Australia’s story has long been one of migration and inclusion, and nothing reflects this quite like our culinary scene.
As diners we’re treated to myriad cuisines, cultures, spices and dishes, and in restaurant kitchens there are different languages spoken, traditions fused, flavours shared and connections forged.
At Ben Shewry’s Attica, 20 of the 37 staff members – including chefs, waiters, managers and sommeliers – are temporary visa holders. And, like many other migrant restaurant workers out of a job or working less due to coronavirus, they’re not eligible for welfare payments.
So Shewry (himself a migrant from New Zealand) and food writer Dani Valent (who’s been advocating for migrant workers since the early days of the crisis) have set up the Attica Soup Project to support workers facing hard times.
“International workers are the engine that drives our hospitality industry; it can’t operate without them,” says Valent. “They’re crucial to getting food on tables.
“For restaurant owners, to try and get back up and running on the other side of this without those staff makes what’s already going to be hard close to impossible.”
The Attica Soup Project works like this: when you order a serve of Shewry’s new Thai chicken soup – shiitake and coconut broth with shredded free-range chicken and a crisp garlic and pepperberry topping – $5 of the $25 you pay will feed an international worker. They’ll get a different soup as well as a side of Baker Bleu bread.
The Thai chicken soup is available as an addition to any of Attica’s at-home meals. It arrives cold, so you can heat and eat the next day.
“It has that special Thai quality of exquisite balance,” Valent says. “There’s something really beautiful and resonant about this idea of harmony, balance and complexity that you can relate to Australia’s multiculturalism, and the fact there are so many people from different places and cultures here, and they’re all part of us.”
Valent and her daughters are also making fortune cookies – each with messages of hope and inclusion – to be added free to the first 200 bowls of soup.
“Not being able to access any support is one thing, but the feeling of being excluded is another layer. It’s really important to them that they feel heard and know that people care about them,” she says.
Valent has also created a list of resources for migrant workers and started a petition – which has gained 43,000 signatures in the three weeks since it launched – asking the government to provide better support for temporary visa holders.
“I come from a family of migrants, as many Australians do,” Valent says. “My father was a refugee and his family came to Australia and made their lives here, and I just feel that this is what Australia is built on. It's certainly what the food culture is built on.”
Attica’s chicken soup is available to pre-order now for delivery Tuesday to Saturday from April 28. Hospitality workers can register on Tuesdays for the free meal here, with pick-up from Attica on Thursdays.