You should see the Saint Monday kitchen on a Wednesday morning. That’s the morning we receive our haul of fresh, locally grown biodynamic fruit and vegetables from Matt and Tamsin, the fine folk behind Greenwood and Grogan Produce. On Wednesday mornings, you’ll find crates spilling over with just-picked greens balanced on top of the dishwasher. Or paper bags brimming with the supplest green beans you’ve ever seen, slumped beside the toaster. Back in summer, tomatoes tumbled across the kitchen benches like coloured balls of wool from a basket – purple ones and yellow ones and ones that blushed so profusely red that it was almost rude.
Now, we’re into the season of potatoes – startling purple congo potatoes, and creamy little bundles of deliciousness that fit into the palm of your hand. And pumpkins. Oh my god, the pumpkins. Butternuts and golden nuggets vie for attention as they line the head-height walls of the kitchen like proud, stout sentries. Every Wednesday feels like a celebration of abundance, and we can scarcely wait to finish what we’re doing – icing that cake that we’re just about to put on the counter, or plating up the breakfast we’re in the middle of – to rummage through boxes and bags to see what delights Matt and Tamsin have brought us from their farm up the road in Staghorn Flat.
These fresh, locally produced goodies have shaped, to an enormous degree, the items that have appeared on our menu since we opened, with our dishes bending and flexing around the ingredients that have been available as the seasons changed. Nicole, Saint Monday’s chef, has invented and concocted dishes that have showcased these ingredients – whether they were the curiously wrapped tomatilloes that suddenly appeared on our Idler's Plates, delightful little cucamelons that teetered atop our Nacho Mountain, or damson plums that found their way into our housemade jam!
So when we became aware of a novel ethical and local dining challenge, called Give A Fork, whose aim was to provide the impetus for those working in the hospitality industry to help set standards when it came to increasing the value placed on locally and ethically produced food and minimising food waste, we knew we had to be part of it. Ever since we opened Saint Monday’s doors, we’d been very conscious of working with those growing and producing food in our area, but the challenge, with its four clear rules, has inspired us throughout April to go further still.
The rules? That any dishes created for the month-long challenge put vegetables at centre stage; that meat, if it was used, was free-range, local and ethically produced; that items that might otherwise be composted – like vegetable skins or carrot tops – were used as part of the dish; and that the provenance of ingredients was able to be traced.
Needless to say, Nicole embraced this challenge with gusto, creating two dishes that pivot on key ingredients supplied by Greenwood and Grogan. The first – Pepita Pepita Porridge Eater, a vegan porridge of quinoa and biodynamic pumpkin, with generous lashings of creamed coconut and garnished with handfuls of maple-baked pumpkin skin and spiced pumpkin seeds and nuts. Not only does this little baby lean heavily upon the incredible flavour of G&G's glorious pumpkins, but it uses the whole pumpkin – flesh, seeds and skin. Little ol’ Pepita Pepita has turned out to be the sort of dish that has people awestruck at how downright tasty a vegie porridge can be. Seriously.
Nicole’s second brilliant dish highlights those little purple congo potatoes I mentioned before, turning them into a gnocchi that becomes the centrepiece of the “out of this world” Spudnik Gratin. Purple gnocchi is baked in a creamy sauce and topped with a blue-cheesy, day-old-sourdough-y crumble (the blue cheese is from Locheilan Farmhouse Cheese, and is produced in the Goulburn Valley by Chris’ dad, Bruce; the sourdough we bake ourselves). Again, veggies and cheese produced by people we know, love and whose processes we trust, are celebrated here, and day-old sourdough gets a new lease on life as a topping.
Not only have these dishes been delicious, we kind of hope that they've also been miniature "revolutions" on plates, playing a role in helping to change our behaviour, and maybe even the behaviour of those who have tasted these dishes. We've had to be imaginative to use what we've had on hand to create something that works. We've been encouraged to look differently at things that might otherwise have ended up in the compost bin - to consider them valuable and tasty ingredients, rather than waste. We've had fun finding out about those pumpkins and potatoes, about the best way to use Bruce's blue cheese to create just the right crumble for the top of the gratin. It has been a process involving conversation, experimentation, tasting, trial and error. It's been good wholesome fun. We've felt good about playing a part in a unique, local food system built upon the honest, hard work of local people doing what they love, and have felt an intense sense of responsibility towards articulating the value of the food we access via this system by using every last scrap of it as best we can.
We hope that those who have tasted these dishes are inspired to do more than just lick their lips in satisfaction. We hope it has sparked a bit of curiosity and excitement about the potential for each of us, as chefs in our own home kitchens, to invest in great local food and prepare it with a sense of consciousness around its provenance and the human, cultural and ecological energy it embodies.
Saint Monday might be a tiny café in a small town, but the fact that a major facet of our operation involves offering coffee to the good folk coming through our doors means that we’re part of an intricate and bewildering global coffee network. In many ways, it can be terrifying to think about the role we play as a ‘cog’ in this machine. Although the concept of ‘food miles’ is grossly inadequate in capturing the ecological, social and cultural impacts of something like coffee, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the journey a coffee bean takes from the farm upon which it was produced to a cup at Saint Monday involves mind-blowingly colossal distances (an average of about 13,000km, in case you’re interested).
Putting ‘food miles’ to one side and considering, instead, the carbon emissions involved in growing, harvesting, sourcing, selecting, packaging, shipping, roasting, repackaging, transporting locally, grinding, brewing and harnessing the multiple resources required to facilitate the serving of what seems to be a simple cup of coffee, makes it increasingly clear that that cup of coffee can be responsible for the production of some serious emissions. (As an example - albeit, a European one - a study from 2008 estimated that the farm to table CO2 emissions involved in serving Costa Rican coffee in German cafes came to about 59.12g per cup). The long and short of it (pun intended!) is that this is one product that, if handled without care, respect or mindfulness, has the potential to unravel any good we might be trying to do in other facets of our business...
Let me stop here for just a second. I hear you ask, "well, why serve coffee at all, if you aspire to difference? Is that not hypocritical?". It's a really good question, and one that we ask ourselves a lot, given that it means we're continuing to shackle ourselves to a system that we want to help change. I guess, our answer relates to the positive social and cultural properties of coffee. We love that there seems to be a power about coffee that, for centuries, has brought people together to philosophise, connect, laugh, recount stories and even plot revolutions. There is a rich and diverse cultural history attached to coffee, and we want to participate in that. We want to serve good coffee to the people we know and love in our community, and we want to do so even in the knowledge that there is this incredible gravity associated with this little bean. We want our role in this global network to have a positive impact for our community, and for communities in places we will never get to see. Knowing what we do about coffee’s impact has upped the stakes for us, and means that to feel good about serving it, we need to be very conscious of how we source and use it - we need to do it right. We need to prepare it with care and ensure that its full value (economic, social and ecological) is conveyed to those who are drinking it with us, so as to respect its origins and those other good people working so hard to grow this incredible crop 13,000km away. Hypocrites our choice may make us, but I think George Monbiot is spot on - "Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short."
Part of our attempt to address this gap between our aspirations and our actions has been working to acquaint every Saint Mondayer, whether they use our coffee machine or not, with the people and processes around the coffee we use. And so, this week, as many of us as could fit in a minivan took a field trip to our supplier, Melbourne-based independent specialist coffee roaster, Coffee Supreme. We wanted to not only meet some of the people involved in the more local side of the coffee supply chain, but also pick their brains as to how we could best use and serve their beans.
Tucked away in an industrial area of Abbotsford, Coffee Supreme’s headquarters buzz not just with the constant din of coffee beans rattling about inside the belly of their Probat drum roaster, but also the busy-ness of people talking, making, tasting and despatching coffee. Coffee Supreme used to offer Fairtrade/Fair Trade options, but for the past few years it has forgone such certification schemes and taken the extra step of trading directly with coffee producers, mills and exporters. (They’ve written a great post laying out their rationale for this decison in ‘black and white’ here - it's definitely worth taking the time to have a read.) Members of CS’s Melbourne-based team travel regularly to its principle producer-countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Indonesia - to not only taste freshly harvested coffee, but scrutinise coffee producers’ management strategies and social standards. They take a holistic view of the production process, with fairness and sustainability as their yardsticks. As Andre, who meets us at the door of the Coffee Supreme roastery tells us, the cornerstone of the business is its focus on cultivating strong, direct, trusting, long-lasting relationships with producers to source the highest quality green beans available. In doing so, Coffee Supreme is committed to paying producers sustainable, fair prices that reflect the fact that the product it is purchasing is grown according to high, specialty standards.
We're invited to dip our hands into hession sacks full of these beautiful green beans before we’re introduced to Matt, one of Coffee Supreme’s roasting gurus. Against a backdrop of coffee storage hoppers draped with sacks labelled with each bean’s country of origin, Matt performs something of a juggling act for us, explaining the intricacies involved in roasting the perfect batch, while keeping one eye trained on a computer screen to ensure he is able to flick off the roaster’s heating elements at precisely the right instant to achieve the ‘first crack’ - the stage at which much of the coffee beans’ moisture has been evaporated off, preserving the unique origin characteristics of the bean. We then watch as the beans are air cooled and poured into a tub for packaging. Andre whizzes us through the tech room, where coffee machines wait in various states of maintenance and repair, and the despatch room where we see one of our own coffee orders being packaged. It’s then off to the training room...
Half of our group are coffee making virgins, who may have made themselves a coffee or two on the machine at the cafe, but who have not yet made one for Saint Monday customers. So there’s an air of trepidation about touching the gleaming La Marzocco machine, let alone using it to transform these precious beans and hand-bottled Saint David Dairy milk into hot beverages. However, Andre has a knack for teaching and building confidence. He talks about controlling variables - temperature, weight, tamp pressure, hygiene - in order to produce the perfect shot. Art meets science, mathematics comes together with metaphor, and before we know it, we are - coffee virgins and aficionados alike - pulling shots and texturing milk like it’s the 11 o’clock coffee rush hour.
We leave Coffee Supreme not just with new skills, but with a tangible sense of connection to the other people scattered along the long and complicated chain that supplies us with our coffee. It’s a small step towards learning how we can fit into this network on our own terms, and do right not just by our customers, but by those who are making such high quality coffee available to us. And it's a step towards learning to articulate more clearly the full value and potential of what seems to be just a simple cup of coffee in a tiny cafe in our small town.
Hi there. My name is Lauren. His name is Chris. You can find us in a little shopfront called Saint Monday that has a perfect view out onto Yackandandah’s main street. On any given day, from the windows of Saint Monday, you’ll spy Toto dogs snoozing on the pavement, babies chattering in their prams, and neighbours leaning against the verandah posts to shoot the breeze with each other. It’s a tableau that we love to steal glances at while we hurtle about inside this little space, making coffee and bread and cakes and lunches for our neighbourhood.
We’ve done two and a half circuits of the moon since Saint Monday first opened its doors. A ferocious summer spent cobbling together tables and chairs from salvaged goods and op shop finds in the twilight breeze, and learning how to square a counter top against two wonky old brick walls has turned - more quickly than we could have anticipated – into the relief of autumn. Now, each dark morning when we sweep the tiny patch of pavement in front of Saint Monday, we’re brushing aside yellowing leaves and acorns. It gets me to thinking that finally, here, now, we’ve rooted ourselves in a place from which the changes of the season, the changes of our community, play out larger than they ever have, right in front of our eyes. And it’s just what we wanted.
Saint Monday was born of a notion that has crept up on us steadily over the past few years – that it’s when you can see your impact upon the world, both the positive and the negative, and do something to amplify the positive and reduce the negative, that life is at its most rewarding, its fairest, its most responsible. It’s an idea that has been espoused by many, most of whom weave the term ‘ecological footprint’ into their theory. However, this idea – and the action that necessarily accompanies it - was driven home to me most forcefully by post-development theorist Wolfgang Sachs’ ‘home perspective’. Sachs calls upon people of the global north – like you and me – who use an alarmingly disproportionate amount of global ecological space to sustain our lifestyles, to “make room for others by way of an orderly retreat”, and to embark upon a “reform of home out of a cosmopolitan spirit” (in "Planet Dialectics", 1999:87).
While we had been inching our way towards it for a few years, our ‘orderly retreat’ began in earnest last year when we decided that if we wanted to truly live in Yackandandah, if we truly wanted to reduce our own negative impacts upon the world, and amplify our positive impacts, we needed to find a way to stop getting in the car each morning and driving away from it to make our livelihoods. (Chris had been driving to a café 45 minutes away, where he had been working as a barista. My commute continues to whisk me away to an office in ‘town’, 40 minutes away, three times a week.) We needed to root our livelihoods in the place in which we slept and ate and hung our washing out and volunteered and gathered with friends. We needed to wind back our support for an industry that made its fortune ripping a finite resource out of the ground, and shipping it halfway around the world, via a dozen or more conflict zones, so that people like us could continue to unthinkingly put a key in the ignition of a vehicle to drive away from our hometowns. We needed to find a way to utilise our skills to build something for ourselves and our community. It was only when we chanced upon a little weatherboard shopfront available for lease in Yackandandah’s main street that we decided such a thing might actually be possible. Finally, it seemed like we could choose to really commit to our reform of home.
So, I guess you could say there’s a certain politics behind Saint Monday. It’s a slow, deliberate politics, with nature and people at its core. Saint Monday strives not just to make a difference, but to be different. We’re cultivating a privately owned business based upon a non-growth model that can be a space for collaboration, sharing and focusing upon the people, skills, attributes and resources that are unique to the little place in which we live. We like to think that Saint Monday is something uniquely shaped by the dynamics of both the people behind it, and the town in which it is located – in much the same way that the taste of a wine is influenced by its terroir.
We’ve been fortunate that a lot of good people have fallen into step beside us – our chef, Nicole, for one. She committed herself to an unknown and untested venture right back at the start, and has brought incredible knowledge (like an understanding of just when the pine mushrooms will be ready for foraging and preserving), and an uncanny ability to transform the humblest of dishes into a true articulation of this little piece of the world via her use of the local and the seasonal. And Katrina and Emily and Merri, who, before the doors were even open, seemed to be able to picture the same thing we had been imagining – a space in which people could be together – and who have spent the past two and a half months welcoming and caring for every person who has walked through the door. And Anna, Elvie and Jackson who have come to us with such incredible determination, enthusiasm and commitment to learning, and who are not just great young hospitality people, but also warm, engaging and hospitable people. And Gabbi, whose experience in and love of the natural environment in which we happen to find ourselves seems to infuse everything she does. Or our recent addition, Matt, who may just be our very own renaissance man - he can not only install a solar panel, but also bake killer Sicilian almond biscuits. And Jenna, whose natural affinity and ability with food means that, when she and Nicole are in the kitchen together, great things happen!
Saint Monday is a business, yes. But for Chris and I, it’s also an expression of who we are, and importantly, where we want to be. I hope you'll join us for the journey.