Five Minutes with a Legend: Jill Dupleix

Published on 13 July 2022

Photo: Jill Dupleix, writer, restaurant critic and cookbook author

Jill Dupleix is a food writer, restaurant critic, cookbook author, food curator, and annual judge of our MFWF Legends, and though based in Sydney, Dupleix has some serious roots in Melbourne. 

She’s been involved with MFWF since its inception, serving as founding vice-president to Peter Clemenger in 1993, and later as the festival’s Global Creative Director.

Jill Dupleix was inducted into the MFWF Legends Hall of Fame in 2003.

The proudest moment in my career was being appointed Cookery Editor of The Times in London in the year 2000. I loved that I was the first Australian to hold the hallowed position of ‘The Times Cook’, it was a dream come true. I can’t even say it was humbling. It felt Olympian, as if I was representing Australia in some elite sport.

The mistake that taught me the most was saying no instead of yes. Say no and you don’t grow. By playing to your own fears and low self-esteem, you get more fearful and less confident. Now I try to say to yes to everything. It gets messy but it’s much more fun.

The reason I got into this industry was because I love writing and I love food. So in the 1980s, I threw in my job as an advertising copywriter in order to bring the two together. Nothing if not logical.

The reason I stayed was I like being helpful – a good recipe is helpful, a thoughtful restaurant review is helpful, to both the restaurateur and the diner. 

My mentor was the unstoppable Di Holuigue of Melbourne cookery school The French Kitchen, who pushed me to take over her magazine column when she moved elsewhere. I was petrified. Sue Hines at Reed Books was also very supportive, first shepherding me through editing a fund-raising cookbook for The Victorian Women’s Trust, then through all my own cookbooks. I’ve always tried to work with people I believe in, and who believe in me. Not much point doing it for just the money or the fame.

What I love most about the MFWF Legends is it’s the best way to say a big thank you to all those who have built, are building, and will continue to build our food and drinks culture. The ratbags, the obsessives, the farmers, the hospitality visionaries, and often, the people behind the scenes who very few people know about, but who make things happen. I’ve seen the list of Legends grow from zero in our first year in 1993 to the incredible list topping 2000 that it is today. It’s like some sort of magical portrait gallery, in which everyone has brought something special to the table.

I’d say most of the people on the list don’t think of themselves as legends; they’re modest, hard-working, and incredibly driven. They have applied themselves to their art, their craft, their business, they’ve brought people with them on the journey, they’ve made the world a better place. People like Bronwyn and Geoff Dobson (potato pioneers), and Dr John Nieuwenhuysen, who brought Victoria out of the dark ages with liquor legislation, and the late Jon Gianfreda (gentleman butcher) and Gilbert Lau (Flower Drum), and Vlado Gregurek (Vlado’s) and Peter Rowland (caterer visionary) and Richard Thomas (the big cheese) and Dur-e Dara (hospitality visionary) and Elizabeth Chong ( who built a bridge between two cultures) and Alla Wolf-Tasker (chef-restaurateur who has done so much for regional tourism). It’s inspiring. And I love it when each year, just when we think the well must be dry, it isn’t.

The most important thing to consider when judging is to measure the impact that person is having on the wider community, either now or in the future. Or are they just doing their job?

What I hope for the future is that life will become easier and more rewarding for hospitality operators, and that a whole new generation will be drawn to a career of producing food, drinks, ideas, bars, restaurants, cafés, and things we can’t even dream of yet. I want to have that shiver-down-the-spine thrill of recognising a great idea, beautifully realised, by people who care deeply for their craft. I live for that.

My favourite Victorian drinks producer is Gary Farr of By Farr, and now Nick Farr of Farr Rising as well, for my personal benchmark pinot noir. I practically live on pinot noir.

My favourite Victorian food producers are Carla Meurs and Ann-Marie Monda of Holy Goat. Their goats are adorable and their cheeses are like oxygen – you have to have them or you’ll die.

My go-to for a bite to eat is France-Soir in South Yarra, for the oysters, the steak frites, the wine list, the hospitality, the mischief.

And my go-to for a drink is The bar at Gimlet, for a gimlet from Mr Parish.

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