Communify Cook Off – Press Release

Posted on Nov 5, 2014

On Wednesday the 15th of October, the first Communify Cook off was held at Vanilla Zulu in Wilston. In light of national Anti-Poverty week from the 12th to 18th of October, the event raised much-needed funds for Communify Queensland’s pantry program and shed light on the 2.5 million Australians living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

Melanie Townsend, executive chef and owner of Vanilla Zulu challenged McGrath, Pitcher Partners, Ray White and Deloitte to cook a meal based on the mystery box of ingredients they were allocated. Each box contained ingredients for an internationally renowned dish. After each team chose a cooking utensil allocated to the countries Thailand, Morocco, Spain and Italy, the four groups began to frantically stir, strain and slice in an effort to impress the judges.

After the time limit of ninety minutes was up, the teams nervously presented their creations to guest judges Saxon Rice, Member for Mt Coot-tha, Ryan Squires, 2014 Citi Chef of the Year, Emily Loo, 2014 Master Chef contestant and Mel Kettle, marketing consultant and food enthusiast.

Cooking time saw the previously neat and open cooking spaces of Vanilla Zulu turn into a flurry of mess and frenzy. Within the first twenty minutes, disaster struck when smoke from one team’s burning oven filled the room. After suspicions led to the belief that McGrath were responsible, the team were quick to comment ‘no disclosure’ before pointing the finger to their fellow competitors, Ray White.

Despite the stress of food preparations, all teams flourished under Melanie and her team’s watchful eyes. Kurtis Pirotta of McGrath noted how important it is to be involved with non-for-profit organisations such as Communify. “Tonight’s event is a way that we can give back to our local community by supporting such an enriching program. To us, it is priceless to have such an enjoyable evening and at the same time provide funding for Communify”.

Throughout the meal preparations, Melanie and her staff graciously provided her assistance and ensured that even the teams with little to no cooking expertise produced culinary masterpieces. “Regardless of the level of skill, Vanilla Zulu is a place where people can come and enjoying cooking,” Melanie said. “We want people to enjoy a no-pressure, hands on experience, by letting them find their own feet in terms of old and new ingredients”. When it was time to dish up the final product for serving, Melanie stressed that food styling and plating techniques is what makes a difference in enhancing a meal. “Really it comes down to less work, more skills and better presentation”.

As the aromas from Thailand, Morocco, Spain and Italy filled the room to the brink, it was clear that the dishes were ready for judging. Each team chose their best-looking plate to present to the keen eyed guest judges. Guest judge Ryan Squires was looking for a visually appealing dish to win him over. “You have to first ‘wow’ someone with the look of the dish before they even take a bite,” he said. Emily Loo, 2014 Master Chef contestant, said that the winning dish would be rich in flavour.

Although all teams forked out first place worthy meals, based on the criteria set by the judges, McGrath’s rubbed Moroccan Chicken was the overall winner.  After judging, all of the guests were rewarded by being able to sit down and eat their various creations.

Without the extensive planning of Cate Clifford and Kathryn Donaldson of the University of Queensland School of Tourism, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, the event would not have taken place. “Over the past nine weeks, our students worked tirelessly to ensure the cook off would be a success,” Kathryn said. Grace Burke, team leader of the student event organisers emphasised how much effort was involved in marketing and sponsorship plans to ensure the evening was engaging and entertaining for all the guests. “Being here tonight makes us proud that we were able to organise an event worthy of Anti-Poverty week,” she said.

Without the involvement of all the event organisers and contributors, the night would not have been as successful. Firstly, big thanks to Melanie and her team at Vanilla Zulu for supplying the venue and providing her expertise and charismatic flare for the evening. Thank-you to Sirromet winery, Gordon & Luxton gourmet butcher and Charlie’s Fruit Online for ensuring that the event was catered to the highest of standards. Appreciation goes out to Rhys Newell and Chuyi Zhang. Their musical talents created a welcoming and enthusiastic environment, which Paul Davidson of Cordare Studio kindly captured through his photography.

Lastly, a big thank-you to McGrath, Pitcher Partners, Ray White and Deloitte for their involvement in the event.

The efforts of all involved in the cook off will contribute to much-needed funds for Communify Queensland’s pantry program and raise awareness on the 2.5 million Australians currently living in poverty.


Vanilla Zulu, located in Wilston, hosted Communify’s first Cook Off.


Executive chef Melanie Townsend presents team dishes for judging to Mel Kettle, Emily Loo, Ryan Squires and Saxon Rice


Emily Loo, Master Chef 2014 contestant offers guest’s practical tips and tricks.


Teams McGrath, Deloitte, Pitcher Partners and Ray White fill Vanilla Zulu.


Melanie Townsend gives guests handy tips on what gives a dish flavour.

Below: McGrath’s Moroccan chicken took out first place.

All images supplied by Cordare Studio.