In our latest What’s Cooking, we talk to the lovely and generous Nonie Dwyer of Nonie’s Food, an artisanal gluten free bakery. Nonie is an expert chef and baker and her speciality is baking gluten free bread that people buy because it’s delicious not just because it’s gluten free.
Nonie is a chef by training and refers fondly of her time at River Cottage, UK where she learnt all aspects of cheffing and worked in what was an harmonious kitchen. Something we’ve only just begun hearing chefs speak of as the norm rather than the extraordinary. For those of you in the UK, you may like to know that River Cottage Festival is on this weekend. What a great opportunity to immerse yourself in all the delights River Cottage has to offer.
Our emphasis is on flavour
Your name: Nonie Dwyer
Your business’ name: Nonie’s Food
Where are you based: Sydney, NSW
How would you describe your business?
I own and run a boutique gluten free bakery with a focus on creating artisanal breads and other savoury products by hand using quality, thoughtfully chosen ingredients. Our emphasis is on flavour; we want clients to choose to enjoy our products because they are delicious, not because they are gluten free. That is at the heart of what we do, creating consistently delicious, beautiful food, not items of compromise. We also try to work within a sustainability framework, which influences our decision-making from the ingredients we order, to the packaging we use.
What do you love about your work?
There’s lots of things I love, thankfully! There is no doubt that running your own business is hard, and tests me in ways I never imagined. The fact that I enjoy what I do is what has kept me going! I really love recipe development, working through a recipe and getting it absolutely right for what I’m trying to achieve is very satisfying. This is something I’ve always enjoyed in my career, but the fact that reaching solutions within a gluten and dairy free framework often requires innovation is a lovely way to work. I also genuinely believe we are producing products of real merit, and that brings me great satisfaction. I have found it humbling that bakers who I respect tell me that I have helped change the way they think about gluten free food. I find great joy in working with committed colleagues, and in collaborations with colleagues in the wider food community. There is also a lot more I want to achieve and there are rewards to be found in working hard towards your goals.
Mostly though, it’s customers who go out of their way to get in touch with me to say something beautiful about our bread, that’s what really keeps me going. After all, that’s what it’s all about.
What part of your job would you gladly give away?
At the moment I am still very much part of the day-to-day production, so eventually it would be great to be less involved from a labour point of view! We are essentially manufacturing and because my background is as a chef, we produce like chefs. Much of what we do is done by hand and produced as it would be in a restaurant, so it’s labour intensive.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
I’ve been lucky to work with some exceptional chefs and people. They’ve been the kind of people who have taught me not just about food but about being a good person, a better colleague, a better leader.
My two big influences, in very different ways, were probably my Mum and my head chef when I worked at River Cottage in the UK, Gill Meller. Among a lot of other things, my Mum taught me to be open to learning, to have an enquiring mind, and to recognise the difference between people who were worth my time and respect, and those who weren’t. They have all been things that have directly and indirectly helped with my career. Gill really solidified my food philosophy. Thoughts that had been percolating for a number of years, on food sustainability, on the environment around us, on food and flavour, were really cemented with him. He was also a gentle leader. There was never a raised voice or any anger in the kitchen with him, and he encouraged real artistry. I feel eternally grateful to have worked with him for as long as I did and to have learnt that there was more than one way to run a kitchen.
If you were starting out in business again today, what advice would you give the younger you?
Do more planning. A lot more planning! And treat yourself a bit more kindly.
Tea or Coffee
Sweet or Savoury
Sunnyside Up or Down
Red or White
Well Done or Rare
Your go-to snack
Nuts and seeds
Thinking about the newcomers and hopefuls who are reading your interview, do you have anything further you’d like to add to inspire or caution them with?
Don’t let the bastards get you down!
I worked in fine dining as a chef which can be a very male dominated environment. I’m really lucky that I was able to experience the difference between really macho, old-school kitchens where ritual abuse and humiliation is part of daily survival, and amazing kitchens working with colleagues who inspired and nurtured and pushed creative boundaries. I would say that no matter, that it’s important to work for someone you can learn from and someone you can respect. If you can’t do either of those things then it’s ok to leave and find a different workplace.
It’s also important to know when and how to stand your ground. Women can find that really hard sometimes, but it can make a huge difference when you stand up for yourself!
For the most part though the industry has changed, and changed for the better. After more than 10 years in the food industry I am privileged to say that some of my absolute favourite people are people I have met through my work!
Thank you Nonie for your incredible insights into running a speciality food manufacturing business and we hear how much your passion fuels what you do everyday. We also loved reading that it’s okay to stand up for yourself even when it might feel like the odds are stacked against you.
The Females in Food team