Food News

11 influential people in food not found in the kitchen

Not all the hard work of a successful restaurant takes place in the kitchen. These 11 experts are influential in shaping the food industry of the future.

Sarah Doyle, restaurateur

Rob Shaw, James Knowler, Adam Gibson, Scott Hawkins, Yianni Aspradakis, Marcel Aucar, Martin Reftel & Jessica Reftel Evans

Looking back over the past five decades, it’s clear that the way we dine today has been defined by a great variety of Australians. In considering who’s making the waves today, we found this inspiring bunch who does their amazing work outside of the kitchen. These 11 come from our 50 most influential people in food power list that was published in our November 2016 issue.



Seafood expert

John Susman changed (and continues to change) the way chefs think about fish in Australia. His place in the food world here is somewhere “wet, cold, smelly and slimy, surrounded by lying, cheating, thieving, pirates”, he says. “Oh, and some amazing catchers and growers of seafood.” Whether it’s talking aquaculture, championing lesser-loved members of the local wild catch, or educating chefs, wholesalers and anglers in the world’s best practice in handling seafood, he’s making marine dining better one fillet (or fish liver) at a time.

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia? “A consumer whose desire for delicious food is innate, their demand for quality a given, and their knowledge of what is good and bad so deep that the major food retailers will be unable to seduce them only by price.”



Before Vic’s Premium Quality Meat, owned by Anthony Puharich and his father, Victor, meat wasn’t premium, it was just… meat. After? Sydney’s chefs suddenly had easy access to the finest meat, poultry and game, sourced locally and butchered beautifully. Then the civilians of Woollahra got the same access, with the opening of Victor Churchill boutique butchery in 2008. Soon New York will taste the best of Australia’s paddocks when a branch opens in Anthony Bourdain’s ambitious food hall in – fittingly – the Meatpacking District.

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia?

“For meat, it’s a bit scary. Our farmers and producers make the greenest, cleanest meat in the world, but there’s a lot of pressure on their supply and price. For Australian food generally, though, it’s exciting. We used to be minnows; now we’re spoken about in the same sentence as Paris, New York or Tokyo. We’re going to keep mixing it with the best.”


Butcher, farmer

An ambition to promote his branded meats led Richard Gunner from specialist livestock breeding to the creation of a specialised butcher shop. Adelaide’s Feast! Fine Foods has since grown into a successful chain, and a preferred supplier to leading chefs, which has inspired Gunner to foster breeds for superior eating, including the introduction of South Devon and English longhorn cattle to Australia.

Why do you do what you do?

“My career in the food industry has been a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but I keep working towards excellence in the products we sell. My tastebuds are probably the strongest arbiter of how our business has developed – and will also determine where it’s likely to go.”



The tyranny of minimalism seems mighty distant when you’re sitting anywhere near James Brown’s designs. He breaks the rules to create arresting images for food and wine businesses. With his densely decorated interiors at Motel Mexicola in Bali, Africola in Adelaide and Hotel Harry in Sydney, the Adelaide-based graphic designer has constructed outrageous environments with unique personalities. Promoting a style that is boisterous, provocative and amusing, Brown likes altering perceptions through unorthodox presentations.

Why do you do what you do?

“Art allows me to create my own worlds for folks to dance in. Creation is an evolving space, and I’m enjoying creating spaces for hospitality. They are like little nations of their own. I’d like to go further and fuse art and community building. To look at the world through the wrong end of a telescope is the key for me.”


CEO & founder, OzHarvest

Before Ronni Kahn started OzHarvest she was an event producer. She began delivering meals to those in need in her own car, and now has 38 vans around the country rescuing surplus food from restaurants, supermarkets and events – more than 18,000 tonnes since 2004. Kahn was instrumental in having the Civil Liabilities Amendment Act changed in four states to allow perfectly good food to be given away for free. She continues to educate and provide employment for vulnerable youth, and encourages us all (top chefs included) to have better habits when it comes to food waste. Why do you do what you do? “Daily, I am filled with gratitude and joy at how privileged I am. Every day, we make a difference to thousands of people.”

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia?

“Australia produces the most extraordinary range and quality of magnificent food. Our challenge over the next 50 years is to truly value this ‘gold’ and invest in our farmers and the land to maintain the balance between supply, prices and the extraordinary effort it takes to grow and appreciate local Australian produce.”


Farmer, educator

Rodney Dunn walks the walk. The former chef (Tetsuya’s) and food editor (Gourmet Traveller) moved from Sydney to Tasmania’s Derwent Valley in 2007 to set up a farm-based cooking school that was all about gathering and cooking food as close to the source as possible. The Agrarian Kitchen is a working farm (heirloom fruit and vegetables, pigs, goats, geese, chickens, bees), and a hive of smoking, preserving, butchering activity. The local, seasonal, ethical and sustainable live here.

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia?

“What I hope is that a maturity comes in so that we follow our own path. That Australia’s regions become more distinctly known for growing particular things well and that regional association becomes embedded in the way we think about the food and wine we grow and produce.”



A restaurant Sarah Doyle has styled is less about trends and props and far more about personality. Her first work with restaurant interiors came with Bodega, the Sydney restaurant opened 10 years ago by her husband, chef and co-owner Elvis Abrahanowicz. Her eye has only become more exacting since. Whether it’s the fresh Australian natives at Continental (the deli is on Australia Street) or the framed original Marie-Louise Salon client cards at Stanbuli, for Doyle the site has a story. Her thoughtful vision and rigorous attention to detail (she insists she’s merely very hard to please) coupled with her singular personal style have been as central to the identities of Bodega, Porteño, Continental and Stanbuli as anything on the plate or in the glass.

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia?

“I hope that it’s sustainable. If you look at where we are at the moment, prices are so high for everything; staff, produce, rents, insurance, everything goes up and up and up. A restaurant’s ability to make money is getting harder and harder, but there’s opportunity for people who have great vision. I hope that in the next 50 years our economy (and Sydney in particular) finds a way to stabilise costs so that it’s a ordable to go out and for creative people to keep opening great restaurants.”


Interior architect

George Livissianis makes a business out of empty space. That could sound negative, if the restaurant and retail spaces he’s responsible for weren’t so striking. It’s often what’s missing that’s the mark of a Livissianis-designed room. Starkly clean lines and deft lighting highlight the site’s original archways at The Apollo, speaking perhaps to his years working with Burley Katon Halliday, the Sydney firm that produced some of the restaurant designs that typified the city’s hospitality look in the ’90s and noughties, while his monochromatic makeover of The Dolphin Hotel mashed-up Christo and Keith Haring. And next? He’s part of a design dream team, with Pascale Gomes-McNabb and architect Robert Simeoni, on the rebirth of no less an institution than Stokehouse in St Kilda.

Why do you do what you do?

“I love the process, the challenge, the creativity and the satisfaction of seeing a house, store or restaurant come to life at the very end. It occupies my head when I’m at work, at home, asleep – it’s all I know.”


Tourism chief

Previous Australian tourism campaigns have talked up our beaches, Harbour Bridge and fluffy animals. Remarkably, it took a former sports boss, John O’Sullivan, to decide that our world-class food and wine were a drawcard that dwarfed them all – and his message has more than landed. Since Tourism Australia’s managing director launched the Restaurant Australia initiative in 2014 international food and drink spend on our shores has grown by $1 billion. We’d like to see a koala do that.

Why do you do what you do?

“I’m extremely passionate about Australia and its place in the world. To be able to wake up each morning and represent Australia, to encourage more travellers to come and experience what we have to o er is a great honour.”


Festival director

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival was a humble beast when Natalie O’Brien took over as chief executive officer 13 years ago. Under her stewardship it has grown into an internationally acclaimed blockbuster, attracting global food and wine superstars without losing focus on local and regional champions. It’s a big role but one she can sum up in two words: dream job.

**Why do you do what you do?

** My love of food has been passed on through generations of my family, who have run pubs in Victoria. These days, my food experiences involve talking, eating and drinking with Australia’s (and the world’s) most inspirational chefs and winemakers. Who wouldn’t love this life?”


Author, activist

With his groundbreaking book Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? author Bruce Pascoe – who is of Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin Indigenous heritage – flipped our preconception of Aboriginal people as “mere hunter-gatherers” on its head. Since the book’s publication in 2014, Pascoe has travelled the country speaking to thousands of chefs, diners, growers and makers, inspiring us to appreciate and adopt indigenous ingredients and food culture in a meaningful mainstream way.

What will the next 50 years hold for food in Australia?

“Within 50 years, murnong and other indigenous roots will be common in home gardens and supermarkets. They will form the basis of a truly Australian cuisine. Ten to 30 per cent of Australian flours will be from the grains and plants domesticated by Aboriginal people, most of them gluten-free and all of them adapted to Australian soils, climate and pests. They use less water, no extra fertiliser and no pesticides. This will make an incredible difference to the environment and form the backbone of our response to climate change. Panicum, Australian rice, kangaroo grass, astrebla, stipa, wallaby grass, cumbungi will become the heroes of Australian agriculture.”

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