A Culinary Comeback – The Hunter Culinary Association Returns

What happens when four gun chefs with a raft of experience and talent from Sydney and the Hunter Valley go head-to-head after a year on the ropes?

The annual Food Fight is the signature event organised by the Hunter Culinary Association (HCA) and this year marks a triumphant return as the industry reunites after missing the 2020 edition due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s line-up promises to be as impressive as ever, with the chefs tasked with creating a standout dish to take out the prestigious title. Each chef will prepare one lunch course, which will be matched with a premium Hunter Valley wine. Guests will vote for their preferred dish at the conclusion of the lunch.

The chefs involved in the 2021 Food Fight are Mitchell Beswick (Muse Restaurant), Alex Prichard (Icebergs Dining Room and Bar), Sam Alexander (Yellow Billy Restaurant) and Andrew Wandless (Una Más – Coogee Pavilion).

HCA Chairman Gus Maher said the 11th annual Food Fight makes a welcome return to the Hunter’s culinary event calendar, and will once again be hosted by the inimitable duo Colin Fassnidge and Matt Kemp, who are long-time supporters of the Hunter Culinary Association.

“This year marks an exciting return of our beloved signature event and we are thrilled to be back in action, especially after such a difficult year for our region and the hospitality industry at-large in 2020,” Mr Maher said. “Each of these talented chefs have earned their stripes at some of the world’s most prestigious Michelin-starred and hatted restaurants, so guests will be dining at an incredibly high standard.

“The Food Fight and its signature auction raises money for a range of apprentice support and mentoring opportunities, including the Brett Graham Scholarship, which is a long term partnership between the HCA and TAFE NSW.”

The key objectives of the HCA are to provide scholarship opportunities to develop the careers of young and aspiring chefs and apprentices, and to raise the profile of the Hunter region’s rich culinary scene. The Food Fight attracts large industry support but is also open for members of the public to attend and immerse themselves in this special gastronomic experience.

Date: Monday 28 June 2021
Time: 11am
Location: Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, Pokolbin
Cost: $175 for HCA members, $195 for non-members and $90 for apprentice chefs
Bookings: mail@hunterculinary.com.au
More info: www.hunterculinary.com.au

The Chefs

Andrew Wandless – Una Más – The Coogee Pavilion

Australian-born and hailing from Penrith in New South Wales, Andrew started his career at the age of 19, holding apprenticeships at restaurants within the Bayfield Hotels Group, including the historic Newport Arms Hotel in Sydney. He moved to London in 2009, where he began working as Commis Chef under Gary Rhodes at his city-based modern-British venue, Rhodes 24.

Andrew went on to work at some of London’s most feted restaurants, including Mayfair’s two Michelin-starred Hibiscus and two Michelin-starred, The Ledbury. In the same year, The Ledbury placed 14th in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking.

Andrew worked at acclaimed Clapham venue The Dairy, before taking on a role as Junior Sous Chef at Fera at Claridge’s under award-winning chef Simon Rogan. Working for such outstanding culinary experts has allowed Andrew to develop his own approach to technique and flavour.

Andrew joined Texture in 2014, as Head Chef and worked closely with owner and Chef Patron Aggi Sverrisson to lead a team, manage service, maintain Michelin-starred standards and develop exciting new dishes that celebrate both flavour and texture.

After returning to Australia, he moved to Adelaide, then joined Merivale for the Head Chef role at Una Más, one of the latest additions to the middle floor of Coogee Pavilion.

Mitchell Beswick – Muse Restaurant

Mitchell started his career at the age of 15 at a family-owned Spanish restaurant, Pimento, in Sydney’s Paddington. There he learnt the basics of food preparation and kitchen etiquette. Keen to learn more, he moved on to Nick’s Seafood restaurant in Darling Harbour, where he spent three years learning about the preparation of fresh seafood in a very fast paced, highly demanding kitchen, doing 600 covers a service.

Travelling to Far North Queensland at Salsa Bar and Grill Port Douglas, his eyes were opened to a wide range of culinary flavours and from-scratch cooking.

From there he headed back to Sydney to work at the two-hatted Longrain Restaurant, which honed his skills on the balance of Thai flavours and precision knife work. Moving on to work at Ravesis Bondi, and then running a small café and restaurant in Berowra.

Mitchell worked at Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island, before relocating to the Hunter Valley, and held the role of Sous Chef of the two-hatted Rock Restaurant in Pokolbin. He then took a role as Head Chef of Leaves and Fishes and Black Creek Farm for three years. Fast forward to 2021 and Mitchell has been Head Chef of the award-winning two-hatted Muse Restaurant in the Hunter Valley for the past six years.

Alex Prichard – Icebergs Dining Room & Bar

At the young age of 15, he left his hometown of Kurrajong, NSW to begin his apprenticeship and work with some of the best chefs in the world. He is a lover of native produce and celebrates small growers and producers honing on in the importance of origin. Alex is currently Head Chef of the iconic Icebergs Dining Room & Bar.

Sam Alexander – Yellow Billy Restaurant

After starting locally at Nightingale Wines in his hometown of Broke and progressing to The Golden Door Health Retreat in the Hunter Valley, Sam notched up time at two hatted Fins of Byron Bay with seafood legend Steve Snow. Heading back to the Hunter, Sam worked under Robert Molines at Bistro Molines.

A move to Sydney saw him work with Robert Marchetti within the Icebergs Group and finally with the late Jeremy Strode of Bistrode CBD (Merivale Group). After moving to Newcastle, he found his niche at Reserve, cooking bistro classics on the char-grill with his inimitable Mediterranean influences.

The lure of the open fire was too hard to resist and in 2018 he opened his first restaurant Yellow Billy in the Hunter Valley with great friend and wine guru, Patrick Hester. Focusing on the nose-to-tail and kitchen garden philosophy, Sam is able to source the best local produce in the Hunter region using farmers and growers to complement the restaurant-grown produce. The signature style employs an open fire pit to cook whole animals ensuring no wastage while dishes pay homage to his Middle Eastern and Mediterranean background.


Established in 2006, the Hunter Culinary Association is a not-for-profit association guided by a group of industry professionals who volunteer their time to support and promote the region and give back to the industry they are so passionate about.

As a region, the Hunter is a culinary destination offering diverse and abundant dining experiences ranging from quality cafes to two-hatted restaurants, which proudly showcase passionate and talented industry professionals, regionally sourced produce and award-winning wines from some of its highly regarded wineries.

The Hunter Culinary Association continues to grow and establish new opportunities for its members, fostering the region’s talent through initiatives including the Brett Graham Scholarship, the First Creek Front of House Scholarship, the Hunter Culinary Association Apprentice Scholarship, the Encouragement Awards, Front of House Workshops and produce tours.

It works together with key stakeholders to guide and empower the young talent of the region and assist them in developing their culinary skills through mentoring and guidance.

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