For a more formal introduction we thought we’d best sit down and answer some curly questions. So here it is, the first interview for Local Pantry Co founder, Melanie Hercus.
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT FOOD?
Food and I have always been friends – except for a long running and unfortunate disagreement I have with eggs. As a young child I was even keen on stealing dad’s hot salami, I didn’t really shy away from food.
I love the social side to food, the sharing, the entertaining, and the love that is shared in cooking a meal for someone else. My first job in retail was for a homewares store, I think I may have been the only 14 year old in town who had their own gravy boat. I loved big family dinners, Christmas and special events and couldn’t wait to host my own dinner parties.
When my career took a little detour away from food, I suddenly realised how much I missed constantly talking about food. Pretty swiftly I moved to feeding my hankering for quality food and lavish presentation with weekend food adventures. Immersing myself in Melbourne’s café culture for brunch or travelling out to vineyards enjoying a vino and an antipasto platter, I made sure to squeeze a food adventure into each weekend.
WHY LOCAL PRODUCTS?
My grandfather, father and brother have all worked in primary industry or in jobs that immediately support food production. From their experiences and stories I have developed a strong need to support small business, particularly when it comes to food. I heard much about the price of lamb or the price of milk growing up. This was followed with what seemed like constant discussion at family gatherings on how early or late the ‘season’ was that particular year, and the age old saga around when the rain would break the current dry spell. I guess I had an unusually high level of awareness of the struggles in primary industry for a kid who grew up ‘in the city’.
When I moved out of home and was doing my grocery shop, I was a little annoyed to find that the garlic was from Mexico when I knew there was a guy just outside Ballarat growing garlic. Or that fruit had been imported when Victoria has a fruit growing region referred to as the ‘food bowl’ growing fruit, which is in most cases better than the stuff on the shelf at the major supermarkets. At that stage, fresh out of university and not exactly rolling in cash, I let it slide, but the older I got the more agitated I became.
Continental delis sold pasta, pickles, preserves and packaged goods from all over the world. But when I wanted the local jam, or the olive oil from central Victoria I had to get in my car and drive to a specialty store, market or farm gate to get my fill.
HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR WAY TO LOCAL PANTRY CO.?
Time working in five star hotel venues and later for a boutique caterer who feature amazing local ingredients at the heart of each event, I developed an appreciation for amazing local ingredients. Moving to the outer suburbs for a while, made me realise just how difficult it can be to access these amazing local products that I had grown to know and love. Without the time to travel to weekend markets or hunt for products in boutique city grocers, I was left frustrated and hungry!
So many of the things we loved were not big enough to be stocked in major supermarkets, but perhaps looking to grow out past their self-manned stalls on the farmers’ market circuit. I wanted there to be a bridge for that gap, a place for these amazing locally made products to be more accessible. I wanted a place that I could shop from multiple makers and producers and receive my chosen selection of treats – straight to my desk or my doorstep. I wanted to make these products accessible. This was the start for Local Pantry Co. We are just that; locally made products for your pantry, all available in the one place.
HOW DID YOU BUILD YOUR CURRENT RANGE OF PRODUCTS?
The range started with some key things we loved and wished were more readily available to us. Mt Zero, Philippas and Chai Walli where some of the earliest brands on our list. We looked to a couple of family members who had recently adopted a paleo lifestyle and asked them what their favourite things that they couldn’t get easily were. This introduced us to Pana Chocolate, Naked Paleo and Kitz Living Foods. From there we looked to our inner city farmers markets at Flemington Racecourse and Abbotsford Convent, finding 99th Monkey butters and Sticky Balsamic along the way.
Our friends and family noticed our obsession too, our birthdays and other special occasion gifts were full of tasty treats from their travels. From Red Hill to Port Douglas, we were gifted food from across the country, many of them devoured, enjoyed and making it to the list of products for our online store.
At our first two pop-ups I noticed that many people were most interested in the products as gifts. For a friend who loved Chai but couldn’t have caffeine or a sister who had just discovered she was coeliac and needed an alternative pasta for her spaghetti bolognaise. So, with in mind this we launched our first hamper range. Some for the entertainers in your life, a couple for those who are gluten free and a couple for those who are paleo. Then there was a hamper for The Lads, and one for The Ladies and we rolled into our first Christmas in retail with our little range.
WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL WEEKEND MENU?
Weekends are all about food for me. I like to take them as an excuse to venture out to a new café, or roll up to our local and try the new addition to the menu or peruse the specials board. If a weekend can include a stroll around a market, or festival I’m especially content. But often brunch merges into lunch and I can’t really contemplate another meal till mid-afternoon.
I am terrible to live with because I really hate committing to a meal before I’m hungry. Possibly a habit developed while living in inner Melbourne where the kitchen became almost ornamental with so many delicious and affordable options quite literally on your doorstep. This does mean however that I LOVE a well-stocked pantry, full of items that can transform a meal at a moment’s notice. If I’m home the weekend is a great time to be creative in the kitchen. I don’t like to do much under pressure, least of all cook, so if I’m going to roll up my sleeves and create something new I want the luxury of time and head space to really enjoy it.A weekend afternoon for me can easily turn into a grazing session, with endless tapas plates or an antipasto board, some cheese and quince or a selection of nuts and dried fruit. Combined with a glass of local vino and some good company this grazing session gradually rolls into dinner time. Ideally a simple wood fired pizza and a crisp salad is the perfect way to finish up a long day of indulgence.