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Feast of Merit – Bringing old community values into modern day Melbourne

Posted by: Patrick Catanzariti on December 3, 2015

About 3 years ago, Ravi Presser, the head chef of Feast of Merit, a social enterprise restaurant owned by Y Generation Against Poverty (YGAP), travelled to London and New York on a culinary quest. At world-class eateries like Ottolenghi in London and ABC Kitchen and Jean Georges in New York he realised that meals were towards vegetables being the centre of the meal, rather than meat.

“I want to do that in Melbourne,” he thought to himself, and Feast of Merit was born.

But for Ravi it is more than just the food. Running a restaurant is also about giving back to the wider community by supporting local farmers and community businesses.

“There is definitely a farm to table philosophy coming through,” he explains.

“While eating at Jean George in New York I noticed that at the back of every menu they listed every single supplier, and I am talking every little thing, from the salt, to the tea cups to the honey. The greatest thing was that everything was sourced from a supplier within a 10km radius from the restaurant.”

And Feast of Merit has done that too. They are extremely specific about their producers and the origins of their coffee and ingredients, and they ensure that their patrons know that too.

“We have a very strong emphasis on community, which ties in with what YGAP is all about and also what the name “Feast of Merit” represents,” Ravi explains.

A Feast of Merit is a tradition from the Naga culture in East India. When you become the most wealthy within the community you have a feast, called a Feast of Merit, where you give everything away and host a banquet that runs until all produce is finished.

“The name ‘Feast of Merit’ resonated with us because it is what we were trying to do. We wanted to use local suppliers, emulate the slow food movement, focus on our community, and practice ethical and sustainable ways of existing.”

At Feast of Merit everything has been built and presented in a sustainable fashion, and even though it is a charitable social enterprise, they don’t cut corners to save money when it comes to their produce.

As Ravi explains, they could be using “shitty cheese and meat that doesn’t come from reputable suppliers, but that’s not what we’re about.”

They use Milawa free range chicken, market fish and Hopkins River Beef.

To Ravi “product is king, especially in Melbourne,” and it is his priority to ensure they have good products to get patrons in the door. Once they are there, the staff make it their mission to educate them on what they’re about.

Ultimately, Feast of Merit want their patrons to have a really nutritious meal and leave nourished, knowing a little more about their community, where their food has come from, where their money is going and who they are supporting.

Ravi’s vision is to sit down with business owners and inspire them to give back to their community also, on any level.

Some people may think that Feast of Merit’s philosophy is a lofty ideal, “but what is living if you don’t have ideals?”

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