While studying her PhD in architecture, Angela Hirst struggled to find inspiration. Fascinated by the relationship between food production and cities, she made her way from supervisor to supervisor, unable to connect with someone who understood her vision. In 2013, something clicked in Angela’s mind and she finally realised what she was looking for – a space where food entrepreneurs could connect with the community. Offering licensed commercial kitchens, storage facilities and a function space, Angela created Wandering Cooks, allowing ambitious foodies the opportunity and resources to turn their dreams into a reality.
On first meeting Angela, there is one thing that immediately draws you in – her infectious smile. It is the smile of someone who is completely comfortable in her surrounds, and in the warehouse space of Wandering Cooks, it is clear to see that Angela is at home. “Would you like to try some bread?” she offers, beaming. “It just came out of the oven, and it is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.” Growing up in a family of doctors, there was one thing that Angela was sure of – she didn’t want to work in the medical profession. A self-confessed nerd throughout her schooling years, she graduated without an idea of what she wanted to do with her life, only knowing that it couldn’t be boring. Finally, she settled on architecture, which seemed the most reasonable choice that was semi-responsible, yet still allowed her to be creative. “For most of my twenties, that was how I made decisions – with no real strategy in mind, but with a creative passion driving me,” she laughs.
In her third year of architecture, Angela attended a sustainability conference where a permaculture teacher, Robyn Francis, was speaking. “I just thought, ‘What is this permaculture? It’s in cities, and it’s about food, which is my obsession, and it’s all about growing and gardening … I just need to do it!’” With inspiration in her stride, Angela went on to study permaculture with Robyn, which eventually lead to her completing a PhD in food ethics and eating. Ready to immerse herself in the food world, Angela came across a school in Ireland, Ballymaloe Cookery School, which was run by Slow Food-enthusiast Darina Allen. “It’s the only place you can do any professional training on an organic farm that sources all of its own ingredients. That was always a barrier for me – there were so many places I didn’t want to work at because they didn’t source ethically.”
Reminiscing about her time at the school, Angela describes it as a utopia. “I had gone to heaven. I could have lived there forever. I learnt how to bake bread and make preserves – fundamentals that I hadn’t picked up previously and are now some of the most valuable skills I have.” Attending Ballymaloe also led Angela to make industry connections from all over Europe. “One of the women I met at the school started cheffing in Paris at Rose Bakery. They needed more people, so she asked me to come for an interview, and suddenly I had a job in Paris,” she says, beaming. “It was an ideal job – not paywise, of course, but otherwise it was so beautiful. There were five female chefs, and we got to do pretty much whatever we wanted. Fresh produce would come in every day or so, and whatever we received
would dictate what we made.”
After six months in Paris, Angela returned to Brisbane, where she met her partner, Matthew. She initially followed
him to Berlin, but the two eventually moved back home for the arrival of their son. Overwhelmed by motherhood, Angela threw herself back into work, dabbling in blogging, reviewing and running her own cooking classes. “I knew that I wanted to do my own thing, but I didn’t have a strategy. I think that was when it finally cracked for me – I was continually throwing myself into the technical work that I was passionate about, without having a long-term view of what needed to happen.” Deciding that in order to create a business, she needed to understand business, she enlisted the help of a coach. “It was through this process that I realised there was a missing resource in the industry. Somewhere along the way, creating my own food business went on the backburner to this idea that was much more exciting to me – that I could create somewhere that people could start to find their dreams.” And from that, Wandering Cooks was born.
The South Brisbane incubator provides fledgling and mobile food businesses the resources needed to reach their
customers, offering licensed commercial kitchens, storage facilities and venue-hire options. Wandering Cooks also offers a support network, including its Institute of Food Entrepreneurship – a collaboration with entrepreneurial business coaching company Edgeware. Through intensive, workshop-based programs, the institute assists start-up entrepreneurs to develop the necessary business skills required to achieve their food dreams.
Since opening seven months ago, Wandering Cooks has supported a number of businesses, including coffee company Blackmarket Mittens, organic lunch-delivery service Yummbox and 31 Degrees Custom Chocolates. Stepping into Wandering Cooks’ carpark-cum-urban garden, the mouthwatering scent of freshly baked bread wafts out of the kitchens, hinting that a budding baker is crafting their food dream inside. Out the front, The Lunch Box Kiosk allows local food businesses the opportunity to showcase their treats to hungry passersby. As the Brisbane food scene continues to evolve, so does Wandering Cooks, recently holding its first small-producers trade show and with regular market and food-truck events in the works.
Reflecting on what inspires her, Angela immediately thinks of her customers. “When people produce something of quality, I just want to jump all over it. And I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be here thinking about them, finding ways to help them. I just can’t get enough of it.” Angela considers helping her customers connect to the community as one of her greatest successes. “I felt a bit funny about the word ‘community’ when I created the statement for the business: Kitchens and community for food entrepreneurs. I thought it was such a worn-out word, and I didn’t entirely want to use it, but at the same time it really did resonate with what I was trying to do. I wanted it to feel like a place that was more than just mine, and where other people felt at home, a place that fostered an energy that everyone could feed off. And that has worked more quickly than I thought it would.”
When it comes to finding peace in her busy schedule, Angela turns to her garden. “I am so inspired by what is possible when you plant a seed. You have to create the right conditions, but then so much more than what you’ve put into it comes out. I am so proud of Wandering Cooks, and of all the people who make it what it is, because everything that we do is driven by passion. You should always find ways to grow your passion.”