Meet the Food For Good 2020 award nominees

Guests sharing a meal at Free to Feed, a Melbourne social enterprise connecting people through food.
Guests sharing a meal at Free to Feed, a Melbourne social enterprise connecting people through food.  Photo: Emily Weaving

Australians have an appetite for change – that's what the shortlist for the Food For Good award tells us.

The nominees for the Good Food Guide 2020 accolade all present a "new and improved" formula for how things should be, whether it's creating menus for aged-care residents that are actually delicious, ensuring women get proper representation, offering opportunities for aspiring Aboriginal chefs, giving refugees a platform to cook for 13,000 diners or starting a food-rescue organisation with unsold ingredients from local markets and eventually producing 38.6 million meals for people in need annually.

These organisations exemplify the award's celebration of innovation, charity and sustainability.

The winner is announced at The Good Food Guide awards on September 30, and joins previous Food For Good honorees Sydney Doesn't Suck and The Orana Foundation.

Second Bite rescues excess food food from a range of places to give to charities nationwide.

Second Bite rescues excess food food from a range of places to give to charities nationwide. Photo: Simon Anderson

SecondBite, secondbite.org

"We provide enough food for over 100,000 meals a day," says Jim Mullan, SecondBite's chief executive. It's a staggering amount compared with the organisation's start, in 2005, when founders Ian and Simone Carson saved 600 kilograms of leftover produce from Melbourne markets to feed the homeless.

Nowadays, SecondBite rescues excess food from places as varied as the set of MasterChef and Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival marquees to give to charities nationwide.

About 500,000 kilograms of fresh-picked apples are sent to SecondBite annually from Montague Fresh's Victorian orchards, while surplus Coles items can end up in hampers for people doing it tough, or perhaps a banana butterscotch pudding at a community kitchen.

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SecondBite's ability to ensure no scrap is wasted was exemplified when a 2000-kilometre stretch of highway between Broome and Geraldton in Western Australia flooded in 2017, locking in vehicles. "That is food that's on the road and going nowhere," says Mullan.

SecondBite immediately diverted that produce-in-limbo and used it to feed people in Broome and the Pilbara. The organisation achieved this thanks to its hefty address book (it collaborates with more than 1000 community food programs) and the logistical help of Coles, which has stores, distribution centres and trucks nationwide.

While SecondBite's growth has been impressive under Mullan (from 10 million kilograms of rescued food a year to 2 million kilograms saved a month), it's matched by increased demand for services. Since 2016, the number of people needing food assistance has jumped from 2.4 million to 4 million a year. "This is not a reversing trend," Mullan says.

Maggie Beer's new cookbook with recipes to promote brain health will be out in October.

The Maggie Beer Foundation aims to improve the food served in aged-care facilities. Photo: Supplied

Maggie Beer Foundation, maggiebeerfoundation.org.au

When cookbook author and businesswoman Maggie Beer was named Senior Australian of the Year in 2010, she was hit with 900 speaking engagement requests. Her time at the lectern inspired The Maggie Beer Foundation, which was set up in 2014 to improve the food served in aged-care facilities.

Beer was heavily influenced by her aunt's nursing home experiences 50 years ago; the food was so unpalatable her aunt lost weight dramatically.  In 2019, the situation at many nursing homes has not improved; convenience and low costs are still prioritised over nutritional value, flavour and the welfare of diners.

At the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Beer joined others who protested that the $7-a-day budget per aged-care resident wasn't enough. But by enlisting resourceful and creative cooks around Australia to improve the food served to the elderly (particularly though her "Creating an Appetite for Life" classes), Beer is inspiring change.

"We have seen small and big wins," says Lynn James, the foundation's CEO. Bolton Clarke, which has more than 20 aged-care facilities on the east coast, introduced a Maggie Beer Feasting Day. "The menus and recipes provided by the foundation were enjoyed by 2347 residents," says James.

The response was so positive that another one is planned soon. The foundation's programs have inspired aged-care workers to plant passionfruit vines and herbs, fill pots with stocks made from scratch, and create special menus (featuring moulded dishes and finger food) for residents who have trouble swallowing or have reduced appetites.

The foundation has trained 260 chefs, with expanded online courses introducing more chefs and residents to new skills. "Good food is everyone's right and our goal is to see flavoursome meals served to the beautiful elders of Australia who have lost the ability to cook," says James.

Teacher Charu shapes samosas at Free to Feed.
Photo Emily Weaving

Free To Fed connects people through food. Photo: Emily Weaving

Free To Feed, freetofeed.org.au

When Loretta Bolotin was invited to Afghan barbecues by asylum seekers she met through her humanitarian aid work, they'd sit on the floor, share charred eggplant dishes and stories, and drink tea together.

"I met lots of refugees and started to understand a lot about the challenges they face, but also about the incredible food and stories that they bring with them when they seek out a new home," she says.

As the first contact for many new arrivals in Melbourne, she was aware of their anxieties. "They're often extremely lonely or not sure where they can find work, or their English language is really limited."

So Bolotin spent hours at Northcote's Kau & Co cafe, plotting a way to help them. She spent so long there that the owner eventually asked her what she was doing. "I said, 'I want to help refugees run cooking classes, so they can get work, so local people can learn their food.' And she said, you can run them here."

That's how Bolotin started Free To Feed with husband Daniel in 2016. Since then, the organisation has generated $1.5 million worth of ticket sales from refugee-led events. It is now looking for a third commercial kitchen and has plans to expand into Sydney.

Free To Feed has helped women who fled Iraq and Syria (from Islamic State attacks), by placing them on the catering team, while one recent success story is Hamed, who opened Cafe Sunshine & SalamaTea, a social enterprise that's now employing other asylum seekers.

Bolotin says it has been inspirational to see him go from the uncertainty of having no visa to owning a Melbourne cafe that employs locals. "When his [residency] was granted, Hamed had already taught about 100 classes or 200 classes, and he was ready to go." 

The Sunday Age, M Magazine.Pic show foodie Sharlee Gibb.Pic Simon Schluter, 1 April 2010.sms100401.001.001.jpg  SPECIAL 00000000

Sharlee Gibb's organisation directs the spotlight at female talent in hospitality. Photo: Simon Schluter 

Fully Booked Women, fullybookedwomen.com

In 2015, Sharlee Gibb kick-started Fully Booked Women, directing the spotlight at female talent in hospitality. The first event "went off!", according to Jo Barrett, who cooked the inaugural dinner at Oakridge Wines in Victoria's Yarra Valley. She drizzled scampi and prawn head oil over sweetcorn and popcorn custard and served strawberries in eucalyptus syrup with sweet pickled rosella and creme fraiche mousse for dessert.

The event took place soon after Barrett became head chef at Oakridge with Matt Stone and it boosted her profile, leading to festival appearances and other invitations.

"Women weren't getting an opportunity to headline events or get their profiles out there," says Gibb, an author and curator. "And that's what I wanted Fully Booked to be about: to give opportunities for women to be the star of the show."

With the 2016 census showing that 25 per cent of chefs are women, making sure there's strong female representation is important. But Fully Booked Women isn't just about elevating talent in the kitchen.

Past events have included a Women of Distilling program with Kathleen Davies from Nip of Courage, cookbook author Q&As and wine-panel discussions.

The Fully Booked website also profiles names to watch, from Sarah Leung (who works with hand-harvested seaweed) to Jessie Curtis-Griffiths (who grows six types of oyster mushrooms on the Mornington Peninsula).

Photo Aboriginal chefs from the National Indigenous Culinary Institute (L-R) Luke Bourke, David Gray, Sam Bourke and Josh Moore at Attica in Glen Eira in Melbourne on Tuesday 20 August 2019. Photo Luis Enrique Ascui

Left to right: Luke Bourke, David Gray, Sam Bourke and Josh Moore from the National Indigenous Culinary Institute at Attica in Melbourne. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

National Indigenous Culinary Institute, nici.org.au

Ryan Battersby has come a long way from cooking fast food at McDonald's as a teen. The National Indigenous Culinary Institute (NICI) graduate has since added one-hat Sydney restaurant Catalina to his CV and is now sous-chef at London's Plate restaurant, run by Arnaud Stevens (who has worked alongside Pierre Koffmann and Gordon Ramsay).

Other NICI success stories include Luke Bourke at Rockpool Bar & Grill and Sam Bourke at Rosetta in Sydney, while Sam May is at Charcoal Lane in Melbourne. Some graduates have worked abroad (Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and The Ledbury in London) and when Danish chef René Redzepi took on NICI chefs for Copenhagen restaurant Noma's Australian pop-up in 2016, Steven Thorpe punched the air and yelled in excitement when accepted.

"At NICI, we're very proud of our participants' achievements, from completing their apprenticeship, taking on leadership roles with their kitchens to changing their lifestyle to be not only better chefs but better people, so they become role models within their families, communities and the Australian hospitality industry," says Michael Ingrey, NICI's CEO.

As well as helping apprentices with counselling and welfare, NICI also showcases their potential and talent. This might mean cooking at the Taste of West Cork Food Festival in Ireland, or making black-ant lamingtons with Ben Shewry at Attica.

"To be the best chef that we – Indigenous people – can be, we need to learn off the best chefs and that is what our program offers," says Ingrey.

The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, will be launched on September 30 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2020 will be on sale from October 1 in newsagencies and bookstores, and is also available to pre-order at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.