarra Valley salmon roe, to Johnnie Walker Reserve-flavoured marshmallows. Guests will also be treated to front-row demonstrations of the art of smoking meats, at the House of Walker Food Station.
The drinks Johnnie Walker cocktails such as The Earl of Flemington (Johnnie Walker Black Label, honeybush tea syrup, fresh lemon juice and soda) and the Johnnie Ginger Apple, made with apple juice, ginger and Red Label.
The people AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, footballers Dale Thomas and Marc Murphy, model Montana Cox, Miss Universe Australia 2012 Renae Ayris, and actor Gyton Grantley.







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