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Future Shapers Food and drink hero
Graphics: Time Out

Meet the people changing Melbourne's food and drink scene

From charity kitchens to Aboriginal food educators, these are our food and drink future shapers

Rebecca Russo
Written by
Rebecca Russo
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed experts comprising Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability.

Food and drink is a category that is constantly changing, and the way we will eat tomorrow might be completely alien to those who lived in this country 50 years ago. In this category, we meet the chefs, entrepreneurs, Traditional Custodians and industry experts who are changing the way that we eat and drink in order to very literally save the Earth. There's nothing more ubiquitous than food, but these people are anything but ordinary. They are changing the world for the better, one bite and sip at a time. 

In food and drink, our Future Shapers are Shannon Martinez, chef and owner of Smith & Daughters; Bruce Pascoe, author, farmer and co-founder of Black Duck Foods; Miranda Sharp, founder and director of Melbourne Farmers Markets; Uncle Dave Wandinchairperson on the board for the Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation; Marcus Godinho, CEO of Australia's largest charity kitchen FareShare; and Hana Assafiri OAM, owner of Moroccan Soup Bar. 

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Hana Assafiri OAM counts herself lucky that the Melbourne community embraced Moroccan Soup Bar the way it did – after all, it was risky opening a restaurant with such an unconventional concept back in 1998.

Contrary to what the name suggests, this is not a bar, nor is soup the main event. But it certainly is Moroccan. The menu is communicated verbally and has been the same for many years, earning dishes like the chickpea bake and dips a legendary status. For a small venue that has no menu, no booze and no meat, competition for diner real estate is astoundingly fierce.

“When the [concept] was peculiar, people got behind it because it spoke to them in a way that the gentrification of the industry didn’t. In my experience, when people are kind of stubborn and daring enough to be quirky, most of the community really tends to rally behind that and go, ‘yep, that’s for me. I like what’s being said, it resonates.’”

Since Moroccan Soup Bar opened in North Fitzroy in 1998, Assafiri has been serving up flavour-packed meals to the masses while also providing employment opportunities for marginalised people. But a restaurant was only ever one part of Assafiri’s vision. Through events like Speed Date a Muslim and Conversation Salons, Assafiri has encouraged meaningful and respectful conversations between people of all backgrounds. 

She also stepped up to help out others during Melbourne’s first lockdown in 2020. Moroccan Soup Bar raised more than $11,000 and used that money to cook 880 free meals for healthcare workers at St Vincent's and Royal Melbourne Hospital.

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Bruce Pascoe has become a household name for his 2014 bestseller Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?, a non-fiction book that explores and reexamines Aboriginal Australians and their history as farmers, as opposed to hunter gatherers. But his work spans across multiple industries, and it’s to the food space that he’s currently turned his talents – namely in the area of bush foods agriculture.

Pascoe is an award-winning author, advocate and farmer and a Yuin and Bunurong man. He’s currently in the process of working on three more books and continues to work on his 60-hectare farm on Yuin Country near Mallacoota in East Gippsland. He is also working for his family-run company, Black Duck Foods, which aims to produce native bush foods on a commercial scale. In writing the history of his people and producing their food for a wide-scale audience, he aims to educate others and share his culture in a bid to support all Australians with a focus on Aboriginal Australians.

“The education that I had was incredibly politicised in terms of the history that was taught, and people think I'm trying to politicise it, but I'm not, I'm trying to depoliticise it. I'm trying to depoliticise the history of the land,” he says.

“I'm interested in the Aboriginal community, our welfare, progress and our education. What I'm doing at the farm, and in my writing, is trying to make sure that Aboriginal people are included in society and the economy, and that we increase the opportunity for education and employment in our community, as well as looking at a more sustainable way of farming. And, we're trying to show that Australian Aboriginal people have been here for 120,000 years and have been able to live sustainably all that time,” he says.

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Do you love beef bourguignon? Blood sausage? A juicy, perfect steak? Then you are Shannon Martinez's ideal customer.

The chef and owner of the entirely vegan Smith and Daughters and Smith and Deli isn't trying to convince vegans to change their diets. It's you meat eaters she's after.

"My target audience has never been vegans because they're already vegan, right? So I'm already preaching to the choir," Martinez says. "My target is to try and convince people who are either considering or starting to be a little bit curious about vegan food. If I can get meat eaters to eat meat a couple of times less a week, the impact on the planet would be absolutely massive. And that is a possible outcome, rather than expect everyone to go vegan, because that ain't going to happen unless we are forced to do that. It's just a fact. Humans are very selfish and very unlikely to give up the things we love."

But Martinez proves that it's possible to have food you love and save the planet at the same time.

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The story of FareShare started with pies, but these days CEO Marcus Godinho advises us the sausage rolls are the real winners. “The agencies love the sausage rolls we make because they're loaded with meat and vegetables,” he says. “I'm not usually a sausage roll eater, but jeez, these ones are good.” 

It’s been more than 20 years since FareShare started rescuing surplus food and transforming it into top-quality meals for those in need, growing from a small Saturday morning pie baking operation to Australia’s largest charity kitchen. But as Godinho stresses, FareShare isn’t just about preventing food wastage and hunger. “It’s not just about putting something in [someone’s] stomach so that they're not hungry,” he says. “It's about making somebody feel as though they're valued, that they matter, that society will support them during a tough period.” 

And while there are lots of food charities doing great work around the country (“And they deserve as much credit as we do,” Godinho says) FareShare specialises in taking industrial quantities of food and transforming it into meals that are both tasty and nutritious. “If you've got tomato canning business in central Victoria that's got crushed tomatoes that have two months life on them, but they’re in 44-gallon drums... a lot of charities can't do something with that, but that’s where FareShare’s niche is.”

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When’s the last time you tried finger lime? Perhaps dotted on your oyster at a non-Indigenous fine diner? OK, here’s a harder one: how about murnong? It’s impossible to find either at your local Coles or Woolworths, and many Australians have no idea how to cook with native ingredients like these. Wurundjeri Elder Uncle Dave Wandin is trying to familiarise Australians with native bush foods like murnong in an attempt to save the climate and honour his heritage. 

Aboriginal Australians have called this continent home for well over 60,000 years. Their cultures and spirituality are intertwined with the land and Country, which is why Uncle Dave is an advocate for Indigenous land management. He’s a member of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Aboriginal Corporation and chairperson on the board for the Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Wurundjeri people, the Aboriginal owners of the historical property “Coranderrk” in the Yarra Valley. Coranderrk now operates as a farm for native bush foods and is set to open up as a training space and commercial kitchen. 

Volunteers of the corporation are working together to grow native bush foods local to the area on the property, with a strong focus on tubers like murnong, vanilla lilies, chocolate lilies and even native geranium. 

“There is very, very little on Aboriginal restaurants serving Aboriginal food that has been harvested and cooked in a traditional manner, because the foods are getting harder and harder to find due to the impacts of colonisation.”

The focus here is not commercial, but on the trade of ingredients among communities and education. Finger limes, for example, aren’t native to Wurundjeri country, so if there was the need for the organisation to grow finger limes here, they would distribute the profits to the community the produce came from.

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You likely think of farmers markets as a bit of a conduit – something that helps connect food producers to consumers. In recent times, however, they’ve also become lobbyists. 

During Melbourne’s first lockdown of 2020, farmers markets around Victoria shut up shop – either by choice or by circumstance as initially, farmers markets weren’t seen as an essential service. But Miranda Sharp and her team at Melbourne Farmers Markets were determined to prove that farmers markets were a safe environment for customers to source their fresh food. Considering these markets happen outdoors, it simply wasn’t any higher risk than any other food provider. 

At the same time, Melbourne Farmers Markets also wanted Victorian farmers and small-scale food producers to have an outlet to sell their produce and products when so many were decimated by the impact of hospitality closures. Eventually, after some “pretty robust arguing” they got the approval to run markets again. “It wasn’t easy, but we were heard,” says Sharp. 

Melbourne Farmers Markets is a social enterprise, meaning the organisation is a 100 per cent not-for-profit and doesn't receive any external funding for operations. “Our reason for being is to reconnect Victorian growers and farmers with urban communities," says Sharp. "There’s that oft-throwaway line, ‘we all want to know where our food comes from’. And without making a huge effort, you can have the certainty that that's what you're doing here with the person you’re buying from.” 

Read about more of our Future Shapers

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