Meet (and eat the food of) the migrant women cooking in Melbourne's top restaurants via The Thick Accents Project

Founder of The Thick Accents Project Ilanit Bard.
Founder of The Thick Accents Project Ilanit Bard. Photo: Jana Langhorst

A traditional Tamil feast, Cypriot high tea and lunch showcasing Italian family recipes are happening across Melbourne this month and next, as migrant women working in the city's top restaurants step into the spotlight as part of The Thick Accents Project.

Created by Ilanit Bard, an accomplished venue manager with time at Lume and Bistro Guillaume, the event series is described by Bard as a movement to ensure hospitality workers who are migrant women are better represented and supported.

"I see women being pushed down and even I myself experienced it. I was waiting so many years for someone to see that and do something. I realised that if I want things to change, I need to be the change."

An earlier Thick Accents event celebrating Andalusian cuisine,  hosted by chef Ana Cortes at Golda restaurant in Prahran.
An earlier Thick Accents event celebrating Andalusian cuisine, hosted by chef Ana Cortes at Golda restaurant in Prahran. Photo: Supplied

Born in France to parents from Tunisia and Israel, Bard says "I will always feel like a migrant wherever I go". She wanted to create a platform for women like her in hospitality to feel supported, represented and connected to others.

The long-term goal is to change the culture of an industry that she believes has prioritised men's voices and led to sexism, sexual harassment, racism and intimidation of others working in restaurants.

"By making it better and safer for women, we make it better for men too. It will free men from this bro culture and toxic masculinity inside these restaurants," Bard says.

Since March four events have happened, including a degustation of regional Indian cuisine and a Javanese street-food dinner. Guest chefs from restaurants like Lee Ho Fook and Mister Bianco design the initial menu based on the food of their family or culture; Bard then helps them refine it, secures a venue and handles the operations. Tickets are always $75 or less to ensure affordability for more people.

A key part of every event is putting the woman who created the menu in front of guests. Often, consumers see the same chefs' names in the media, on menus or in Instagram feeds. But Bard wants to highlight the dozens of others who work in these kitchens whose names we don't know.

"When they go out of the kitchen and they present themselves and their food, I can see this spark in their eyes," she says.

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While it's not the goal, chefs like Lorena Corso (Sig. Enzo) and Ana Cortes (Lee Ho Fook) have ended up with jobs, promotions and other opportunities after cooking with Thick Accents.

Following a lockdown-induced hiatus, Bard is back with an exciting program for November and December (details below). Then, she will take a break to visit family in Europe and the Middle East, who she hasn't seen for three years. Thankfully, Thick Accents will be revived with her return to Melbourne in 2022.

More information at: soignehospitality.com/the-thick-accents-project

Thick Accents Project upcoming events

Beyond Korean Fried Chicken by Sophie Gavell (chef, Baia di Vino)

6pm, 23 November, Golda, 162 Commercial Road, Prahran. Tickets $75 from TryBooking 

Cypriot Bakery High Tea by Alexandra Cleanthous (founder, The Choux)

3pm, 28 November, Pope Joan, 16/45 Collins Street, Melbourne. Tickets $75 from TryBooking 

Kasi's Kitchen (Tamil cuisine) by Akanksha Kasiviswanathan (chef, Yagiz)

6pm, 6 December, Yagiz, 22 Toorak Road, South Yarra. Tickets $75 from TryBooking

A Night in Turkey by Tugce Bay Rakdar (chef, Attica)

6pm, 13 December, more details to come.