The Wine and Food Society of Victoria was modelled on the London Wine and Food Society established by gourmet and historian Andre Simon. It was formed in September 1936, with a joining fee of one guinea (£1/1/- or $2.10) and an annual membership fee of two guineas. The first president was Francois de Castella. Functions were mostly for gentlemen only, with four grand banquets each year to which ladies were invited. Only in 1998 was the constitution changed to permit female membership.
According to one of the founders, John T. Richie, the idea for the Wine and Food Society of Victoria was originally hatched by what he called the “old team”, a group of men who regularly lunched together at Hosie’s Hotel (aka the Hotel London). Having read about the Wine and Food Society, which then had three branches in England and four in the USA, he proposed writing to Andre Simon about forming an affiliate society in Australia.
The object of the Society, according to Andre Simon was:
…to bring together and serve all who believe that a right understanding of good food and wine is an essential part of personal contentment and health and that an intelligent approach to the pleasures and problems of the table offers far greater rewards than the mere satisfaction of appetite.
It was not the first food society to be formed in Melbourne. The Melbourne Beefsteak Club traced its origins back to 1886. But in September 1936 at the Alexander Hotel (later the Savoy Plaza and now the Savoy on Little Collins) in Spencer Street, a meeting that included the 13 founders agreed to form the Wine and Food Society of Victoria.
The founding members were: John T Ritchie, Theo Howell, Wally Strang, W (Bill) R Nairn, W E Thomas, Dave Sutherland Smith, Walter H Trodel, Major M E Dunham, Norman A Stephens, John Byron, Frank Kelsey, Lionel Munsie and Jim McAllester.
In the first year there were eight functions for members and male guests, plus four banquets. The banquets were held at grand hotels, while the regular functions took place at various restaurants. The Victorian society became part of the International Wine and Food Society in the 1950s.