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Melbourne Food & Wine Festival announces the winner of the Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship and the Legends inductees for 2023

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival announced the winner of the Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship and the inductees in the Legends program, one of the nation’s longest-standing awards for lifetime achievement in hospitality.

The awards this year acknowledge pioneers in cocktails, food waste, sushi, artisan baking, dairy, among other fields.

Since 2014, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival and Hostplus have awarded the Hospitality Scholarship, which aims to support the next generation of Australian hospitality by offering them the opportunity to learn from industry insiders around the world.

Stefanie Wee, winner of this year’s $10,000, is a hospitality multi-hyphenate. The Perth local has dedicated the last 12 years to the industry, working in hotels, owning and running her own café and pre-opening a handful of venues across the city. But it’s the welfare of the people within hospitality she’s most concerned with.

“My real passion is the people and culture that make the foundation of hospitality,” she said.

“The scholarship will be an incredible opportunity for me to further my skills, especially getting accredited as a mental health first-aid trainer.”

Established in 1993 and presented by Hostplus, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Legends programrecognises the contributions made by key figures across the spectrum of food and drink.

This year six local identities were inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame, joining the greatest leaders and visionaries of Victoria’s food and drink scene.

The program also includes the Hostplus Trailblazer award, which recognises an individual under the age of 40 who has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the Victorian food and wine industry.

The 2023 Legends and Trailblazers inductees are:

John Dench  Producer, Advocate, Retailer

John Dench is a pioneer of artisanal bread, and in many ways responsible for the rich baking landscape we enjoy today.

One of the earlier proponents of sourdough bread in Melbourne, John Dench worked as a chef at some of Melbourne’s best-loved casual diners, Marios among them, before turning his hand to the ancient art of breadmaking in 2005.

He and his team have furnished the city with some of its finest unleavened goods ever since, initially from a café in Fitzroy North – one that food writer Larissa Dubecki describes as “the heart of North Fitzroy, and ethical to boot” – before adding an Abbotsford warehouse to the mix to meet wholesale demand.

“This pioneer deserves equal parts thanks and respect,” said Dubecki. 

Roslyn Grundy  Communicator, Educator

A tenacious food journalist, Good Food’s Roslyn Grundy has dedicated the last 20 years to celebrating the Victorian food scene.

Her father threw in his stockbroking career for a life on the pans when she was young, tossing her a tea towel in his family-run restaurant as soon as she was ready. A life-long love affair with food was born, and nowadays, Victoria knows her as one of its most scrupulous food reporters.

A journalist’s journalist, Grundy has raised the quality and tone of the discourse surrounding food and wine in Victoria and Australia significantly, editing The Age newspaper’s influential food and wine section, Epicure, from 1994 to 1997, The Age Cheap Eats café guide in 2002 and 2003, and several editions of Victoria’s restaurant bible, The Age Good Food Guide, along with a number of books on food, art and design.

“Ros is the Rosetta Stone of the industry,” said fellow food writer, Larissa Dubecki.

“Super knowledgeable, with a pitch-perfect palate, but she always wants others to take the limelight.”

Boeing Cho  Chef, Restaurateur, Hospitality Professional

Where would the all the good will for Melbourne sushi be if it weren’t for Boeing Cho and Kenzan, the restaurant he’s spent much of his working life in.

A stalwart of Japanese dining, Kenzan has remained largely unchanged over the course of its 40-year innings, and has seen sushi heavyweights such as Minamishima’s Koichi Minamishima, Motomu Kumaro of Komeyui, and Matsu’s Hansol Lee sharpen their blades under Cho’s tutelage during that time. Cho is transitioning into retirement, but remains in the restaurant every week, describing himself as a “part-time receptionist”.

Tash Conte  Drinks Retailer, Producer, Advocate

Cocktails. Serious about drinking them? Go see Tash at Black Pearl. Serious about making them? Go see Tash at Black Pearl.

A Fitzroy institution in its 21st year, Tash Conte’s cocktail bar has had a big say in Australia’s international reputation for great drinks, but equally, it’s known as a proving ground for budding bartenders; a place where cocktail enthusiasts become the next gen of top-flight drinks makers.

That’s thanks to her commitment to nurturing emerging talent, New York’s Sam Ross, Cristiano Beretta of Sydney’s The Rook, multiple award-winning bartender Charlie Ainsbury, and Tim Philips-Johansson from Bulletin Place among them; all familiar faces on the awards circuit and world’s best bars lists, and all of whom cut their teeth at Conte’s Black Pearl.

“She’s never tried to build an empire,” said bartender and drinks writer Fred Siggins of the Pearl’s evergreen success.

“She’s committed to one venue, one community, one crew, and that shows through the personal nature of everything Black Pearl does.”

Sallie Jones  Local Hero

Sallie Jones is an advocate for better dairy, but perhaps more importantly, an advocate for better, fairer dairy farming.

When food processing companies dropped the price paid for milk, Jones responded with her own dairy line, Gippsland Jersey, a local business that would bypass larger milk processors to work directly with smaller family-owned dairy farms, paying them a fair price for the choicest Jersey milk.

“We wanted to ensure the mental health of farmers by making sure they knew the result of their hard work was being valued,” said Jones,

“So we paid them more than the big processors.”

Gippsland Jersey has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top, and today you’ll find it stocked in major supermarkets. But despite its rapid success, the pillars of the business remain: fair pay for farmers; mental health advocacy in the regions; and kindness above all.

Ian and Simone Carson  Sustainability Champion

Second Bite does more for sustainability in Victoria than just about anybody in the country, and the numbers are staggering. 

In 2005, founders Ian and Simone Carson saw food at their local market going to waste and decided something needed to be done, beginning by loading their car boot with rescued food and dropping it to a local charity.

The operation grew over the next several weeks as they continued to divert food to those who needed it, bringing friends, family and colleagues along to help out.

Fast-forward to now, and their not-for-profit Second Bite is rescuing and distributing a staggering amount of food – some 24,000 tonnes worth – providing over 48.7 million meals to Australians going without in the 2021 financial year alone.

“We are honoured to be joining the Legends and note the amazing group of people who have previously been recognised; they are truly an exceptional group,” said Simone Carson.

In 2017 Ian and Simone were awarded an Order of Australia in recognition for ‘significant service to the community through contributions and leadership in the food sector, and to business’.

Thi Le  Hostplus Trailblazer

Thi Le is one of the most dynamic chefs of her generation. A restless talent, she’s the creative force behind wood-fired banh mi success story Ca Com, as well as Anchovy, a restaurant that did things with Vietnamese food seen neither in Australia nor anywhere else in the world, and Jeow, its ground-breaking Laotian successor. 

The Legends and Trailblazers awards recognise the innovators and stayers of the hospitality industry,” said Umberto Mecchi, group executive, Marketing and Corporate Affairs at Hostplus.

This years winners represent another group of outstanding performers who have demonstrated exceptional passion, skill and commitment to the industry and the broader community.

“Hostplus is proud to support the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival to share their stories and successes and congratulates all this years nominees and recipients.

The 2023 Legends inductees join more than 150 leaders from the food, drink and hospitality trade.

The program recognises an individual’s contribution to the industry and celebrates their role in shaping, sustaining, and celebrating Victoria’s international reputation as a vibrant centre of food, drink and hospitality excellence.

The 2023 judging panel included: food writer Larissa Dubecki, Broadsheet’s editorial director Katya Wachtel, drinks writer Max Allen, broadcaster Matt Preston, and from Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, industry lead Kim Danks and creative director Pat Nourse.

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