Best in Aussie business get set for the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff

Australia's top CEOs in an OzHarvest Cookoff

150 of Australia's most influential business people will join 50 of the nation's best chefs in the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff.

The knives will be out, but instead of the cut-and-thrust of the corporate world it will be all about slicing and dicing when top Aussie executives hit the kitchen to do battle in the name of charity.

Now in its fifth year, the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff will see 150 of the country's best business leaders, assisted by 50 top chefs, cooking for 1300 homeless and vulnerable Australians on Monday, March 7.

Luke Baylis, the CEO of Sumo Salad, will be one lending a hand. Last year, unsurprisingly, he created a prawn and risoni salad for the event.

"Nailed it, absolutely, I know my salads," he told Executive Style. "I studied to be a chef when I left school; I always had a passion for cooking but I didn't like the hours or the attitude of the some of the head chefs I was working with."

Baylis says he does all of the cooking at home for the family and likes creating healthy treats for his kids.  "A lot of work goes into making my zucchini noodles," he says. "This year I'm aiming to raise more than $10,000 at the CEO Cookoff."

Food for thought

Founded in 2004, OzHarvest was the first perishable food rescue organisation in Australia. Each week it collects 56 tonnes of food that would otherwise end up in landfill, and distributes it to 800 charities across the nation. Over the past decade OzHarvest has delivered more than 45 million meals to people in need.

The CEO Cookoff is OzHarvest's signature event, with around $4 million raised by the business community over the past five years.  Companies involved this year include Goodman+ Property, Virgin Mobile, Macquarie Bank, PwC, Caltex, and George Weston Foods.

OzHarvest CEO and founder Ronni Kahn says the money raised will be used to support food rescue, nutrition education, hospitality training and community engagement programs. She says apart from the charity side of the event, the CEOs and companies involved get a boost to their morale from taking part.

Turning the tables

"Look at Adam Ritchie (executive general manager) from Caltex and the way he has really engaged his team," Kahn says. "He's got them baking cakes with the Caltex logo on top. They are all pitching in, doing bake-offs and cook-offs and challenges to support him. How beautiful is that? It's about role modelling and leadership.

"The Cookoff also allows the CEOs to engage with the people they are often writing cheques for; the vulnerable and homeless. It's a chance to spend a night where the tables are turned and they are serving other people. It's about spreading love and joy."

At the time of writing Khan herself was at the top of the fundraising leader-board with $92,000 raised, following an anonymous donation of $71,000. In second place was Aussie Home Loans CEO James Symond with $85,000, followed by Adrian Cosenza, the CEO of the Australian Orthopaedic Association.

Raising the roof

"Adrian has consistently raised more than $50,000 for the last three years," Kahn says. "He's a quiet little dude, but he's tenacious."

Among the other executives participating this year are Woolworths marketing director Andrew Hicks, Barangaroo Delivery Authority CEO Craig van der Laan, TFE Hotels CEO Rachel Argaman, Clorox general manager Simon Durrant and HOSTPLUS CEO David Elia.

Swapping suits for aprons

Symond says he has enjoyed the process so far, but despite taking a few cooking lessons, isn't confident about his talent in the kitchen. "I can do bacon and eggs and some toast and cereal and that's about it," he says.

"Up until now my cooking skills have been prehistoric. I could play lunch for Australia; I'm a professional eater, but in terms of being on the other side of the kitchen bench … no.

"I'm personally trying to raise $100,000; that's the easy part. Am I nervous about having to cook for five or six hours for more than 1000 people? You betcha."

This year's participants will be ably assisted by a stellar line-up of chefs including Matt Moran, Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore, Luke Mangan and Guillaume Brahimi. Each star chef will guide a team of CEOs to cook and prepare a three-course meal.

The event will be held for the first time at The Cutaway at Barangaroo reserve. Brisbane's event will be held on the same evening at the Royal International Convention Centre.

Anyone can support the cause by donating to their favourite CEO or chef. Every dollar donated means OzHarvest can deliver the equivalent of two meals and has a social return on investment value of $5.68. To donate go to www.ceocookoff.com.au and sponsor a CEO or chef.

Watch the video above to see the CEOs getting ready for the OzHarvest Cookoff.