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the ex-chef stopping Victorians going hungry

David McNamara at the Foodbank Victoria drive-through.

David McNamara on the Foodbank Victoria drive-through.Credit score:Foodbank Victoria

It’s a mammoth logistical feat – better even than these rowdy days as a chef and supervisor on the Continental music venue in Prahran again within the day, operating reside music exhibits for headliners corresponding to Okay.D. Lang and Harry Connick Junior, and “piss-taking within the warmth and sweat of [the kitchen] when the dockets have been piling up and also you’re ending at one within the morning nonetheless excessive on adrenaline figuring out you’ve received to be again for the breakfast shift at six”.

Nonetheless, he insists he’s essentially the most subdued of the McNamara clan. (“We have been often the loudest household within the restaurant rising up.“) Maybe extra calm than reserved, McNamara has been on the centre of many a storm to hit the state since he joined Foodbank in 2008. In actual fact, simply eight months into the job, with the-then CEO on go away, he discovered himself operating the present through the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. “What nobody had actually defined to me then was that we don’t simply provide charities, we’re additionally [a key plank] of the state’s catastrophe response,” he says.

They helicopter meals to flooded cities and cargo up military vehicles to produce fire-zone evacuation centres (with additional power bars for the firefighters). “We discovered so much after Black Saturday so when Black Summer time got here, we have been prepared. We ended up utilizing an oil rig service to take the primary meals into Mallacoota after they have been hit.”

The baked beetroot starter at Bellota.

The baked beetroot starter at Bellota.Credit score:Jason South

He admits he nonetheless will get tingles recalling the generosity of those who summer season: on the peak of the disaster, almost 1500 folks have been turning up with automobile boots stuffed with groceries to donate every day. However extra devastation was to comply with because the worst pandemic in a century shut down a lot of the world –together with provide chains.

All of the sudden – the cabinets stripped naked in that first flurry of panic-buying – Melbourne “had a style of what one in six folks cope with daily right here, not with the ability to get sufficient meals”, McNamara says. “It was folks on the road. Now, it’s folks in your road too. Properly, folks helped through the fires. So we’ve began donating again to them with the drive-throughs.”

Earlier than he sidestepped into the charity sector from meals, IT and even a quick stint in banking (“I hated it”), McNamara used to assume that it was simply folks sleeping tough who would want free meals. However when an outdated pal from his chef days suffered a psychological well being disaster and fell on exhausting instances, McNamara went to go to the Sacred Coronary heart soup kitchen he’d been “raving about”. In that massive eating corridor, there have been households, aged pensioners; “a complete cornucopia of humanity”. However “then I seemed on the meals that was being served with the very best intention. And I assumed ‘oh my god, my mate’s consuming this’. That is one thing I can repair.”

He tossed in his restaurant profession and turned the corridor right into a free French and Italian bistro, bringing in a second chef and coaching a lot of these utilizing the service as baristas and kitchenhands. “We introduced in color and materials to make the eating room much less institutional and inside a few months, you’d discover the change, simply within the noise. There was extra laughter. Individuals had began to fill out of their faces, they seemed more healthy.”

That buzz he remembered from his personal childhood “listening to wonderful tales from around the globe” on the dinner desk, was now within the air.

Homemade sausage rolls with spicy relish at Bellota.

Do-it-yourself sausage rolls with spicy relish at Bellota.Credit score:Jason South

Just a few years later, after complaining to Foodbank, which provided Sacred Coronary heart, in regards to the lack of contemporary produce, he discovered himself as its latest rent. He’s since made wholesome meals central to its mission – going direct to farmers for his or her “ugly” unsellables and holding pop-up contemporary markets in charity automobile parks (“usually they’re simply figuring out of a daily fridge”) or cellular supermarkets in transformed buses to let folks pick what they want.


That every one prices cash, forcing the charity to fundraise outdoors authorities grants. Earlier than the McNamara period, Foodbank ran on extra of “a shock chain than a provide chain”. “We needed to take what we may get. Now we’ve gone from sourcing 35,000 kilos of contemporary fruit and veg a 12 months to over two and a half million.”

And what else do folks want? “Precisely what you do: bread, milk, meat – meat’s a nightmare – pasta, noodles. We wish folks to thrive, not simply survive. They’re already compelled into these poor diets.”

Like his restaurant days, McNamara admits he doesn’t at all times get a lot sleep, although he’s stored up a lockdown behavior of each day ocean swimming at Williamstown seashore. (His eyes gentle up as he tells me in regards to the seal that bobbed up alongside him the morning earlier than.)

He’s additionally been mapping drawback throughout the state, surveying charities and analyzing authorities statistics to higher perceive the right way to tailor choices to every neighbourhood’s social and cultural wants. “It is a sector that’s run on coronary heart, however maths by no means hurts,” he smiles. He rattles off the numbers with ease over his risotto. “In the event you’re a food-insecure particular person, you’re going to wish 50 kilos of meals a 12 months, which is at the very least 100 meals. We wish to make up about 70 per cent of that, so 35 kilos. Proper now, we’re sitting at about 21.“

That leaves a goal of 14.2 million kilograms of wholesome meals to supply within the subsequent 4 years.

One shortcut? Feeding essentially the most weak – kids – first. Since Foodbank partnered with the Victorian authorities in 2016 to launch a free breakfast program in public faculties, it’s expanded to greater than a thousand throughout the state providing emergency lunches and meals for college holidays too. One college requested this system after a boy was mistakenly scolded for chewing gum – it turned out he was chewing paper as there was no meals at residence. “However it’s not simply ‘the poor youngsters are having breakfast now’,” says McNamara. “It’s all the scholars, it turns into a group. You see truancy go down, bullying go down, even grades enhance.”

He remembers one eight-year-old he met at a regional college – half his household have been in jail, and he was already in hassle with police. “Breakfast membership modified that, he began coming in once more, they usually discovered that he liked dancing. He even confirmed me a dance. Now he’s in secondary college, nonetheless dancing. “


There are plans within the works to companion extra intently with well being companies too and provide a “meals prescription” of provides, in session with medical doctors. Already Foodbank’s vigorous cooking class for fogeys and college students has confirmed successful – there, everybody will get a field of contemporary components and recipe ebook to take residence.

“That’s about getting the youngsters engaged, serving to households open up to one another, to get them feeling that tingle that I used to really feel cooking with my mum and my nana.”

Large image, McNamara needs to “do what Rosie Batty did for home violence: take away the disgrace of not with the ability to feed your loved ones”.

Because the plates are cleared away, he recollects listening to a reporter as soon as query how singer Sting may actually name himself a social campaigner whereas consuming champagne in a villa. “And Sting stated: ‘I consider everybody ought to have the ability to reside like this’.

The bill at Bellota wine bar after a long lunch with David McNamara.

The invoice at Bellota wine bar after a protracted lunch with David McNamara.Credit score:

“Properly, everybody ought to eat like this,” McNamara says. “Everybody deserves a seat on the desk. ”

The invoice, please

Bellota Wine Bar, 181 Financial institution Road, South Melbourne.



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