Kevin Luscombe is a doer. Ask anyone who has worked with him in the food trade over the last few decades and the first thing they’ll point to is his ability to get things done. And without him working quietly but relentlessly behind the scenes, they say, Melbourne wouldn’t have the food and wine festival it has today.
Matt Preston, who worked alongside Luscombe as creative director for the festival for many years, describes him as a Yoda-like figure, a mentor, a friend and the wisest of sounding boards. Someone with superb contacts and negotiating skills, honed in part through his day job as a marketer for some of the biggest brands in the business, but also someone with the knack for cutting through the noise and seeing the message.
“As one of the sharpest marketing minds Australia has ever produced – check out his CV – Kevin was the bloke who crystallised the role of the festival as ‘shining a spotlight onto the food and wine riches available in Victoria 365 days of the year’,” Preston says. “Seems so blindingly obvious today but once it wasn’t.”
Luscombe says the present moment has a lot to teach us about the value of hospitality. “I think right now we’re seeing the evidence of why food and drink are so important in Victoria; often you don’t appreciate things till they’re taken away from you.
“If you go back to the birth of the Food & Wine Festival it was in a situation that wasn’t as drastic as this but Victoria was in a dull mood after losing the Olympics bid and Peter Clemenger decided that food and wine would be the way to get the city to come alive.”
It worked, Luscombe reckons, because food and drink, and the festival, have always been about bringing people together. "It doesn’t have boundaries, it doesn’t have barriers, people can find their points of value and they can involve their friends and their family,” he says. “It’s a very warm, wonderful experience.”
Jill Dupleix, food writer and Legend Emeritus, says Luscombe brought to the table a passionate belief in Victoria’s role as “the gastronomic heart and soul of the country”. He was able to broaden the reach of the festival, amplify the brand and build strong connections to business and government. Crucially, she says, he built the festival to last. “Oh, and his expense account alone would have supported and inspired the top echelon of restaurants in Melbourne and Victoria for many years.”
Natalie O’Brien, whose tenure as MFWF’s CEO overlapped with much of Luscombe’s time on the board, hails him as “the king of brand”, but says his skills went far beyond the boardroom, “from managing lost visas and quarantined food items to media advice through bushfires, flash floods and tricky chefs and winemakers, he was unwavering in his service and support”.
Winemaker Garry Crittenden dates his association with Luscombe to a moment in the mid-1980s when he gave him some assistance in planting some pinot noir and chardonnay vines at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, going on to make the wines from Luscombe’s vineyard. In the decades since he has observed Luscombe’s work and advocacy right across Victoria’s food and drink trade. “For me Kevin sets an excellent example of someone working selflessly on behalf of the wider community and I can think of no one more deserving of being called a Legend of Victorian food and wine,” he says. “Long may his wise counsel prevail.”
Photography and video: Kate Shanasy.
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