Nadine Ingram, Flour and Stone
Meet Nadine, the friendly face behind Sydney mainstay Flour and Stone - purveyors of the famously addictive pannacotta Lamington and a wonderful Make Nice 2016 sponsor. The way Nadine views life could teach all of us something. Here she chats about her latest pop-up project with Tivoli Road Bakery in Melbourne, the male dominated world of chefs and learning to back yourself. Thanks, Nadine.
What do you do?
I think the easiest way to explain what I do is to begin at the endgame, where a bunch of happy customers come in to the store with smiling faces, salivating over my cakes. On that day, I've managed to bake the best vanilla cake of my life and there is a halo suspended above it as it sits on the counter. That day, my team are all charged, focused and happy (because this is paramount) and they leave in the afternoon feeling they haven't been through the wringer! All the supplies turn up on time and we have smashed the work list for the day and even planned for the next. On this day I feel I am born to bake and running my own business is the only way forward for me.
Then there is the day I've been up since 2.00am and nothing is going to plan. The meringue layer on the lemon dream cake, though lofty and filled with air, rises so high is sticks to the tray above it and when I remove it from the oven the entire top of the meringue peels away. I get a call at 6.30am from the barista (the time he should be at work) telling me he has slept through his alarm and will be 10 minutes late (which is barista speak for 20 minutes). That day, a well renowned food blogger who normally loves us to bits sends me a direct message telling me the pannacotta Lamington she just bought was not soaked to her satisfaction because she likes it really moist! Then the council inspector comes in submitting a complaint from the neighbours that our suppliers are too noisy when they deliver. He suggests we need to move a coolroom that has been there for 30 years, because it is all of a sudden an illegal structure, in order to make room for an internal loading dock. I need to think quick and negotiate. This is all part of what I do and on this day I still feel I am born to bake! I get up the next morning at 2am and do it all again because I don't feel I am me unless I am baking.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
1). While I am grateful for my country upbringing I knew I had to leave my home town in the Hunter Valley to get ahead. Moving to London when I was 19 was the single biggest milestone that changed my course. It was there that I realised I had been a square peg in a round hole all my life, I met my husband, and discovered that it's nothing but grit and hard work that will get you to the top. There is no luck involved.
2). Having children. They put everything into perspective and without them I would not have had to make as many vital compromises. I say vital, because conforming to boundaries and making sacrifices has made me more empathetic. An essential ingredient in the making of any business woman.
3). In 2003 I made the transition from being a restaurant pastry chef to working in a bakery when I moved from MG Garage to Bourke Street Bakery. Seeing a counter full of cakes that I had produced in only a few hours seemed far more gratifying than the disjointed process of preparing components of a dessert in the morning and not seeing the rewards till they are assembled later that night. Being at the mercy of affluent diners who were extended the privilege of sitting in a restaurant till 11pm whilst I waited, and then choosing not to have dessert, was really wearing thin.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
This is a very topical discussion in the kitchen at Flour and Stone and statistics seem to indicate that there are decreasing numbers of females pursuing a life in professional kitchens. It has been suggested that the anti social hours and hard work that goes hand in hand with working in kitchens is exhausting for women and that we are choosing other paths. Contrary to this evidence I have just employed three women who have left other fields to start baking... so there is still hope.
Nevertheless, baking is still a male dominated industry. Women who are in the industry are flat out racing around picking up children and trying to maintain their relationships with partners, let alone having time to foster support networks outside of that.
My female support network comes from those within a broader range of creative pursuits like florists, photographers and homemakers. For me it hasn't always been this way since I work in a male dominated industry and I have relied on the boundless support of my male counterparts. They don't judge as much as women and it has to be said they have some good ideas too.
What are you listening to and/or reading that is inspiring or entertaining you?
I'm reading and cooking from Nigel Slaters Kitchen Diaries III. I love his prose, he has always been a great inspiration to me.
But mainly I just like listening to friends, they are the ones that inspire me the most.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
The one thing I would like to change is the fast track culture that is prominent in all industries these days. The idea that if you are wealthy you can pay to accelerate your education seems so backward to me.
By no means should anyone be arriving at the alter of success bruised and beaten, but taking the express route is a false economy. To reach the summit with a set of superficial skills that are not enforced by the fundamentals is a slippery slope. Achievement and the rewards that go with it take time to accomplish and the more something is practiced the more refined the skill becomes.
How can we find our more about your work?
What is your dream project?
To open a bakery in London. I lived and trained there and I think there is definitely a gap in the market for a tenacious Australian like me to make her mark. There are lots of Frenchie patisseries in London and some really beautiful Sourdough bakeries but nothing like Flour and Stone. The closest thing is Violet cakes. Claire Ptak is one of my heroes.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I have been invited by Michael James at Tivoli Road Bakery to go and bake in his Melbourne bakery at the end of April. I first met Michael when we worked together at Bourke Street Bakery about 10 years' ago and I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to work with him again. We both run small operations focused on quality over quantity, sharing a common ethos in the way we make our product. Together with two of the Flour and Stone team I will be baking a range of our favourites including the Fine Apple Tart and the Lemon Dream cake using Victorian apples and lemons. This pop up is only for one day but I am expecting that this event will begin some conversations and forge some exciting relationships moving forward.
I think it will be a pilot for new possibilities.... who knows what's in the stars.
If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?
Julie Gibbs, ex-editor in chief at Penguin/ Lantern. Julie is the best ambassador for women I know. I see the network of females she has in her support network and I am in awe. They are some of the most prominent names in fashion, publishing, media, art and food. The journey can't have been easy for her, despite the way it appears. I would love to hear her speak about her success, how she maintains her relationships with all those amazing women and the arduous path she took to get there.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Someone told me only recently I should learn to back myself more often. He told me that people see what I am trying to achieve, and they recognise that I am the genuine article, that I should have faith others aren't as hard on me as I am on myself.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Work hard, be generous, the rest will follow.