After a decade as Chairperson of the Hunter Culinary Association (HCA), highly-respected hospitality executive Ben Neil will step down from the position in 2018 and hand the reigns to tourism identity Gus Maher.
Ben has steered the HCA to its current identity as a dynamic, not-for-profit association guided by a group of industry professionals who volunteer their time to support and promote the Hunter Region and give back to the industry they are so passionate about.
Under Ben’s chairmanship, the HCA has harnessed the energy and professionalism of the region to achieve some significant milestones. Working 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, the HCA’s achievements in the past 11 years are impressive.
They include the introduction of annual industry scholarships, including the First Creek Front-of-House Scholarship, Apprentice Support Scholarships ($10K annual), Apprentice Encouragement Awards, Industry Person of Excellence and Rising Star Award. The long-term partnership with TAFE NSW – Hunter Institute has also allowed HCA to build the highly-coveted Brett Graham Scholarship into a $10K prize package.
Ben said he was thankful to have worked alongside the enthusiastic and hard-working industry identities who have supported the association as a committee and given their time so generously for the betterment of the region’s culinary industry.
“I was asked by the original association Founders Robert Molines, Andy Wright and Nick Vivian to take over the running of the association to guide the association towards a more business-focused approach,” Ben said.
“I have remained as Chair for so long because the position was made so pleasurable and rewarding thanks to the relationships we’ve built between local operators, industry people and the HCA partners.
“For me personally, it has also been amazing to see kids as young apprentices or front-of-house professionals beginning their careers then years later taking out key HCA scholarships or competitions and going on to become some of the region’s best operators.
“We’ve enjoyed significant support from some very high-profile industry names and have hosted the likes of Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s), Darren Robertson (Three Blue Ducks and The Farm @ Byron) and Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio at The Spit). We’ve also had long-time support from people like Colin Fassnidge (MKR/Four Fourteen) and Matt Kemp (The Byron @ Byron) whose annual inclusion in our Food Fight has always ensured an entertaining few days each year.”
Ben said he was extremely confident the HCA would be in good hands with Gus.
“Gus is a well-known identity in the industry,” Ben said.
“He has worked across tourism, wine industry as well as the event and marketing industries for many years and has always had an involvement with HCA. He is a keen foodie and passionate flag waver of the region’s tourism.”
The Association in 2018 will be guided by Gus Maher (Chair and a long-standing committee member of seven years), Lisa Margan of Margan Family Wines (Vice Chair), Garreth Robbs of Bistro Molines, Clare Bremerkamp of Spicers Vineyard and Kyle Whitbourne of Restaurant Mason Catering.
IMAGE | Ben Neil will step down from the position of Chairperson for the Hunter Culinary Association.