Lyndey Milan is a longtime familiar name and face on the Australian food scene – from her work on The Australian Women’s Weekly and Australian Table magazines, to her TV appearances and efforts behind the scenes in support of the foodservice industry. A great example is her role as co-founder and patron of the TAFE NSW Tasting Success Mentoring program, developed to invest in female industry leaders of tomorrow.
The origins of this go back to 2004, when Lyndey was one of the chefs at the Great Women Chefs of Australia Dinner. “We’d organised it as a fundraiser for the late Courtney Clark, the partner of Norma Willis who was an amazing caterer back in the day, upon her Parkinson’s diagnosis,” Lyndey recalls.
“In around 2005/6 there was an opportunity to do something about it, when Sandra Nori who was Minister for Women under the Carr NSW Government created a business mentoring program for women called the Lucy program, because her daughter had a friend called Lucy who had said how hard it was to find mentors. So I went to see her and suggested we do something similar for women chefs. It all came together really quickly because we worked initially with the Office of Women and then went through TAFE NSW in 2007 as a means of administering the program and finding the applicants.”
The program has evolved since its inception and today describes itself as a once in a lifetime experience which pairs women with leading chefs, giving them the self-confidence, self-awareness and skills they need to be leaders in the industry. Industry mentors are carefully chosen to show the next generation of female chefs what’s possible, exposing them to best industry practice and produce they might not see in an everyday restaurant.
One of the program’s alumni, Thi Lee, has recently been named Gourmet Traveller’s first ever female Chef of the Year. Under the Tasting Success program Thi was paired with celebrated chef Christine Mansfield and had the chance to work with her at Universal in Sydney.
“It was quite a formative experience,” Thi says, “and one where I hold some of my fondest kitchen memories. Working with Chris taught me to hone my palate. I learned the importance of layering flavours and techniques to accentuate flavour which I don’t believe I would have been exposed to in any other kitchen.”
Thi has since become known for bringing a Southeast Asian influence to her three Melbourne ventures – the hatted Vietnamese restaurant Anchovy, Laos-inspired Jeow, and banh mi bar Ca Com.
Program being rolled out across NSW
The Tasting Success program gives each mentors 35 hours face to face with their mentor as well as workshops. Thanks to increased funding this year, the program is being rolled out right across NSW. “It’s amazing when you consider there was a change of government yet we still got the funding,” Lyndey says. ”We have two blocks of masterclasses, the first of which has already been done and encompassed business principles for chefs, social media, resilience in the kitchen – all really important stuff. In another week I’m doing presentation skills, there’s a fish butchery masterclass with Josh Niland, there’s part two of business principles for chefs and social media, there’s a masterclass with Meat and Livestock Australia, another on food styling at Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbooks, and a food and wine matching. It’s very comprehensive and it’s such an opportunity to learn.”
Lyndey emphasises the need to keep the program exclusive to women. “There are lots of other resources that the boys can access, but this one is for the girls. The question people need to ask is, where are the top notch female chefs? We want these women to go on and become tomorrow’s leaders. Foodservice is the most incredible industry because it’s filled with supportive people, and those who’ve made it have made it for a reason – they are rounded, wonderful human beings. And people like that make excellent mentors.”
Mentorships last six to nine months
TAFE NSW Acting Team Leader of Cookery, Bakery, Patisserie and Nutrition Sheridan Marz has been working on the program with Lyndey since 2016 and together they interview each applicant. “Once they apply we put in a lot of time and thought to try to find them the right mentor. If necessary we’ll go back, check with their teachers and talk about who we think might suit them.
Once or twice we’ve had to change a mentor but mostly we’ll get the fit right. We only use really top chefs and I know them all personally – of course there aren’t enough female mentors, so we will also use males.”
Each mentorship takes six to nine months and requires the students to assist the mentors in their professional kitchen. Participating chef mentors have included Kylie Kwong, Testuya Wakuda, Tony Bilson, Neil Perry and Alex Herbert.
Lyndey emphasises participation in the program is a big commitment. “They’ve got to do all this in their own time – they’re getting this amazing opportunity for nothing and the mentors aren’t getting paid either, so everyone has to put in the yards. We ask them to ensure they’ve spoken to their employers about entering the program and typically bosses are very supportive. The idea isn’t that a mentor will then employ the mentee, although they can and do have enduring relationships. It really is difficult for people to access the calibre of chefs we’re putting them in touch with on their own, and it can and does change their lives – so they’ve got to give it their all.”
Aside from her work with Tasting Success, Lyndey has recently been busy hosting international food tours – “I’m going to Morocco next year – Covid really devastated them so it’s important that they have an opportunity to showcase what they have.”
She is also heavily committed to her work for the Leukemia Foundation in memory of her late son Blair, and is a regular writer for Selector magazine. “I also host regional food and wine festivals, speak on culinary tourism and I’m on the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW,” she adds. “I’m a great proponent of the hospitality of the table and the quality of Australian produce. My new website tagline is ‘connecting at the table’ and that’s really what I do – whether it’s between producers and chefs, taking people on tours, teaching about food and wine, I’m all about publicising and promoting the wonderful food we have in this country.”
Watch Tasting Success video posted by SkillsOneTV.