Adam Liaw

Distinguished Alumni Award recipient 2023

Adam Liaw is one of the best-known faces of Australian food culture and recipient of a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Adelaide for his contribution to Australian food culture and advocacy for equitable access to nutrition. However, before his rapid rise to fame as a chef, TV host and cookbook author, Adam also had a successful career as a lawyer.

A talented student, Adam enrolled at the University of Adelaide at age 16. In 2000, at only 22 years of age, he held a Bachelor of Science (Jurisprudence) and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours). He began an upward career trajectory in the law, culminating in a role as the Asia Pacific Head of Legal and Business Affairs for Disney Interactive based in Tokyo, Japan.

Now, having published nine cookbooks, hosted dozens of television series, and toured around the world as a chef, Adam has undoubtedly become an icon of modern Australian cuisine. Alongside his media and culinary work, he’s also an experienced non-executive director in the arts, education and diplomacy fields holding board positions with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, TAFE NSW, The Museum of Chinese in Australia and The Australia-Japan Foundation.

Despite his achievements, Adam says his own measures of success aren’t necessarily clear cut. Obvious metrics like how many people buy a cookbook or tune into his shows matter less to him than his own judgement of the work.

“The measure of success for me is: am I pleased with the quality of the work?”

A portrait of Adam Liaw against a black backdrop

Adam Liaw
Bachelor of Science in Jurisprudence 1998, Bachelor of Laws (Honours) 2000

“The measure of success for me is: am I pleased with the quality of the work?”

Adam has a strong belief in making good food accessible to all, and is a vocal advocate for simple, approachable home cooking. As a UNICEF Australia Ambassador, he champions campaigns to promote the power of good nutrition and the dangers of malnutrition, especially for children. Adam’s parents were involved in charity work throughout his childhood. “Working with children, and particularly disadvantaged children, is something I’ve been doing since I was a child myself.”

This work may seem a far cry from the courtroom, but Adam says his study and legal experience often comes in handy in his current career. “I spend a lot of time applying the skills I learnt in my law degree and in my legal career to what I do now, even though it may not look like they’re related at all.

“Nothing that I do today was foreseeable when I left university. It’s never too late to change or shift or slightly adjust your course throughout your career. A career is not an end point that you need to work towards from the very first step. I am doing a particular career now that’s very different than what I did 15 years ago, and in 15 years time I’ll probably do something completely different again!”

Tagged in Distinguished Alumni Awards, Distinguished Alumni Awards 2023, DAA 2023, alumni profiles