Two of the hospitality-industry heavyweights behind Drink Easy – a new, inclusive approach to beverage awards – are doubling down to salute the best in Australian dining.
Duncan Welgemoed, Africola’s owner-chef, and Tamrah Petruzzelli, drinks media specialist and director of creative agency Super Assembly, are spearheading the inaugural Eat Easy awards, which will uphold its predecessor’s commitment to honouring the diversity and breadth of Australia’s hospitality landscape.
“Food awards very much reward the hyped restaurants. They very rarely reward the generational restaurants, the community restaurants, the fish’n’chip shops and the cafes sitting alongside the Quays and the Sepias and the Atticas,” Welgemoed tells Broadsheet. “We want to reward those that benefit the community and that are sustainable.”
“We’re looking for venues that represent how we eat out today,” adds Petruzzelli. “It’s about finding the venues that want to improve how and what we eat, and are truly dedicated to taking care of their staff, their community and the environment. It doesn’t matter if it’s a suburban cafe or a World’s Best 50 – just as long as they’re serving good food and doing some good at the same time.”
Like Drink Easy, which put long-established beverage labels next to experimental new-school producers, Eat Easy will consider rarely awarded or reviewed neighbourhood joints, hole-in-the-wall eateries and forward-thinking cafes alongside decorated fine-diners.
For Welgemoed and Petruzzelli, it’s about raising the bar for the entire industry, honouring those who strive to make their food more meaningful than the contents on the plate, while opening the awards circuit up to every kind of establishment.
Welgemoed points to the feeling you get eating really good fish’n’chips on the beach, which can be just as enjoyable as a degustation menu, he says.
“If your parents or friends are coming over to Adelaide or Melbourne or Sydney for the day, what are the top five places you’d recommend they go to, off the bat?” he asks. “That’s what we want to highlight – those places that really tell you something about where you are.”
The Eat Easy judges – including Melbourne Food and Wine Festival creative director (and former Gourmet Traveller editor) Pat Nourse, Broadsheet Perth’s editor-at-large Max Veenhuyzen and new Masterchef judge Melissa Leong – will look at food, service and atmosphere as well as commitment to sustainability.
Beyond venues, the awards will also honour Australia’s best front-of-house star; best producer (broken down into four categories: grown, wild harvested, produced and bred); and best chef. “We’re looking for a chef with an excellent and broad understanding of their produce and how it’s currently portrayed on their menus, with exceptional technique and a zero wastage, nose-to-tail ethos,” says Petruzzelli.
There’ll also be an award for best red-meat producer. ““We have to recognise that red meat and livestock agriculture will always exist in Australia,” says Petruzzelli. “We also acknowledge that customers and consumers are more conscious of where their food comes from – [they care] that it’s ethically and sustainably produced, and red meat in particular is often associated negatively in this regard.”
“Instead of us ignoring that, I wanted to highlight it,” adds Welgemoed. “These people have the best practices, are regenerative in their farming … We should celebrate that and encourage that instead of just going, ‘fuck red meat … Let’s support the ones doing the right thing.”
The producer awards will be open for submissions, and, like the Drink Easy process, each entrant will receive tasting notes and feedback from the judges. Chefs can nominate themselves or be nominated by a third party, and will be awarded state by state.
Submissions open on the night of February 19 and close on March 25. Producers can submit an application via the Eat Easy website. Finalists will be announced in June, winners will be announced in July.