2 minutes with Naomi (Nims) Zavackas
Occupation: chef, cafe owner
Cafe: The Jam Pantry
Were you always destined to become a chef?
I definitely think so. Growing up in the highlands of PNG meant there was no corner store, no take-away, no quick fix option; so everything at our table was produced by my clever mother. Mum was a wonderful cook, gardener and hostess which meant there were always extra people at our table and every meal became an event. I would watch each unfolding and always yearned to be a part of her process. It seemed to me that everything wonderful in life, had food and connection around the table at its source. I independently made my first roast chicken dinner when I was 7. I still remember the emotion of that cook. I had truly found my bliss and have been severely hooked ever since. I almost didn’t become a chef though! I was afraid that if I practiced it professionally I would fall out of love with it and so my surrender didn’t come until I was 21. I’m so glad I did.
Tell us about your cafe The Jam Pantry?
As the name would suggest, we’re addicted to preserving in all its’ forms, primarily because cooking with the seasons sings so sweetly when our grandmothers way of doing things is honoured. It’s not trick cooking, but cooking with real purpose. I also really hate waste and preserving allows me to use every last little bit of any produce that comes into the cafe. We’re the only cafe in Brisbane (to my knowledge) that brews our own kombucha and other fermented soft drinks, currently brewing about 60 litres a week. My husband makes an amazing lemonade using a sourdough starter and all of the drinks are self-carbonated. I often feel like a very clever magician when watching these ancient traditions in play at the cafe. Yep, I LOVE fermenting.
What's fermenting on your bench at the moment?
I’ve just put up a drumhead cabbage, ginger and toasted sesame sauerkraut, finished a traditional kimchi, (that was awesome…sautéed through some kale with extra ginger for dinner last night), there's a kombucha in its second ferment with figs and raspberries, a starter for the lemonade, a brown rice starter for the pancakes on our March Flip, some hot sauce and we’re dreaming about popping whole brussel sprouts in the crock for April.
We love that you have started a collective of hospitality women in Brisbane and are about to hold your second gathering. Can you tell us more about it?
This has been on the cards for years actually. I remember when we opened our first cafe in Sydney 16 years ago, I was in complete meltdown at one point and had no-one in my circle that really understood what I was going through. I wrote a very long and heartfelt letter to Maggie Beer. I just needed to know if I was ok and if I was going to be ok. Because of the big hearted nature of Maggie, she rang me on her way home from the airport and proceeded to spend an hour putting me back together of which I will always be grateful. The premise of Mise En Place Bonne Femme was born from that need for Hospitality Mamas, and it felt perfect doing it up here because the Brisbane Industry is so young. I often get phone calls from women stepping into the industry feeling a little overwhelmed wanting advice, or other female leaders come in for brunch and we end up having big sisterly love-ins with lots of snotty napkins and cups of tea. It was time to bring us all together, build real, tangible relationships with each other and be a place of true support. What better place than in a closed venue over food that has been provided by our generous suppliers. The only thing the girls need to bring is a bottle of wine and another woman in a leadership role and in need of a good hug from a cohort of women that actually get it. Our first lunch got a little emotional and it was wonderful. I have no idea where it’s going, but I do know that each of our venues, and therefore our industry in Brisbane, will be better for it.
How do other Brisbane hospitality women get involved?
It’s by invitation only. You can email me at email@example.com. The pre-requisite is that you must be in a leadership position. You don’t necessarily need to be working at a cafe or restaurant, as long as your hand is in the bowl so to speak, you’re welcome. We have food stylists, providores, growers, chefs, educators and floor supervisors currently sitting around the table. It certainly makes for interesting conversation and a chance to understand how the other half lives. Perspective is a wonderful equaliser.
Can you share some of your favourite female-led restaurants or cafes in Brisbane right now?
These three women automatically come to mind because they lead with their heart. Olivia Moreland is a young, brave woman who stepped into her own and opened Goodness Gracious in Graceville. Her focus is on beautiful nourishing food and encouraging her young mostly female team. Karen Hodges is the experienced owner of Plenty in West End. She champions the farmer like no-one else in Brisbane and bakes a pretty amazing cheesecake. Dee-arne Wicks, married to Ben O’Donaghue holds the reigns at Billy Kart kitchen in Annerley. She has such a beautiful honesty about her and is not shy about sharing her struggles and being vulnerable.
You can follow Nims on Instagram @thejampantry for the cafe, @nimsxx for down-time dinner party nonsense, @fermenting_bandits for all their preserving fun and @miseenplacebonfemme giving heart to women in hospitality to watch their events unfold.