Restaurant Awards

Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality: Dani Valent

Photo: Parker Blain

Parker Blain

Dani Valent has been one of Australia’s best food communicators for 20 years, a journalist, food critic, travel writer, cook and cookbook author who has applied her intelligence, wit, knowledge and positivity across a range of mediums, from print, radio, television and web through to in-person cooking classes and charity work (she’s been a FareShare ambassador for nearly a decade). It was already an impressive career pre-pandemic. But then Covid arrived and struck a disproportionately severe blow to the industry she knew and loved. Valent opened the tool box and went to work.

At a time when everything was uncertain and chaotic, Valent brought her journalist skills into play. She became an information portal for the hospitality industry and for hospitality workers, including the many foreign workers who were on visas and so cut adrift. She waded through the daily-shifting and often contradictory information coming from governments about what was and was not available to workers and restaurants in terms of financial assistance, what was happening with practicalities like density limits and mask mandates and kept that stream of information regularly updated.

Then there was her podcast, Dirty Linen, that she started during Melbourne’s first lockdown, in order to “cover the issues the hospitality industry finds hard to share in public”. The podcast, which is still going, consisted mostly of interviews with people in the industry – everybody from restaurateurs and chefs to producers, writers, foreign workers and international students. It was filled with a lot of practical information but it also brought home just how amazingly diverse the industry is and how many thoughtful people work in it. It also shone a light on how many moving parts go into every food and drink-related business, from day-to-day issues of sourcing staff and produce to issues around mental and physical health and wellbeing.

The reason Dani Valent started Dirty Linen was so “people could feel less alone and could see themselves in other people’s stories”.

By communicating some certainty on a regular basis – whether that was the latest news on how to ventilate a restaurant properly, where hospo workers unable to access JobKeeper could get themselves a free feed (often from other restaurants, including the soup kitchen Valent worked on with Attica’s Ben Shewry) or all the latest in restaurant pivoting and side-hustling – Valent made an immense contribution to the wellbeing of the hospitality industry. And we think that kind of empathetic contribution is nothing short of outstanding.

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