It can be difficult to comprehend from 10,000 miles away, but the wildfires that have swept across Australia have now been raging for approximately five months. In one of the most devastating events of its kind on record, 27 people have died while between half a billion and one billion animals have been estimated to have lost their lives in the flames – not to mention the damage to the Australian landscape and agriculture.
And it is ongoing. Thousands of miles of fires are still being fought by the country’s firefighters, many of whom are volunteers. Countless charities are supporting the efforts to contain the blaze and a number of high-profile names have spoken out to raise awareness and donate money.
One of the sectors that has rallied to offer practical and financial help to the communities affected is the foodservice industry. From offering free meals and care packages for firefighters and their families, to hosting fundraising events and campaigns, restaurants and cafes across Australia have united to show their support.
Highlighting the extent of these efforts, the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF) has launched two initiatives to support the affected communities: Restaurants for Relief, a collection of special events happening at restaurants around Victoria under the hashtag #restaurantsforrelief; and 10 for 10, a series of private dinners for 10 people cooked by some of Australia’s best-loved chefs in exchange for a £10,000 donation to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.
“Through the two initiatives, we are combining the goodwill, resources and ideas that so many people are offering to those affected by the bushfires,” the MFWF writes on its website.
In the coming months, it will play a role in supporting and advocating for farmers and local food and drink businesses in regions affected by the bushfires, helping to drive tourism to these places.
“We wanted to provide a platform for the Victorian food and wine industry to come together and help with the relief support effort,” says Anthea Loucas Bosha, CEO of Food + Wine Victoria, in New South Wales, Australia.
“We have been blown away by the way the Victorian hospitality industry has rallied together over the last week as we’ve been pulling together the #restaurantsforrelief initiative. The hospitality industry is strongly affected by the fires as they are directly impacting producers and wineries that are such valued collaborators within the Victorian restaurant, bar and café scene.
“Restaurants for Relief has raised close to $100,000 for the Victorian Bushfire Appeal in the four days the events have been live. There are still some great experiences available including a private dinner in your home cooked by Neil Perry.”
Standing with Australia
But it doesn’t stop there. Chefs and restaurants across the UK are also joining the charge, in a bid to not only help fund the cause but raise awareness with the general public to gain momentum in calling for greater action.
One campaign, led by Australian-born food blogger Clerkenwell Boy, has rallied numerous chefs and restaurants to host events and donate funds using the hashtag #AustraliaIsBurning.
“It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to watch people losing their homes, loved ones and livelihoods,” Clerkenwell Boy wrote on one of his Instagram posts. “Although we cannot bring back what’s already been lost, together we can help rebuild.”
From pledging the proceeds of specially designed dishes that showcase Australian produce and flavours, to committing to donate a percentage from every bill, each restaurant is giving patrons the opportunity to be part of the fundraising efforts.
“We decided to get involved as climate change is obviously an incredibly important issue we are all facing,” explained Natalie Lee-Jones, co-founder of Jidori in Dalston, London.
“More personally, myself, my business partner and manager of the restaurant are all Australians. I have recently come back from Australia and, although based in Sydney, could still see the devastating effects of the bushfires – very poor air quality, friends on the south coast having to be evacuated from their homes and members of my family being a part of the volunteer services.
“It’s going to take those affected years to rebuild their homes and livelihood. We just want to do whatever small bit that we can to help.”
Jidori is asking diners to add £1 to their bill, which it is then matching and donating to Red Cross Australia, Wires Wildlife Rescue and the Rural Fire services of NSW, VIC & SA.
UK restaurants such as London’s Pidgin in Hackney and Timmy Green (part of the Daisy Green group) in Westminster are hosting ticketed events, while the likes of Quality Wines held an auction of Australian wines, raising £30,000 for WIRES Wildlife Rescue Emergency Fund and the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.
“The #AustraliaIsBurning campaign is a perfect way to band together with other restaurants to help support our family, friends and communities back in Australia,” said founder of the Aussie inspired Daisy Green Collection, Prue Freeman. “The response has been amazing. Daisy Green’s Australia Day fundraising event sold-out within three days. Everyone is really keen to support the cause.”
Taking positive action
In the US, top chefs are joining forces to throw the Boston Barbie for Bushfire Support on 28 January, a ticketed event at Capo Supper Club organised by Australia native and KO Pies chef Sam Jackson.
“The event initially came from a source of frustration, sadness and in a way helplessness of being so far away from home and seeing the catastrophic destruction. Once I realised that the only way to counter this was through positivity in actually doing something, then the idea was born,” explains Jackson.
“I also knew that our greatest strength was in our power in numbers via the platform that KO had allowed. The fact that the 20 odd chefs involved all replied with an emphatic yes within an hour of emailing them solidified my instinct. We managed to raise $45,000 in ticket sales within the next 24 hours and the Barbie was alive and off.”
The Australian-inspired coffee shop and café, Bluestone Lane, has also pledged to donate all of the profits made across its 49 stores in the US and Canada between 8-10 January to the Australian Bushfire Emergency Relief Fund.
The support shown by these and countless other foodservice businesses across the globe is a wonderful demonstration of the impact the industry can have through working together. To share your stories of industry collaboration, get in touch with Foodservice Consultant here.