Support young chefs raising money for mental health

Author: Emma Breheny
Photography: Supplied

This month chef Mal Meiers, who's done time at Bennelong, Tonka and Ides, hosts the third annual run of Food for Thought dinners, which raise money for mental health charities and acknowledge the significant toll restaurant work can have on chefs and others in the trade.

The mental health of chefs has been in the spotlight recently. In September Ben Shewry introduced a four-day week at Attica. Restaurateurs rallied around the cause of R U OK? after one of its highest-profile supporters in the food world, Jeremy Strode, took his own life in July.

Meiers started the event in 2014 with his partner, sommelier Kate Christensen, after going through his own bout of anxiety and depression. He wanted to show young chefs the issue could - and should - be addressed.

"I still think there's a bit of a stigma," he says. "Everyone knows that it's there but it's hard to talk about on both ends."

From a 35-person dinner in Melbourne, the event has grown to include Sydney and Brisbane, with as many as seven chefs participating in each d├ęgustation. Meiers sources all the produce via donations, ensuring 100 per cent of ticket sales raise funds for his chosen charities, Beyond Blue and R U OK?

And these donations are no bin-chicken cast-offs, with Flinders Island wallaby, Ora King salmon and Game Farm quail being cooked by the likes of Alanna Sapwell (Saint Peter), Steve Nairn (Estelle by Scott Pickett) and Troy Crisante (Firedoor). Christensen has also secured the support of select winemakers including Dormilona and Latta Vino.

"These are producers we want to work with. We approach them. We're really focused on getting excellent wine to match the quality of the produce we're cooking with," Meiers explains.

Meiers hopes that Food for Thought will reach a point where restaurants approach him to hold their own events. But he also believes change needs to happen in the way kitchens are run day to day.

"From an employer's point of view, I would say don't wait for someone to be in trouble. Let them know it's okay to talk to you."

Food for Thought Sydney, 20 November, 4Fourteen, 414 Bourke St, Surry Hills, NSW, $155 for seven courses with matched wines. Tickets from limeandtonic.com.au. Food for Thought Brisbane, 27 November, Smoked Garage, 99 Bridge St, Fortitude Valley, Qld, $125 for six courses with matched wines. Tickets available from eventbrite.com.au







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