10 years of our Dine with Heart Gala Dinner

29 April 2024
guests on stage of the palais at the 2023 gala

This year’s Dine with Heart (DWH) Gala Dinner marks the 10-year anniversary of the Mission’s largest fundraising event. It takes place annually on the stage of the iconic Palais Theatre. For a decade, some of Melbourne’s most talented chefs have volunteered their time and talent to provide guests with a fine dining experience and have raised over one million dollars to help us keep the doors of the Dining Hall open.

DWH has been extremely fortunate to have two long-standing Ambassadors, Leanne Clancey and Damian Colless, who continue to support the Gala with their expertise, time and networks each year to ensure the event is a resounding success.

Leanne Clancey is a food and travel writer, restaurant critic, Food Editor of The Monocle Travel Guide Series – Melbourne and the author of An Appetite for Melbourne. Leanne’s commitment to the hospitality industry spans nearly 30 years. before becoming a writer, Leanne worked in the hospitality industry at award-winning restaurants in Australia and London and later as a restaurant management teacher at William Angliss Institute.

Photo of Leanne Clancey
Leanne Clancey

Leanne shared that Sacred Heart Mission holds a special place in her heart:

“Coming to St Kilda from the country aged 19 really broadened my sense of the world,” she explains. “I was living right by the Mission and got a daily understanding of the scale of social inequality in Melbourne at the time.

She continues: “Up close, every day, I could see people facing big challenges. I remember feeling a sense of comfort knowing there was this place whose mission was to welcome vulnerable people and give them a sense of belonging – that really stuck with me.”

Damien Colless is the Gala’s Ambassador and Culinary Director. Damian began his culinary career in Queensland before moving to Melbourne. He took on key team positions at Stokehouse, The Point, The Windsor Castle and The Big Group before joining catering and events company Food & Desire.

Damian, like Leanne, lived in St Kilda when he first moved to Melbourne and agrees that the Mission’s role is increasingly needed.

It’s hard to miss Sacred Heart Mission and its need in the community,” Damian explains. “Life’s not the same for everyone; I learned this the hard way as a kid. Any one of us could have ended up needing the Mission.”

Photo of Damien Colless
Damien Colless

Leanne and Damian are instrumental in bringing on board the top chefs in Melbourne each year for the Gala. Leanne says:

“For nearly 30 years, I’ve worked very closely with chefs, and I love that I can turn those connections into something positive for the Mission,” Leanne explains.

“Chefs instantly understand the importance of the work of the Dining Hall and the concept of using a meal to bring people together. Ultimately, they’re all very generous people, so to share their time and talent for the Gala is often an easy sell.”

Damian’s passion and commitment to Dine with Heart sees him running the kitchen on Gala night, supporting chefs and overseeing 600+ plates for expectant diners. He runs a unique ‘back of house’ with a host of talented chefs all in one kitchen, working together to create a memorable experience for guests. When asked why he continues to give up his valuable time to volunteer at the Gala, he says:

“People need support; it doesn’t matter who you are. At some time, you will need a shoulder. My work with DWH is somewhat indirect to [the Mission’s] services, but if I can reduce the stress in one area, it will reduce stress in another.”

We are extremely grateful to Leanne and Damian for continuing this important fundraising event for the Mission, and we look forward to another successful event in May this year.