Meet Port Macquarie-based The Other Chef Makers & Providores
From selling jam at local markets to having products stocked by Woolworths, Eric and Monica Robinson of The Other Chef Makers & Providores have come a long way. We caught up with Monica to talk local produce, sustainability and what it’s like to work with your other half.
Coastbeat: How did The Other Chef begin?
Monica Robinson: When we first moved to Port Macquarie in 2004, we picked a bucket of strawberries from a local farm and Eric spent the day making strawberry jam. A week later we had a stall at the Hastings Farmers Market and sold all 20 jars of jam!
Eric was working as a chef and teaching at TAFE to support our young family (our two kids are now teenagers) but we kept making jam and selling it at the markets. When the strawberry jam won a medal at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Awards, the story caught the attention of the strawberry grower, Anthony Sarks of Ricardoes Tomatoes. Within a short time, we were making jam for Ricarodes and today our range has grown to over 20 unique products.
Cb: What inspired you to make the jump from a small market-based business to a larger factory operation?
MR: It really was a huge leap of faith! Eventually, we got sick of tripping over boxes of products and realised we needed a bigger space. We also needed to define the boundary between work and home.
We were confident we could make it work as we’d had great support and feedback from the local community. Ricardoes was instrumental in our growth really, we grew together. It was through making products for them that we saw the opportunity to produce the same value-adding products for other businesses which really helped to grow our business.
All products are 100% natural and handmade with great care
Cb: How important is sustainability in your business?
MR: Moving towards sustainability has always been intentional for us and we do everything we can to produce as little waste as possible. One of our sustainable practices includes giving all our green waste to Andrew from Near River Produce, who feeds it to his pigs. We’re also cutting out all single-use plastic packaging and all our packaging is recyclable. We recently went fully solar which has allowed us to produce more power than we use. The only waste we generate is cardboard.
Cb: What aspect of your business are you most proud of?
MR: Making things that support local farmers and contributing to the local economy. I love that our relationships with local producers are win-win. For example, we’ve recently partnered with Golden Dawn Blueberries in Coffs Harbour and are using their seconds (the perfectly good fruit that doesn’t make it onto supermarket shelves because it doesn’t look perfect) to make blueberry jam. We’re also using their cucumbers to make sweet pickles which will be supplied to Woolworths.
Cb: What are some of the benefits of living and operating a food-based business in Port Macquarie?
MR: Port Macquarie is great because it’s a region where so much quality produce is grown. Eric loves visiting farms and chatting with producers about how he can creatively use what they grow and our proximity to these farms makes this easy. Additionally, the benefit of a small city is that you get fantastic local support.
Monica says Ricardoes have been instrumental in their growth. Above: Ricardoes fresh strawberries
Cb: How do you wind down as a family?
MR: We all love mountain bike riding and do that together every weekend. There’s a great Mountain Bike Park at Jollynose Mountain near Bonny Hills. Eric tries to squeeze a surf in and we still walk the dog on the beach every day. We also head to Perisher for a week of snowboarding every year.
Cb: What’s the secret to your success?
MR: I believe the secret to our success is looking after our team and making everyone feel like they’re part of the journey. It helps that Eric is a bloody talented chef! He’s got a real flair for combining flavours. We strive to think outside the box too and understand that what we set out to do won’t necessarily be what we end up doing. We’re always open to change.
Cb: How do you navigate working and living with each other?
MR: I can’t imagine not working with Eric. Our strengths complement each other – he’s the driving force and I’m the handbrake! While we frustrate each other sometimes we also appreciate each other’s strengths and try to be kind. Having board meetings over a bottle of wine is definitely one of the perks.
Customers can sample products at the retail shop and showroom
Cb: What are the latest developments for The Other Chef?
MR: We’ve recently moved to a bigger factory that includes a retail shop and showroom where customers can enjoy a tasting bar with product samples. We’re now able to conduct factory tours for small groups where Eric demonstrates how everything is made and talks about where the produce comes from. Another thing we’ve started doing is creating custom gift hampers for both individual and corporate events which is proving very popular.
For more information or to book a factory tour visit theotherchef.com.au
See a yummy Tomato Bruschetta recipe from The Other Chef here.