Ambassador Kathryn talks advancing research and hosting tips

12 Jul 2023

If you’ve hosted a Longest Table before, chances are that you know who Kathryn Hudson is! 

Kathryn is a well-known figure in The Longest Table community – she is an ambassador and long-time host of over 10 years. In fact, Kathryn has been with The Longest Table team since the very beginning! 

Kathryn is not only a dedicated fundraiser, but is also working on the ground to advance cancer research through her fascinating work at the the South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI). 

We had the privilege of chatting to Kathryn about her work in understanding and researching cancer, her experiences as a Longest Table ambassador and host, and her recent O'Week themed Longest Table that brought old uni friends together and pub crawl shirts out from the back of the wardrobe! 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your research for those who are new to The Longest Table? 

I work at the new cancer institute based at Adelaide University, SAiGENCI (South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute). The Institute was established with Federal funding and is in the process of recruiting globally to boost cancer research capability and activity in South Australia. Our Inaugural Director, is a medical oncologist who specializes in prostate cancer, and he relocated from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston late last year, and many of our other research leaders have come from other prestigious institutes such as the Crick in London, Monash Uni in Melbourne etc.  

Overall, SAiGENCI’s goal is to help answer the “Why?” of cancer. Why do some people get cancer? Why do some people respond well to treatment? Why do others respond poorly? 

Until 2021, I worked at the Basil Hetzel Institute, the research arm of TQEH, and hosted many fun TLTs for my colleagues! 

Pictured above: Basil Hetzel Institue's Longest Table's from 2019, 2020 and 2021.

What does your day-to-day look like in your field of work?

The work of SAiGENCI is broadly centred around the following themes: 

  • Understanding the mechanisms underlying response and resistance to contemporary cancer therapies. 
  • Uncovering the mechanisms driving tumour growth and behaviour through epigenetic and reprogramming research  
  • Identifying ways to make tumours more visible to the body's immune system and improve immune therapies. 
  • Identifying new therapeutic targets, and ultimately new potential therapies. 
  • Using AI and computer modeling to predict disease, cancer progression and clinical therapies. 
  • Working closely with the Bragg Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Local Health Networks and other agencies translating findings directly from bench to bedside through clinical trials.  

What is your favourite part about being an ambassador of The Longest Table?

I love hearing everyone’s stories. From their lived experiences with cancer, which can be hard to hear, through to their events and what they are planning. I really enjoy seeing other hosts pulling their events together, and the joy (and a little bit of relief) once it all done!

I especially enjoy hearing from new hosts who ask their first nervous question, they might be a little bit anxious about asking friends for donations, or how best to seat everyone, whatever the question might be. I always try to reassure them that your friends are there to support you, they believe in the cause because it is important to YOU. If your dinner runs a little late, or the beans are slightly overdone, it doesn’t matter, your friends will just remember the fun parts and appreciate your efforts. 

Kathryn Hudson chatting with Longest Table ambassadors Nabula and Lauren at the 2023 launch

You have been a Longest Table ambassador for many years. What are your favourite moments from those years? Is there a particular theme that stands out?

I’ve been here since the start baby! We host a small dinner party at home for about 12-14 people. As we are asking for donation, we’ve always tried to have a little more than just a ‘regular’ dinner party. But nothing outside our comfort zone, its got to be fun for you and them! 

Things have kind of built from there…. one of the most ambitious was the “7 deadly sins” where we matched each course to a sin. People then took it upon themselves to also dress up as a sin! 

One of the best themes we’ve had was “smoke and mirrors”, - we had a new smoker for the cooking, and asked all our guests to bring their favourite magic trick. It was hilarious, and very clever. 

Last year we had a Rock n roll theme – and we matched the food to particular songs, that took a bit of thinking about, which we enjoyed in the leadup. “Hot potato – Wiggles”, “peaches – POTUS” for dessert etc (plus the playlist!). The guests really dressed up for this one. 

Another good dress up was the “back to school” – we themed the food with a play on the school canteen, and everyone wore their old school uniform (or version of). We had a kahoot quiz that night which got very competitive! 

Other themes have been Italian, French, Mexican so many good ones to choose from.

Pictured above: Kathryn Hudson's Back to School themed Longest Table from 2018.

Tell us about your recent Longest Table? The O’Week theme sounded like an absolute hit! What did you cook for your guests and what fundraising activities did you do?

O’week was FUN! Our guests all met at Uni and we have been friends for a long time. Back in the early - mid90’s, O’week had parties like “pizza and beer” and “taco and tequila” plus “skullduggery”. We have just bought a new pizza oven which we wanted to use, so that was our inspiration, which led to the theme…

One thing our guests have enjoyed over the past couple of years is to join in creating a playlist for the night. This creates a lot of banter in the leadup and on the night. This year it was early 90’s tunes. 

Our guests make a very generous donation to dinner (usually no more than they would spend if they went out for dinner), and we have a small event, so we don’t usually do anything more for fundraising. Last year I did hold a wine drive fundraiser, and shared with a broader group (more than I could invite to our TLT dinner). This was really successful, super simple with very little additional work and I fundraised about 3x more than I expected!!

Pictured above: Kathryn's O'Week themed Longest Table hosted in July 2023.

Can you share some tips for preparing food in advance to minimise stress on the day of the dinner party?

I confess this is something we put quite a bit of thought into – as we are too social and want to chat with our guests! We also find as the night rolls on, conversation goes up, and concentration to the cooking goes down, so we try to do things that we can pre-prepare in advance. A cold entrée is a good way to do this (cold rolls, sashimi etc) as you can have it ready to go. Or a dessert already made and just needs to be cooked (or cut). We also try to do things that are forgiving and don’t have to be cooked precisely to the second (like roast potatoes). Salads with a main mean you can have that ready beforehand, and just focus on cooking your meat, and not time the whole meal to perfection. 

Mostly we try to make things we are comfortable with, that is the easiest way to minimize stress!  

This year we had homemade pizzas, and I had all the toppings cut and in plastic containers in the fridge. When it was pizza time, everything was ready to go and out it came. But even better, at clean up time, everything was already in their “left overs” containers, such a simple thing meant less washing up, and it was so quick to just whack a lid on and throw it back in the fridge! 

I did have a bit of a gluggy disaster once for our Italian themed night, we have a great crab linguini recipe made with homemade pasta which I thought I would just triple from 4 to 12 people…. I had the sauce ready to go, and pasta sitting on the bench as guests arrived, plenty of flour to keep it from sticking etc etc. Turns out my saucepan does not fit pasta for 12 people and it turned into a gluggy blob hahaha. Lucky I don’t have a Nonna to answer to!  

We have quite a small kitchen, so I also try and stack the dishwasher as I’m clearing plates – 1. Less mess to look at! And 2. Once full you can start it and less clean up at the end of the night. 

We usually do most of the food, but our guests always bring their drinks to share. 

You would be surprised by how much people offer to help (by bringing things, or clearing up plates on the night), accept it. 😊 

If you could say one thing to encourage people to donate to support cancer research, what would you say?

Working in cancer research field, it seems the more we discover, the more we realise we don’t know and how individual each cancer and response to treatments is. It is a complex disease.  

There is still so much to be done, every little bit helps. I am always very impressed by hosts who plan and host a major event for 100s of people, but your small donation, or hosting a little dinner party, or casual morning tea at your workplace for TLT also makes a big difference. Over the years I’ve seen the number of TLT hosts increase, and also seen the funds raised increase because of that. 

Join Kathryn in the fight to #ForkCancer!