Dani Valent

JOURNALIST & FOOD WRITER

Communicator, Educator

A communicator who brings her heart to the table just as much as her (formidable) mind.

It’s one thing to have a long-running restaurant review column, three cookbooks, a regular guest slot talking food on ABC radio, four weekly podcasts and regular TV appearances to your name. Dani Valent has covered all the media in the food communication field with the kind of energy that speaks of an all-consuming passion combined with a serious caffeine habit.

But it was a certain pandemic that transformed her from an authority on all things edible into an activist – one who became an invaluable source of cut-through information in the hospitality industry’s hour of need.

During Melbourne’s first lockdown her Instagram feed became a go-to for anyone wanting to understand the opaque rules surrounding new concepts such as density limits and the availability of JobKeeper. Web pages, Facebook and Twitter were part of the push to get as much clear information to as many people as possible.

"Dani has grown enormously over the past 18 months,” says Ben Shewry, who joined with her to launch the Attica Soup Kitchen, which fed temporary visa-holders and industry workers in need every Thursday. “She’s realised her voice is powerful. I saw so many temporary visa-holders turn up to get groceries or soup and they ignored me, quite rightly, and were so excited to see her. She’s a person who doesn’t get on a soapbox but just gets on with doing whatever needs to be done. Her humanity is amazing."

Valent’s journey into the world of food writing was preceded by her life as a travel writer for Lonely Planet. When the company first ventured into food guides, she was packed off to Turkey with the imprimatur to eat.

“It was definitely a nice change from checking bus timetables and scouring hotel rooms for bedbugs, but I immediately fell in love with food writing. Putting a gastronomic lens over travel was rich and transfixing. It brings in history and culture … I just thought, this is a much more interesting and fun way to write about a place.”

Writing her weekly column in the Sunday Age for the past 15 years has evidenced a democratic, Jonathan Gold-esque approach to dining, celebrating fare served inexpensively from bain maries as eagerly as that at starched-linen fine-diners. Valent's website is a place you can find her demonstrating an inside-out chicken parmigiana, pondering the merits of the chip butty, and being the public face of Thermomix.

Valent's care for the people who make the magic of restaurants possible finds its fullest expression, perhaps, in her Dirty Linen podcast. Exploring issues such as mental health among hospitality workers, anti-Asian racism and underpayment of workers, it has now clocked up more than 300 episodes.

“With Dirty Linen, I wanted to do something more issues-based – not just talking to the usual suspects but bringing in new voices and the unsung heroes,” says Valent. “That sort of stuff is really meaningful for the people who are underrepresented, and there are so many stories that deserve to be told, whether good or bad.”  

While her column in the Sunday Age has finally returned, Valent’s database of around a thousand temporary visa-holders will continue to receive bulletins so long as there’s a need – detailing where to get a vaccination, for instance, or how to apply for rent assistance.  

“My father is a Holocaust survivor, and my family has always had a strong sense of fairness and social justice,” she says. “The torrent of information of information thrown at hospitality workers was overwhelming. I realised I had these journalistic skills I could put to good use. I’ll always be connected to this community of people because of that.”

By Larissa Dubecki; photography and video by Kate Shanasy

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