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MFWF Legends

Celebrating Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s Legends Hall of Fame.

Launched in 1993, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Legends Hall of Fame pays tribute to the leaders, groundbreakers and visionaries of Victoria’s food, drink and hospitality industry. It’s a chance to stop and recognise the significant contribution these individuals have made over the course of their careers. More than 150 Legends have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since the program began.

Thi Le

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.

2023 Recipients:

Food Producer, Retailer, Advocate

John Dench
John Dench is a pioneer of artisanal bakeries in Melbourne, 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 collaborating with his baker son Tony Dench, an alumnus of Natural Tucker, Laurent, Baker D. Chirico and Babka, to serve Melbourne under the Dench bakers banner.

The Denches and their team have furnished the city with some of its finest leavened 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,” Dubecki says; we couldn’t agree more.

Communicator, Educator

Roslyn Grundy
A tenacious food journalist, Good Food’s Ros 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,” says fellow food writer, Larissa Dubecki. “Super knowledgeable, with a pitch-perfect palate, but she always wants others to take the limelight.”

Chef, Restaurateur, Hospitality Professional

Boeing Cho
Where would 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. Long a champion of Japanese dining in Australia, over its 40 years Kenzan has not only been a prime-mover in popularising the cuisine in Australia – thanks in no small part to the style of service embodied by Cho – it has also been the proving ground for most of the biggest names in sushi and Japanese food in Victoria, Minamishima’s Koichi Minamishima, Motomu Kumaro of Komeyui, and Matsu’s Hansol Lee among them. Suffice to say, our understanding and appreciation of Japanese food across multiple generations of diners and professionals owes a great deal to Boeing Cho. Right now Cho is transitioning into well-earned retirement, but is still in the restaurant every week, and describes himself now less as a manager and more “a part-time receptionist”, humility and humour being ever his calling cards.

Drink Producer, Retailer, Advocate

Tash Conte
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,” says 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.”

Local Hero

Sallie Jones
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,” says 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.

Sustainability Champions

Simone and Ian Carson
SecondBite 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 SecondBite 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,” says 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’.

Five Minutes with a Legend

2022 Legends

MFWF Legends 2022