Yeshe Dawa and Rom McLennan have strikingly similar foodie stories: they both run niche-market culinary businesses, they started small, to suit their own health needs, they shared with friends and family, and it grew into something bigger.
Dawa has The Midnight Baker cafe and bakery in Auckland, specialising in wholesome breads. McLennan makes probiotic fermented kombucha tea in Hamilton under her Rombucha label.
On a sunny Wednesday, the two women meet for the first time at Hayes Common in Hamilton East, which they supply with their respective products. They’re the star turn at a Meet the Maker lunch at this neighbourhood eatery. It kicks off with glasses of lusciously pink Rombucha berry spritzer.
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Hayes Common co-owner and chef Lisa Quarrie has designed a special menu for the event, showcasing Midnight Baker bread and Rombucha kombucha. She says the “Meet the Maker” idea grew from customers asking for more information about food and beverages used at the cafe.
“We thought: why we don’t bring some of our suppliers to us, people from behind the scenes who we think are cool. We wanted it to be fun and informative.” So far, they’ve had functions with Hamilton’s Good George Brewing and Matawhero Wines from Gisborne. Now it is Dawa’s and McLennan’s day.
Dawa began making bread two years ago when she changed her diet to help control an eczema condition. “I wanted to heal myself from the inside out,” she says. She gave up gluten, dairy, alcohol and refined sugar, and started looking at new ways of preparing food.
She experimented with bread recipes, and her buckwheat-based Freedom loaf was born, free of eggs, dairy, wheat, refined sugar and yeast. The Freedom loaf and an oat-based Natural loaf are both unleavened. They are nutty, seedy, dense, surprisingly soft, and delicious with all manner of savoury and sweet toppings. They are now the basis of Dawa’s cafe and bakery on Auckland’s Dominion Rd.
McLennan began making kombucha as a healthy option for her family and says it’s a great alternative to sugary sodas for children. And a smart drink for grown-ups. Kombucha, she explains, has an ancient history; it is a naturally sweet and sparkling fermented tea, full of probiotics, antioxidants and B vitamins.
McLennan says she experimented with flavours, her Rombucha Sparkle Tea developed a following and two years ago she began making it commercially, using organically grown Zealong tea from Gordonton.
For today’s lunch there is a three-course vegan menu: to start, chef Quarrie teams toasted Midnight Baker bread with beetroot hummus, nut “cheese”, pickled radish and mint. It is served with glasses of sparklingly refreshing Rombucha Original.
Next is a colourful roasted butternut and lentil salad with crispy crumbs of Freedom loaf, watercress and tasty turmeric tahini dressing (see recipe). It is paired with Rombucha Ginger, a drink with kick and attitude (in a good way).
Dessert is divine dark chocolate mousse (made with tofu), enhanced by a swoosh of kombucha gel, and meringue made from aquafaba (chickpea cooking liquid). And mellow Rombucha Spiced Cocoa on the side.
Quarrie, who is coeliac and eats gluten-free, greatly enjoys both products on her Meet the Maker’s menu. She says the notion of doing a vegan lunch evolved as she planned the dishes. “We wanted to show how it can be really delicious.” She surely succeeded.
Hayes Common tahini and turmeric dressing
½ cup tahini
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Water for thinning the mixture
Salt and black pepper to taste
Blend the first six ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add water to thin the mixture to dressing consistency; season with a little salt and black pepper. This dressing is delicious stirred through lentil and quinoa salad, roasted root vegetable salad, or similar dishes.
The dressing will keep in the fridge for five days; the mix will thicken a little if left and colour will become more intense.