Wingham businesswoman, Donna Carrier, runs a cafe and small art studio using Chalk Paint created by Annie Sloan to transform furniture. Here Donna shares her trip to England to study with Annie Sloan in Oxford.
This week Bent on Food turns 12. When I look back I find it difficult to believe that the years have flown by so fast. On 18th December 2004 we opened the doors as a regional food store, selling coffee and cake. I had a water skiing accident the day before opening and spent the first 6 weeks of trading in a brace, often wondering why I left my desk job. But hospitality was in my blood as I had spent most of my working life around food and wine, so I knew deep down that this was what I wanted to do.
We started in a small premises on Bent Street, hence the name, and we were popular from the beginning, helped along by a very early article in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide (my bible) written by John Saxby, who rated our smoked ham baguette very highly.
I was aware that there were already a number of cafes in the town, including Convivia which was a favourite amongst the locals, so I set about bringing a new market to town. Previous marketing and public relations experience gave me the skills I needed to attract tourists to the region, which I believed would grow the business community and lift the profile of our area. I sent media releases and pretty soon we were featured alongside the cookery school in Country Style Magazine. I entered Tourism awards and won the Regional and State awards in 2006, after just over one year of trading. In 2007 we moved down to the main street and in 2011 we purchased the cookery school. I totally enjoy the children’s cookery classes and have loved working with visiting chefs including Stefano Manfredi, Kurma Dasa and cheesemaking wizard Carole Willman. In 2009 we were fortunate to win the Qantas Australian Tourism Award for the category of Restaurant and Catering Excellence. With the help of Eric and Monica Robinson at The Other Chef we created our produce line that grew into at least 12 products. My dear Graphic Designer friend Peter Metro developed all of our logos and to this day he has never asked for a cent.
I worked with my staff on building a business that the locals would be proud of and that could contribute back to the community, not just through employment, but through donations and sponsorship of events. Bent on Food has supported local and visiting musicians and many customers have enjoyed a great music night at the cafe. Early on I joined my local chamber and soon became president. I have always believed that you must give back to the community where you derive your income from. This is the way I do business, and although it does not necessarily deliver direct results, it makes me sleep at night.
To date, Bent on Food has won 31 Gold awards, 7 silver and 5 bronze in regional, State and National awards programmes. This has lead to a huge amount of publicity for us and for the region. Even though we are very proud of our awards, it is not about a trophy sitting in a cabinet gathering dust; these accolades give staff a real sense of pride and they force me to plan ahead and set true objectives. We are proud to be the most awarded restaurant in the history of the region and we know that our customers are also proud. We have been featured on Clayton Donovan’s Wild Kitchen, Sydney Weekender, Kai Time on the Road, Kochies Business Builders, Basic Banana’s and for a few years I was on a radio program with Robbie Buck on ABC702 which lead to a live broadcast of the radio show from Wingham during the floods. Bent on Food has been featured in the Good Food Guide and Lonely Planet, all of this contributing to the profile of the region.
Many of our favourite customers have moved away, sadly some have passed away. Many have married and we have been fortunate to cater for some beautiful weddings, and later meet their babies. Some have moved on to other cafes, unfortunately never to visit again. I still have fond memories of the chats over the counter as I made their coffees for many years, or chatted with their children, and I often hope that they will pop by some time to say hi.
We have supported local producers from the beginning, with a true dedication to locally grown, seasonal food. The Restaurant and Catering awards are judged by restaurant professionals and we are proud that this year we won the major award of Best Regional Cafe NSW at these awards. This means that the food and the service was rated very highly, so I thank my producers and my staff for the wonderful job they do at preparing and serving quality produce.
Over the years I have been lucky to employ lots of lovely staff, many who have moved on to wonderful careers, and for this I am very proud. My staff and I sincerely thank our loyal customers for standing by us, for letting us know how we can improve, for sharing your memories with us and for allowing us to become an integral part of your day for the past 12 years.
Cheers and a Merry Christmas to all my wonderful customers and suppliers, musicians and staff, family and friends.
Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan
Anybody that knows me understands that I am the most impatient person in the world and that watching paint dry would not be something you would be likely to find me doing. With decorative Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan even the most impatient person can enjoy fast and fabulous results.
Before the paint is dispatched, we must undergo training on how to use it and how to help our customers create beautiful pieces. So I wrote this blog on a flight home from Melbourne after 2 days of training that involved lots of painting. The Annie Sloan team live and breathe the product and our trainer Barbara was very knowledgeable and talented so she made painting with this amazing product seem easy. And guess what? It really is the easiest way I have ever seen to transform furniture and much more, the results are amazing. We managed to create some beautiful finishes and I enjoyed every moment; but the best thing? You can do it too.
The paint requires no primer, and it doesn’t smell making so you can paint just about anywhere and almost anything!
I will be bringing you some more ideas in future blogs, with classes set to begin soon. Keep an eye on the website or join the mailing list to find out more.
Shop at Bent online for Chalk Paint™ by Annie Sloan
Once again I have put aside my blogging for far too long. I really enjoy sitting down and putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, but something else always needs doing and the blog goes down to the the bottom of the the very long list. Today is different; my wonderful staff gave me the day off and I decided to enjoy a spot of baking and a spot of cleaning, and before you say anything, I actually enjoy cleaning, sad but true. I love to play music really loud and sing while I clean, but mostly I love the finished product, a clean house. And finally before a glass of wine and some left over restaurant food, I am going to write my blog.
I thought I would start with a yummy recipe which has been adapted from AWW, this is the moistest gluten free cake that I have ever made and it is incredibly tasty. I made this yesterday at home and added orange blossom water to make it a little more Mediterranean, changed the sugar to brown, also adding baking powder to make it a little lighter. You can add ginger or dates, I sometimes add organic ginger syrup. I enjoy cooking at home, even if my kitchen is a little small. Home is where I find peace and serenity, a happy little haven in the bush complete with my pets and the native animals.
Gluten free pistachio and almond cake
125g pistachio kernels
3 cups almond meal
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
250g butter melted, cooled
3/4 raw sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free)
Oil for brushing pan
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees fan forced.
Brush cake tin around 250mm x 150mm in size.
Grind pistachios (keep around 30 to place on top of cake)
Using a whisk combine ground pistachios, almond meal, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl.
Beat eggs lightly, melt butter and combine.
Pour into almond mixture and stir to combine.
Pour batter into greased pan.
Place pistachios on top of batter.
Cook for around 35 minutes.
Meanwhile place raw sugar, honey and water in saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil, uncovered for about 2 minutes.
Pierce cake with toothpick and pour hot syrup on to cake.
I have decided to change the name of my blog from Bent on Food to “Just Bent” as I want it to reflect the many things that make up the “bent” brand and concept. There are some exciting new products and initiatives coming up as we celebrate 10 years in business in 2014 and I want to be able to blog about both my businesses along with anything else that may make its way to the “bent” stable. I also believe that values and beliefs are very important when creating and delivering a brand and I would like to share some of the values that make up “bent”. I will be blogging about life and the lives of those who cross my path. We will talk food, wine, music, sustainability, travel, home decorating, business, coffee, lifestyle and anything that pops up. I will also share some of my favourite blogs, I hope you can follow my journey.
I have found a new love, it is one that I am quite suprised about considering I am the most impatient person I know, but I really do enjoy teaching kids to cook. I love how excited they get when they watch their pizza dough rising in the oven, I love how the kitchen allows them to lick their fingers and get flour all over their clothes. I can even cope with the mess they make because they are enjoying themselves so it just doesn’t matter.
Kids are cool, especially as they haven’t got that attitude yet that comes with teenage years, innocence is bliss and simplicity is king. I always remember when my little brother was around 5 years old, he had toys galore but he preferred to hang out in a washing machine box that my sisters and I painted in bright colours with $1.50 worth of paint. Its the same with cooking, a few eggs, some flour, and an oven makes them happy.
Kids love to cook and it is not just a fun pastime, it is a life skill. I am always thrilled when I bring some produce from my property and the children are excited that I actually grew it. Some of the children have their own chooks and a vegetable garden, others are from the city and love to hear about the farms that their new friends live on. The most amazing thing is that they all love to cook.
We will be teaching a range of classes in the school holidays, and most recently we have begun to run kids parties, where kids can get their friends together for a birthday party and even get to make their very own cake. We also love to run paddock to plate classes where they get to collect their own eggs to make pasta with. The options are endless.