Oodles of noodles
Tress Walmsley, a trained agronomist who was appointed InterGrain chief executive in 2012 after working with the company since its inception in 2007, wants to encourage West Australians to follow the Japanese and Koreans by putting more udon noodles on their plate.
In her role with InterGrain, Mrs Walmsley is charged with bringing new barley and wheat varieties to Australian grain growers, including noodle wheat, where the industry is valued at about $350 million annually.
But Mrs Walmsley wants to go beyond the role of ensuring supply, to also stimulate and grow demand.
Mrs Walmsley would therefore use the $10,000 winners grant to "start a food revolution" in udon noodles.
Her "Oodles of Noodles" project would encourage the consumption of udon noodles in the western world, starting at home with WA families.
WA farmers grow most of the world's supply of udon noodles, with InterGrain providing the main varieties, including the newly-released Zen and Supreme varieties.
Mrs Walmsley's plan is to create "udon ambassadors", starting with WA's udon noodle growers and possibly a Perth food journalist.
The five growers would participate in a MasterChef-type session, with professional chefs in Perth to become skilled in the art of cooking delicious and healthy recipes using udon noodles and gain a deep understanding of the industry. These ambassadors would then use the "Tupperware-party concept" to pass on their knowledge and passion to others, along the way generating social and media interest for udon as a healthy and delicious food trend.
"Therefore, more families will become exposed to their great attributes and know how to cook noodles in their homes," she said.
But Mrs Walmsley said she was realistic about the scale of the task ahead.
"Starting a food revolution is a pretty daunting task," she said.
"Even if very successful in making a food revolution change in WA, this still wouldn't have a marked impact on overall demand.
"So the first step would be to get things going and raising awareness here in WA, where udon noodles are grown.
"The vision beyond that is to spread the word further, for example, getting our udon noodles onto MasterChef, onto restaurant menus, and things like getting Jamie Oliver to create recipes.
"This project would give me the opportunity to start a ripple, but a lot more work would be required before it became a full food revolution at a broader level."
Raised on a wheat, sheep and beef property at Northam, Mrs Walmsley started her career in the grains industry as an agronomist at the Department of Agriculture and Food, before moving into grains commercialisation and then on to InterGrain. Beyond her main InterGrain duties of providing new wheat and barley varieties, Mrs Walmsley is a big advocate of education and uses her role at InterGrain to promote agriculture as an attractive career opportunity to high school and university students.
"We present in schools and universities, have students come through our door and offer work experience placements and opportunities for summer casual work," she said.
"We are also very actively involved with the PICSE (Primary Industry Centre for Science Education) program that is run through Curtin University and UWA to encourage agriculture as a career option."
Mrs Walmsley recently presented to Curtin University science students on the udon noodle story, and this week hosted a tour at InterGrain's Bibra Lake headquarters for 10 Harvey Agricultural College students.
Mrs Walmsley said being a woman had not been an obstacle to her successful career.
"I'm often asked whether I've encountered any challenges from being a woman in this industry," she said. "The answer is no - I have had some very supportive male mentors during my career.
"I do have children (aged 9 and 14) and there is the time-challenge with being a mother and holding down this role. But I've become very good at juggling both."
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