Since 1993, via its Legends program, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) has recognised those in the city’s hospitality and food industry who have broken new ground, laid the foundations for the scene’s success and pushed it forward. Today, the 2023 appointees have been announced, and will join more than 150 past inductees in the Legends Hall of Fame.
This year’s awards were judged by food writer Larissa Dubecki, Broadsheet’s editorial director Katya Wachtel, drinks writer Max Allen, broadcaster Matt Preston, and MFWF’s industry lead Kim Danks and creative director Pat Nourse.
“The great eating and drinking we enjoy in Victoria – that we might even take for granted as Victorians or visitors – doesn’t come from nowhere,” Nourse tells Broadsheet. “There’s a whole lot of people who have been doing the legwork, carrying the inspiration, doing things the harder way, the better way, and for years, to make it happen. And that’s right across the spectrum, from drinks to service to produce, from educators and communicators to sustainability champions and community leaders. We think that’s pretty special, and definitely worth celebrating.
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“The Legends also have a habit of being really interesting people with great stories. Maybe it’s because they’ve had to have a certain force of personality, or belief in themselves, or a commitment to going the extra mile to be the change-makers that they are – they’re really good people to get to know a little better.”
Sourdough pioneer John Dench has taken out the Producer, Advocate and Retailer award for his contributions to the city’s artisanal bread landscape. From cheffing at casual diners in Melbourne he made the leap to breadmaking in 2005, and has charmed the city with his organic flour sourdough loaves ever since.
Communicator and educator Roslyn Grundy also enters the hall of fame this year. The respected food journalist has been recognised for elevating the discourse around food and wine through her work over several decades at The Age, including editing The Good Food Guide.
Meanwhile, Boeing Cho of 40-year-old Japanese restaurant Kenzan has been honoured for his contribution to the city’s sushi scene. When the Collins Street restaurant opened four decades ago, Japanese diners were thin on the ground in Melbourne. Cho has spent the ensuing years training up generations of top sushi chefs, ensuring the scene has a strong future in the decades ahead.
Black Pearl’s Tash Conte is entering the hall of fame off the back of her dedication to the city’s cocktail scene. Her commitment to community and advancing young talent has helped earn her place – and so has her diligence to serving darn good drinks for the past 21 years.
Sallie Jones is the recipient of this year’s Local Hero award, bagging the prize for her work in the dairy industry. Not only is she a proponent of good-quality dairy, she’s also a vocal advocate of the industry itself and its workers. She founded her company Gippsland Jersey to offer small, family-owned farms a higher price for their milk than the big players, prioritising kindness and mental health along the way.
Since 2005, Ian and Simone Carson of Second Bite have worked to divert food from landfill to those experiencing food insecurity. In 2021 alone they provided more than 48 million meals to those in need. For their efforts, they’re this year’s Sustainability Champions.
And each year the Trailblazer award honours someone under 40 who’s significantly contributed to the local hospitality industry. This year’s recipient is Thi Le, the chef-proprietor of boundary-pushing (now-closed) Vietnamese restaurant Anchovy, woodfired banh mi joint Ca Com and thrilling Laotian diner Jeow.
“Thi has been doing things with Vietnamese cuisine at Anchovy that are notable not just in the context of Vietnamese restaurants in Victoria or Australia but worldwide – this is a chef who has gone out on the boat in the bay that’s pulling in the fish that she’s making fish sauce with,” says Nourse.
“Out of the pandemic she found a way to build a better banh mi – cooking the fillings over coals is one of those ideas that seems so simple that everyone should’ve thought of it, but it took Thi to actually do it. With Jeow, she has introduced the pleasures of Lao food to a whole new audience, and in her collabs with the likes of Lennox Hastie [Sydney's Firedoor] and [American chef] Andy Ricker at MFWF, you can see a glimmer of what I think might be her vision for Anchovy 2.0, using very focused, immediate hearth-cooking to take the food of the part of the world that is her focus, and doing something even more special with it. If you’re talking about a person blazing trails, here she is.”
Finally, the 2023 winner of the MFWF and Hostplus Scholarship is Stefanie Wee, who is Perth-based and over 12 years in the industry has worked in hotels, opened her own cafe and pre-opened a raft of other venues, all the while advocating for staff mental health and positive work environments. She receives a $10,000 prize, which she’ll use to fund an accreditation for mental health first-aid training.
“Stephanie’s professionalism, commitment to service and high standards across the various roles she has held in the industry made her a standout amongst a strong field,” Anthea Loucas Bosha, CEO of Food & Drink Victoria, the parent company of MFWF, tells Broadsheet. “Coupled with her commitment to raising awareness around mental health issues and a tactical plan for how she can achieve it, Stephanie was a unanimous choice with the judges for this award.”