A public post on Jim Berardo's Facebook page shows Mr Berardo and friends enjoying Mercato Centrale in Florence, Tuscany.
A public post on Jim Berardo's Facebook page shows Mr Berardo and friends enjoying Mercato Centrale in Florence, Tuscany. Nicky Moffat

Jim Berardo lives in Tuscany while creditors remain unpaid

MORE than a year after the collapse of the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, its failed former director Jim Berardo is living in Italy.

While it is unclear whether Mr Berardo and his partner Greg O'Brien will return to the Sunshine Coast, sources say the pair are now living in the Tuscan city of Lucca.

Mr Berardo made headlines in May last year when he announced his fine dining establishment Berardo's Restaurant - a Noosa icon - had closed.

The company managing both the restaurant and the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, of which Mr Berardo was director, was placed in voluntary administration and later liquidated.

A public post on Mr Berardo's Facebook on May 6 page shows him enjoying Mercato Centrale, an Italian marketplace and eatery famous for reviving a market built in 1874 through the celebration of Tuscan cuisine and fresh market produce. 

Online reviews describe Mercate Centrale as a lively place to eat, where every dish served in the upstairs dining area is made only with ingredients from the marketplace below.

Back in Noosa, one creditor whose business supplied high-end wine, champagne and French sparkling wine to the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival 2015 says he he's glad to see the back of Jim Berardo after thousands of dollars in bills were left unpaid.

"We never got a cent," Nelson Wine Company Queensland manager Darren Patterson said. "Not even fifty bucks."

Mr Patterson said that while Nelson Wine Company lost thousands, he had never expected to see the money and had since moved on.

"I laugh about it a bit these days," he said. "But he can stay there - I hope he never comes back.

"We won't miss Jim Berardo. Whatever's happened, he took the money and ran."

Noosa Food and Wine Events was liquidated last year and in September its liquidator, John Cunningham, confirmed no creditors had been repaid.

Mr Berardo told the Daily in September he would repay his debts using personal finances. He had earlier said in a media statement he was "1000% committed" to that goal.

A Noosa restaurateur and creditor explained to the Daily in January that only one third of the funds owed had been repaid.

"Jim always promised that he would ensure we got paid even if it came out of his own personal funds - and that he is a man of his word," the restaurateur wrote in an email to the Daily.

"Once the media release (announcing Mr Berardo had cancelled his festival plan) was sent we did not receive any further correspondence from Jim."

Despite protestations from creditors, Mr Berardo had planned to run the 2016 Noosa International Food and Wine Festival and maintained this position even when his company had been liquidated.

As reported by the Daily, the liquidator claimed Mr Berardo had traded while insolvent - a claim Mr Berardo vehemently denied.

So how did the former director of a failed company end up at the helm - albeit briefly - of the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival 2016?

After Noosa Food and Wine Events, went into voluntary administration on May 29 last year, Mr Berardo formed a new company, Berardo's Festival Management.

In September last year he bought the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival's intellectual property rights from the failed company he had previously directed, presumably through Berardo's Festival Management.

But in November last year Mr Berardo cancelled plans to run this year's festival, after a rival Noosa festival - proposal by the owners of Sheraton Noosa and planned for the same weekend in May - won sponsorship funds from Tourism and Events Queensland.

This spelled the end of any hope creditors had of repayment, according to creditors themselves.

Meanwhile, Noosa's reinvented premiere food and wine festival, Noosa Food and Wine, has continued its evolution, staging a sell-out series of events at Noosa's main beach and at venues around the region on May 20-22 this year.

Tourism Noosa now owns the event as well as the intellectual property for Mr Berardo's Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, after owners of Sheraton Noosa stepped down from the job in February.

Tourism Noosa's festival director for Noosa Food and Wine, Alesha Gooderham, had just three months to organise the event.

Her team included Shane Bailey, who coordinated the participating chefs, and 62 volunteers who took tickets and helped on the weekend of the festival.

Tourism Noosa's Damien Massingham said an "avalanche of support" from sponsors had allowed his organisation to succeed in attracting Australian and international chefs for the event, which had a strong emphasis on supporting local producers, the food industry, restaurants and venues.       

A straw poll of punters conducted by the Daily on the final day of the 2016 festival returned praise, with visitors and local residents saying lower ticket prices had made the event more accessible.

10,000 people attended the event and more than 7000 tickets were sold, Mr Massingham said.

Whether Mr Berardo and his partner Greg O'Brien return to Noosa or not, creditors who contacted the Daily agree they will be remembered for their work creating the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, which began in 13 years ago as Celebration of Australian Food and Wine Noosa Style!

In its first year it attracted 100 participants but by 2015 35,000 tickets were sold.

The Daily contacted Mr Berardo for comment on May 26 and again yesterday, but he has not yet responded.

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