Friday, May 25, 2012

Food for Thought Dinner 2012

National Stroke Foundation 
Food for Thought Dinner

Disclaimer: I did not pay for tickets to this event, National Stroke Foundation invited some bloggers free of charge to help spread the word about a worthy cause. 

Picture your six favourite people. 

Here, I’ll start.

In no particular order, there is my little brother, Max, age 11. He has curls you can’t help but touch, he throws his vegetables in the bin when no one is looking and he epitomises cheekiness.

I have another brother, Lucas, who just turned 19. He’s a freak violinist, on the way to becoming a chemical engineer and incredibly charming in his own quirky way.

My mother, Abby, turns 50 this year, although she could easily be in her thirties. We share clothes, act like sisters and she is largely responsible for my love of food.

My father, Greg, is 53. He spends most of his life behind a camera, filming his family, who are everything to him. He changes lives for a living and has a weak spot for model airplanes.

One of my closest friends, Kacey, is 22. She is about to move to New York for a couple of years just for the hell of it, she has a painfully contagious laugh and she knows me better than anyone else.

My grandma, Veronica, is 76. She has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for decades, has battled breast cancer more times than I can count on one hand, has had a plethora of major operations, and yet still rocks leopard print clothing better than anyone I know.

Your six favourite people probably include a member of your family. They might be your parents, favourite aunt, siblings or a newly born child. They might be your oldest friend, a mentor, your life partner or a fresh love interest. Can you see them? Good. Now what if I told you that in your lifetime, one of your six favourite people will have a stroke?

That’s what the statistics say. In Australia, there are 60,000 strokes a year. That’s one person in our country every 10 minutes and one person in the world every six seconds. One third of those people who have a stroke will die. Another third will live, completely unharmed. The final third will live with disability for the rest of their lives. Stroke is the second biggest killer of people in Australia after coronary heart disease and it kills more women than breast cancer.

It sounds bleak, but thankfully strokes are often preventable. Although you’re more likely to suffer from stroke if you are older, male and have a history of stroke in your family, high blood pressure and cholesterol are significant risk factors. Living an unhealthy lifestyle — such as smoking, having an unbalanced diet and being unfit — also increase the chances of stroke.

The National Stroke Foundation is currently running a preventative campaign called FAST. It's an acronym to help you recognise the signs of stroke.

Face: is the person's mouth drooping?
Arm: can they lift both arms?
Speech: is their speech slurred and do they understand you?
Time: if you recognise the FAST signs, call 000 immediately. 

The longer you take to get a stroke victim to hospital, the more damage their brain will endure, and it may be irreversible.

To raise awareness and money for stroke research and prevention, the National Stroke Foundation held their annual Food for Thought charity dinner last night. The food theme makes perfect sense, as stroke victims can lose their sense of smell, touch, taste, sight or sound.

The event took place at Peninsula C in the Docklands. Every table was set immaculately with white blossoms and wooden cutlery in jars as centerpieces. Gorgi Coghlan, from Network Ten’s The Circle, hosted the event. Paul Vercoe led the charity auction, which included a range of fantastic dinners and holidays, and there was live entertainment by Brandon Burns.

On a personal level, there is very little that bothers me more than having a head cold and not being able to taste my food. With blocked sinuses, watery eyes and a sore throat, the act of enjoying a meal becomes impossible. Many stroke victims are left with their senses permanently affected after an attack.

The purpose of the night, aside from raising funds, was to eat mindfully and not take every mouthful for granted like we do so often. Six of Melbourne’s best chefs cooked up a stunning degustation and gave short cooking demonstrations on stage while the guests ate their food. The chefs were generous enough to donate their time to support the National Stroke Foundation.

All the chefs have had some kind of encounter with stroke. For example, Michael Fox from Henry and the Fox lost his grandparents to stroke and Nicolas Poeleart from Embrasse worked with a chef in France who had a stroke while swimming in the ocean and ended up a paraplegic after being hauled against the rocks.

The first course was by Riccardo Momesso from Sarti. He whet out appetites with tender kingfish and swiss chard ‘cannelloni’ with yuzu, lima bean and squid ink. Guests were likening the look of the squid ink to Vegemite, although it didn’t taste anything like it! The dish was fresh and well executed and we found ourselves wishing we had a few more.

In between the first and second courses, we watched a moving video featuring some stroke survivors. Flags were strung along the sides of the room showing faces and ages of stroke victims: a reminder that it’s not only the elderly who suffer from stroke. Twenty per cent of stroke victims are under 55 years old and babies can have strokes in utero, before they’ve even come into the world. 

Next, Leigh Power from Gingerboy challenged us to eat his son in law eggs in one mouthful, but they were so fat even two mouthfuls was a challenge! The egg had a perfect, thin shell from being plunged in the deep fryer but remained oozy on the inside. It was served with chilli jam and Asian herbs, which cut through the oiliness.


By the time we had finished the son in law eggs, red and orange balloons were turning up on people’s chairs. The idea was that those who donated on the night would be pointed out by way of balloon, regardless of the amount they contributed. By the end of the night, the space looked fantastic and generosity was everywhere.

The third course was a dish I had tried before, but for some reason it tasted even better. Michael Fox from Henry and The Fox sent out medallions of his soft, rabbit terrine studded with capers and wrapped in prosciutto. Its saltiness was balanced out by the addition of tart rhubarb compote, rhubarb jelly, balls of brioche and a sprig of frisee lettuce.  

While our terrine was digesting, we heard an incredible speech from an incredible woman, Dawn Oldham. Wife, mother of two and stroke survivor, her husband reacted quickly when he noticed the warning signs of stroke when Dawn was in her early 40s. Following her stroke, Dawn started to notice changes in the way she communicated. Unconscious thoughts would work their way into her conscious conversations, to the point where she would type, “I have to remember to take the washing out” in the middle of emails to clients. It changed her career, her view of herself and her relationships with her family. Keep in mind that when an individual has a stroke, the whole family has a stroke. Partners and children become carers and have to relearn their relationships. But through perseverance, Dawn recovered enough to set up her own consulting company helping women manage their finances.

For the fourth course, Mathew Hart brought along vine clippings from Balgownie Estate and used them to make smoked spiced spring chicken. It arrived with sweet apricot chutney sitting in a shallow puddle of sage thyme jus. 

At this point, a select few of us were invited into the kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at the action. It was incredibly hectic: especially the large stainless steel table upon which ten or so chefs were plating up the next dish. Hands and knives were a blur, but it was lovely to see the chefs helping each other out and laughing in the process.

The dish that was being prepared was slow cooked wagyu rump with field mushroom puree, a shaved celeriac salad and black garlic vinaigrette, finished with crisp tongue and baby green shoots. It was genius on a plate by Scott Pickett (from Estelle Bar and Kitchen) as usual. The juicy, marbled meat had the table moaning in multiple foodgasms. We were all aware how awful it would be for stoke victims not to be able to enjoy this dish. As for vegetarians? Well that's just self inflicted.

Perhaps the most touching part of the evening was hearing from Andrew, who suffered a stroke when he was just 17. After about six month of intensive rehabilitation, he was able to return almost completely to normal, but he still finds the remnants of stroke affect him every day, such as preparing food in the morning. Two years since his stroke, Andrew is now studying a double degree and hopes to become a neuropsychologist. 

After listening to Andrew, dessert signaled the last course: a hazelnut parfait with chocolate and buttermilk by Nicolas Poelaert from Embrasse Restaurant. The half-sphere of parfait had a fluffy, frozen texture and was subtly sweet. The chocolate and buttermilk took the form of crumbs scattered around the parfait, complemented by some earthy herbs and a puddle of some sort of zesty reduction. Nicolas said the dish was meant to look like a forest floor in autumn. While the colours were definitely seasonal, it was difficult not to be impressed by the artistic nature of the dish, which apparently had been just ‘thrown together'.

At this point I want to mention that Ashley of the blog I’m So Hungree also attended the Food for Thought event... on her birthday! I found it inspiring that she attended a charity dinner without her family, boyfriend or friends on her birthday and was genuine when she said “there is no where I would rather be”. Happy birthday Ash! (See her take on the night here)

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who attended the Food for Thought event went home and hugged their loved ones. Hopefully, they’ll also go get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, as well as eat, drink, exercise, smell, touch, listen and live mindfully. Young Andrew said on the night that since his stroke, he never lives in fear and appreciates every, single day. It shouldn’t take a near death experience for us to do the same.

On the night our table was interviewed about what 'Food for Thought' meant to us. See the YouTube clip here. Poppet was up first and as usual, spoke for a little too long... but that's what happens when there is so much to talk about, right?


  1. I enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing, it's quite sobering that one in 6 people who are close to you will suffer stroke in your lifetime. Great cause cooked by a group of wonderful chefs!

    1. Thanks Fatboo, glad you got something out of it! The statistics are incredibly sobering and it's truly wonderful that so many chefs and industry folk were willing to help out for a cause.

  2. Fantastic post Sofia - I love the way you've described your own loved ones, and used the post to highlight to us all the symptoms and impact of stroke!! The food looks divine - and I'm glad you had an amazing time!! Wish I could have been there! Thanks so much for sharing!


    1. Hi Helen,

      Thank you! It means a lot. Writing this post and using people close to me as an example was actually quite confronting. There are many more than 6 people who I hold close to my heart, and while I am fortunate enough not to have encountered stroke in my immediate relations, the numbers suggest that I will. The National Stroke Foundation really drilled that home on the night! And yes, the food was a huge bonus!


  3. Great introduction to the issue. I do know of people who have suffered strokes, but not as a witness. Definitely will be keeping FAST in mind.

    1. Hey Leaf! I couldn't believe how little I knew about stroke before this event. I think everyone really learnt a lot on the night. I'll definitely be keeping FAST in mind as well.

  4. What a beautifully written article. A lovely balance between the discussion of an important issue and food. I have learnt a lot from this.

    1. Thank you, kind and mysterious individual!

      So glad I could pass on some of what I learnt on the evening to another.

  5. Great coverage Sofia! :) Intro is especially thought provoking!

    Also love that photo of Kenneth and I! Hilarious! How'd you manage to sneak that one in? Or was it too easy? ;)

    1. Ditto to your post Ash! It was a sneaky shot, I'll give you that... but you must have had no idea because the first 3 I took were fuzzy ; ) !

  6. Great review Fi. It was so good to meet you as well. I'm sure we will bump into each other a lot at future food events.

    1. Thanks Thanh!

      So lovely to meet you too!

      Looking forward to the next time we get to stuff our faces together : )