Lara Hayes’ smile and steaming pots of broth greet market customers on chilly winter mornings.
Where did you grow up?
Most of my early life was spent in rural Northland. We lived in a strong community, with a strong culture of sharing food and supporting our neighbours.
Is that where your passion for food was kindled?
Absolutely - Mum taught me how to cook. We always had vegetables from our garden, fruit in the orchard, fresh fish and home-baked bread. In our home, if you cooked you didn’t have to do the dishes and I hated doing the dishes so I often cooked.
And that attraction to cooking has followed you through life.
Yes - I have worked in a lot of restaurants - usually front-of-house. Before I went to London, I worked at the Italian Job in Jervois Road. One day one of a friend who was dining there quipped to the chef that “Lara’s mussels are better than yours” and that led to a light-hearted, cook-off. And I won by one bowl! I was so proud.
Did you cook when you went to London?
Yes - I worked as a private chef for wealthy families. I was with one family for five years. They always had a full house with lots of guests, so I would be cooking for 9 or 10 people most nights. And there were lots of dinner parties and big celebrations for up to 200 people.
Tell me about the Russian Oligarch
I spent six years working in the super-yacht industry in the Mediterranean for a self-made entrepreneur and he didn’t fit any of the stereotypes that the label suggests. He was very focused on his family and didn’t take their wealth for granted. He and his wife would tell me stories about “when we were poor.”
How did that family affect your food journey?
They were extremely focussed on good healthy food and had two rules for the food that I made for their children: 1) Fresh bone broth every day, and 2) fresh cake. The nannies got to eat the leftovers.
Are these the broths that you are selling at the market?
Yes - It makes my heart swell to see a two-year-old swallowing my chicken broth at the market. My chicken, vegetable, and barley was adapted from my Nana’s recipe. The Russian children loved it too.
Tell me about your brand name “A Bit Dressy”
It was salad dressings that were the inspirations for my business. I have always loved making salads, and the dressings are vital to making salad delicious. My Russian family was a big fan of salads and it was their request for an oil-free, fat-free dressing that challenged me to develop the N0.2 Umeboshi Goodness dressing, combining nutty tahini and Umeboshi fermented Japanese plums, is great for gut-health - they loved it so much that I made it for months!
What challenges has the COVID-19 situation created for you?
After months of waiting in the queue for MPI approval for my dressings, it finally arrived two days before we went into Alert Level 4! While I was able to sell broths and dressings from my Facebook and Instagram pages, it was a relief when the market re-opened at Alert Level 2 so that I could talk directly to customers and let them try the products.
What other challenges are there for your new food business?
My biggest challenge at the moment is finding a more suitable (shared) commercial space as production grows. I’ve been lucky to have the use of an A-grade cafe space, but it’s compact! Selling in glass jars for customer return and being planet-friendly is important to me but glass weight, transportation, and storage require a more efficient space and considered systems.
As published in Ponsonby News : October 2020