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Melbourne-born Greek chef up for Basque Culinary World Prize for refugee work

Dan Stock, June 25, 2017 5:50PM Herald Sun

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A MELBOURNE-born Greek chef is in the running to win one of the world’s most prestigious* culinary* awards.

Melinda McRostie, who runs the Starfish Foundation that supports refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos, is one of 10 finalists in the Basque Culinary World Prize.

The award is given to chefs whose projects around the world have improved society through gastronomy*.

Melinda McRostie, Top Ten Finalist Basque World Culinary Prize. Picture: supplied media_cameraMelinda McRostie by the sea. Picture: supplied

McRostie, who arrived in Lesvos with her mother as a three-year-old, runs a restaurant on the island called The Captain’s Table. It’s from her restaurant in the small village of Molyvos she began providing food, water and shelter to thousands of refugees who arrived from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Refugees are people who are fleeing their home countries out of fear and danger, in this case because of fighting in the Middle East.

According to McRostie, over the past 2 ½ years more than 200,000 refugees have passed through Molyvos, a village that has just 1000 permanent residents.

They are coming on boats across the Mediterranean Sea.

“We’ve always tried to help people in need, it’s something we’ve always done,” McRostie said.

It was a phone call in the middle of the night in November 2014 that set McRostie on the path that led to the creation of the Starfish Foundation.

Supplied Editorial Quilty agsa show media_cameraRefugee life jackets on the coast. Picture: Ben Quilty

“The coastguard* called me and asked if I had any clothes I had collected (for poor locals) as they had a boatload of very wet, cold people. It just went from there.”

In the beginning 100 refugees were arriving a week. By the summer of 2015 that turned into 1000 a day.

McRostie initially* welcomed them into her restaurant before setting up a camp to provide food, water, medical facilities and buses to the island capital Mytilene, where processing of the refugees occurs.

View of the island of Lesvos (aka Lesbos) in the Greek Isles, in Discovery Travel and Living Channel TV show 'Feast Greece'. media_cameraOne part of the island. Picture: supplied

“People would say to me, thank you for saving my life. I don’t think I saved anybody’s life, I was just giving them some food and water and juice and clothes, but they were so grateful,” she said.

The number of arrivals has since slowed and the island is no longer in crisis mode.

McRostie and other short-listed chefs were chosen by a committee chaired by Elena Arzak from Arzak restaurant in Spain, who was recently in Melbourne for the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards.

The winner will be announced on July 18 and will be awarded €100,000 (AUD 150,000) to devote* to a project of their choice.

McRostie said the prize money would enable her to continue the work she was doing on the island.

Melinda McRostie who runs the Starfish Foundation that supports refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos, is one of 10 finalists in the Basque Culinary World Prize 2017.  The award is given to chefs whose projects around the world have improved society through gastronomy. media_cameraMelinda in the kitchen. Picture: supplied

“Because we’re not in crisis mode with the refugees to the rest of the world, the money has slowly dried up. But so much is still needed here,” she said.

“I’ve only got enough money left for another couple of weeks.”


prestigious: well regarded and respected

culinary: to do with food

gastronomy: practice of food and cooking

coastguard: people who patrol seas and shores

initially: at the start

devote: give everything to



Activity 1. Basque Culinary World Prize

Read or listen to the article carefully before completing these questions.

• What award is Melinda McRostie being considered for?

• Why is she being considered for this award?

• What event led her to start helping refugees?

• How has she helped them?

• Is her work appreciated? If so, by who? How do you know?

Extension: And the winner is…

How will winning this award continue to help refugees passing through Molyvos, Lesvos?

Assume that Melinda McRostie wins this prize and write a letter of thanks from McRostie to the committee chairman, outlining how she might use the money to continue to help the refugees.

Time: allow about 40 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: English

Activity 2: How many kilometres to Lesvos?

Use Google Maps or an atlas to calculate approximately how far refugees may have travelled before reaching Ms McRostie’s camp.

Assume that the refugees have travelled from the capital city of each country mentioned.

In Google maps, you can work out the distance to Lesvos by locating the capital city, then right clicking the mouse and selecting ‘directions from here’, zoom the map out until you can locate Lesvos and click on this location.

Extension: Diary entry

Imagine you are a refugee arriving from Damascus.

Write a diary entry describing your feelings on arrival at McRostie’s camp.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Geography, Mathematics


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)

Random Recipe!

As a chef, you need to follow a series of steps to prepare the food you are cooking. We sometimes call this a sequence. Sequences occur in our everyday life. We follow them when we brush our teeth, putting on our clothes and even cleaning the dishes!

Write a sequence or a “Random Recipe” for a partner to follow.

It can be something as simple as drawing a series of shapes on a page or walking a few steps around the classroom. The challenge is to write it clearly enough so that your partner can follow along!


1. Get a piece of paper

2. Pick up a pencil

3. Draw a small square on a page.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Remember to ensure your instructions are clear. Otherwise, your partner may have some difficulty following along!

Time: allow approximately 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP







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