Meet the 2024 Bar Awards MC, Myffy Rigby

On August 5, Newcastle’s inaugural Bar Awards will come to life, with a guest list of more than 300 local industry stars rocking their Monday best. Bartholomew’s will set the scene for a convergence of the best and brightest in Newcastle’s drinks scene. 

Keeping the crowd entertained (and in order) throughout the night and taking on the almighty role of MC is none other than the affable Myffy Rigby. 

The former national editor of Australia’s influential Good Food Guide, Myffy has moved her editorial talents into the fantastical world of Swill magazine. You may have also caught Myffy on screen via her highly entertaining and completely moorish series What’s Good in the Hood.

myffy rigby bar awards newcastle mc
Myffy Rigby

We had the pleasure of catching up with Myffy about her incredible work at Swill, as well as some all-important food and drink chatter.

Hi Myffy! Firstly, thank you for taking the time to chat, and coming on board as our MC for Bar Awards – we can’t wait to have you visit. 

How did you find your way to food writing?

I’ve been working as a food writer for just shy of 20 years. I was an early school leaver and spent my teens and 20s bumming around restaurants working as a short order cook. I eventually went to TAFE, did my HSC and took myself to uni where I continued to cook and study at the same time.

I always loved magazines and was an avid collector and dreamed of finding a way of being able to find my own way of communicating in that world. And I did! I started writing for street press, helped launch Time Out magazine in Australia as their food and drink editor, and eventually became the editor of the Good Food Guide. All it takes is one person to believe in you and give you a chance. The rest is all grit and a bit of good luck. 

For those who aren’t familiar, what is Swill all about?

Swill is a large format print magazine published in Sydney that celebrates restaurant culture around the globe, but not as you know it. The publication also weaves stories about art (issue 2 features Massachusetts-based guache painter Richard Baker); design (Vincent Peranio, long-time collaborator of John Waters and David Simon was a real highlight); music (bassist Ray Ahn talks about what it's like to be young and Korean on the racist 80s Australian punk scene); books (Indian author Avni Doshi on her semi-autobiographical novel, Brown Sugar), and entertainment (god of spaghetti Stanley Tucci has serious thoughts on glassware and vacuuming) through its pages. The bottom line is, if it has heart, we’re interested. 

What about your connection to Swill Magazine, how did that come about?

I was sitting in a pub in Sydney with a couple of old photographer friends of mine. One of them had a film camera slung over his shoulder that he’d been shooting a few personal projects on. The other commented that he never shoots anything anymore, unless he is paid for it. It got us talking about what was important to us about the work we were doing. At the time, I was editing a restaurant guide for a major Australian newspaper and had been in the same role for seven years. As much as that job taught me a lot about working in corporate media, I was completely miserable and ready to cold quit.

Enter my friends, restaurateur Anton Forte and his artist-wife Allie Webb. They own and run some of the most loved and frequented establishments in the country (Shady Pines, Baxter Inn, Alberto’s Lounge, Restaurant Hubert, Le Foote) under the banner of Swillhouse. Wildly creative free-thinkers, they’re like the Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson of Australian hospitality. They’d always dreamed of starting a magazine – something independent of their venues that carried the same freedom of expression. They asked me to start it with them. In light of that recent conversion at the pub, I jumped with no parachute.    

Swill is one of the most uniquely-designed magazines we’ve ever picked up – what was the initial brief for the magazine?

We never had one. Our launch issue was a pretty ‘suck it and see’ approach and since then, we’ve changed it up with pretty much every new mag. A nip here, a tuck there, and the occasional entire redesign in the case of issue 5. 

The world of print media is a tough gig these days, yet Swill is turning the “print is dead” mantra on its head. What decisions did you make with Swill that you think have contributed to its success?

I don’t believe print’s ever been in danger of dying. I do believe the media is its own worst enemy in spreading that message, though. I think the reason Swill is successful in its field is because we deliver truthful, authentic, and engaging content with no agenda. I’d prefer to take a risk and serve someone a story they didn’t know they wanted until they started reading it, rather than play it safe with guaranteed hits. We only write about what we’re passionate about and we deliver those stories in a way that would never work online. Print’s not dead, it’s just been taking a rest while people got hungry to read again. And that time is now.     

What excites you about the hospitality industry in Australia right now?

The fact that under so much duress, it’s an industry that keeps punching above its weight, staying nimble and creative even in the most pressure-cooker situations. 

You're food obsessed like us – if you could visit three eateries in Australia right now, which would you pick and why?

Arkhe Dining in Adelaide to try Jake Kellie’s hearth cooking; Rodney Dunn’s Agrarian Kitchen in Hobart now he’s finished his new garden (the largest kitchen garden in the Southern Hemisphere!); Greasy Zoe’s in Melbourne cos it’s been around for ages, I’ve heard amazing things, and I’m desperate to try it.      

We love to know what people are eating – what’s the best dish you’ve eaten recently?

Alannah Sapwell’s Bloomin Onion at the Eltham Hotel on the Northern Rivers.

What current dining trend could you take or leave?

Am I in trouble if I say all of them? I hate trends. 

If you could have any chef, present or past, cook dinner for you, who would you choose and why?

Tony and Gay Bilson, Berowra Waters Inn, early 80s. What a time to dine.