“I was never very good at outdoor pursuits so I thought it would be best for all concerned to stay inside and bake scones and make jam,” Flour and Stone founder Nadine Ingram tells Collective Hub. “I grew up on a farm and although I value my country upbringing I always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Baking always felt more me than herding cattle and to my grandmother’s delight, at least I could be put to some good use.”
Good use is right – Nadine’s thriving Woolloomooloo bakery is a sugar fiend’s playground: rustic Lemon Dream Cakes sit alongside contemporary creations like the Black Sesame Chiffon Cake.
Like many of the business owners we feature on Collective Hub, Nadine’s early idea of career options didn’t include ‘baker’.
“Actually, I wanted to be an interior designer,” she tells us. “However, upon completing year ten work experience at the local coal miner’s hotel, I landed an offer of an apprenticeship. A trade is a very valued commodity in the country and to some extent it is now becoming more desirable in the city too, so I leapt at the opportunity. It was a humble beginning and I have always tried to remain true to this philosophy.”
Since her early apprenticeship days, Nadine has worked in London’s Ivy and Le Gavroche as well as Sydney favourite Bourke St Bakery but working for herself has something she’s always been drawn to.
“I struggled with working for other people during my career because I am so head strong,” she confesses, “so a shop of my own seemed a natural progression.” It was certainly a natural progression from her at-home business Cookie Couture, that she began when she was seven month pregnant with her second daughter. Building the business from the ground up, she was making cookies from her own kitchen, “hand to mouth”, with no overheads.
“When my family looked like they were going to kill me if I baked even one more cookie in our tiny cottage oven, I sub-leased some kitchen space from a friend who had some spare,” explains Nadine. “I employed an amazing illustrator who I taught to ice cookies and together we built the business to a point where the bank manager would eventually lend me a modest amount of money to open Flour and Stone.”
With a modest amount of money, Nadine kept the focus on the food, not the fit-out. “There was no fancy fit-out. I went to Doug up on Bourke and got a counter then I glued some tables together that were made from garden table bases and caeser stone tops which I had cut to size by a stonemason. I put the cakes on the counter and away we went.”
Nowadays, you’ll see Nadine in her Flour & Stone kitchen from the early hours, getting an early, non-glamorous start on her treats. If you’re up that early to catch her, you’re likely to find her pouring carefully over their creations, checking for consistency and also keeping an eye on those glorious apple tart, which have very specific colour requirements.
All the way through, there’s an open dialogue with her team to ensure that cakes are baked to the best of their ability and to keep both staff and customers happy. And while the focus is always on flavour, Nadine has made her mark by offering options that cater for all dietary requirements, especially in this health conscious climate.
“We have set ourselves apart by making cakes that are delicious but that also happen to be gluten free, dairy free or nut free, by default if you like. I have even adapted the hazelnut torte making it with no sugar. The flavour comes first though, I prefer making cakes with no wheat, for instance, because they have a better texture.”
“There is always a lot of chatting between the team and myself like, how to do things better mainly or what will we bake for the market next weekend. Or have there been any requests from customers or problems that have been highlighted as a result of larger batch sizes and getting bigger? All worthy conversations.”
And as for her role as boss, she embraces every aspect of it – from chatting with staff for improvements to keeping the place ship shape, no matter what that entails.
“I always joke that I’m living the dream, although you’ll still see me throwing the rubbish out in the skip in the back laneway or mopping the floor,” she says. “I’m very hands on, and owning my own business has given me the creative license to bake what I want to. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Photos: Alan Benson and Petrina Tinslay