Aussies spend more time talking about food and watching cooking programs than we do eating. Flavours from all over the world combine to impact our health, political and cultural habits.
But who decides what’s on Australia’s plates? Mix together supermarket tsars with fruit and veggie tycoons, add some cookbook queens for sweetness, deep fry the fast-food fat cats and spoon a dollop of celebrity chef on top. And then there are the restaurant writers and reviewers who add spice to the whole feast.
Next week The Power Index kicks off a new list looking at all things food. Here’s the shortlist …
Stephanie Alexander (chef turned educator): Her famous The Cook’s Companion is a must-have in every Aussie kitchen but it’s her work at primary schools with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program that’s making generations of Aussie kids enjoy vegetables.
Peter Bartholomew (restaurant investor): The money man behind many of the country’s top restaurants, Bartholomew is a strong financial backer in the Spanish-loving MoVida Group (which includes several restaurants in Melbourne and a new bakery opening in Sydney) and helped top Sydney chef Mark Best move into the Melbourne market with Pei Modern.
Margie Bashfield (executive producer, MasterChef): Ratings at the biggest foodie juggernaut on television might be down, but Bashfield still influences what Australians plate up at home. The long-time TV producer knows what works on the screen (and has a hefty little black book of chefs) but also believes in the power of the MasterChef brand to change the way Aussie kids view cooking.
Maggie Beer (cook and food producer): With her charming demeanour and constant spruiking of verjuice, the crowd erupts whenever Maggie appears, from her guest judging on MasterChef to her enduring love of the Barossa Valley, where she calls home.
George Calombaris (MasterChef judge and restaurateur, The Press Club Group): The Melbourne boy from the big Greek family has become a media star, with his spot on MasterChef helping bring more customers through the door of his restaurant empire. Audiences love (or love to hate) his mannerisms, but has he reached saturation point?
Frank Costa (fruit and vegetable wholesaler, Costa Group): Costa is king when it comes to fruit and vegetables, with his company comprising one of Australia’s largest producers, distributors and exporters of fresh fruit and vegies. And as the president of Geelong Football Club, Costa’s power reaches far beyond the (crop) field.
Jill Dupleix (food writer and cookbook author): Dupliex was cooking editor at The Sydney Morning Herald before crossing over to the UK to be the cooking editor at The Times. She’s written 14 cookbooks — the Simple range being her signature — and freelances for a pantry full of publications across the globe.
Terry Durack (restaurant reviewer, The Sydney Morning Herald): Partner of Jill Dupleix and restaurant reviewer at The Sydney Morning Herald, the pair combined are Australia’s true food power couple. “Their opinion absolutely matters to anyone in food,” a food media consultant told The Power Index. He’s the tough restaurant critic, she’s the recipe and food trend author.
Julie Gibbs (cookbook publisher): As publishing director of Lantern (an imprint of Penguin publishing that focuses mainly on food, lifestyle and travel books) Gibbs publishes some of Australia’s most well-known chefs and food writers. She got her big career break publishing The Cook’s Companion, and her authors menu includes Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Christine Mansfield.
Peter Gilmore (executive chef, Quay): Creator of the infamous Snow Egg dessert. His restaurant Quay has been the number one-ranked Australian restaurant in the top 50 best restaurants of the world list for the past three years (it’s currently sitting at No.29).
Donna Hay (food stylist and entrepreneur): Our very own cookbook queen. She’s editor-in-chief of her eponymous magazine and has her own line of homewares products, food range and her own lifestyle store. She aims her cookbooks at simple fresh food and has written more than 14 of them, but critics call her a stylist not a chef.
Justin Hemmes (hospitality entrepreneur): Controversial Sydney hotelier and restaurateur. Although the headlines (and he’s appeared in enough of them) read “nightclub owner”, Hemmes is a clever entrepreneur who’s made a bomb out of opening bars and restaurants for Sydney’s slick set.
Lisa Hudson (general manager, food and wine at Fairfax Media): Hudson was last year appointed the general manager of food and wine content of Fairfax’s Media metro division. Editors of all the Good Food Guides, Epicure, Good Living and Cuisine.com.au report to her. Already she’s making changes with planned revamps to much-loved Epicure and Good Living.