Resident of Newport, dad, keen diver
Dad was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. He was an officer in the NZ air force and was doing a stint in the travel agency business in London before moving on to the casino industry. Hugh M. Hefner was his employer at the Playboy Club London before Dad moved to manage a casino in the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo. That’s where he met Mum.
Mum’s father had emigrated from Italy to France and joined the French army in the Second World War and was posted to Madagascar, which was a French colony at the time. He met my grandmother, who is half-Malagasy and half-French. My mother was studying in Paris and was on holiday back in Madagascar when she met my father. I was born in Antananarivo.
Dad got transferred to Mauritius when Mum was pregnant with me and she couldn’t leave Madagascar. So I was born without Dad around. Dad met me for the first time when I was one month old when my mother and I flew to Mauritius to join him.
We lived in Mauritius for five years, where I only spoke French and Creole. It wasn’t until we moved to South Africa before I learnt to speak English fluently. As I spoke little English, I had trouble fitting in with my schoolmates. As a result, I refused to speak French and completely lost the use of the language.
When I was 12, my parents sent me to France for the summer holidays to live with my uncle in Paris. My uncle spoke no English. I remember arriving in France and communicated with my uncle via drawings. Amazingly, by the end of the summer holidays, French came back to me. I still speak French today.
After South Africa, the family moved to Turkey for a brief period, and then onto Paris, where I completed high school at the British School of Paris. This was an amazing period in my life, as I had come from a sleepy coastal village in South Africa to one of the most amazing cities in the world. I was 15 and embraced all this city had to offer. French food culture really made an impression on me here.
After completing high school in Paris, I went on to the University of Bath, and studied Structural and Civil Engineering, spending my summers in France, and going back to England for school.
After graduating from uni, I moved to London and worked for a major construction company. While I was doing my job, I wasn’t 100% sure this was the life I wanted. I did some soul searching and realized I loved food. I have always researched recipes, cooking, and shopping around for different ingredients. I asked myself why I don’t get into food. However, at that time I had just finished uni, and wasn’t sure about giving up my career choice to begin working in the food world.
When I was in London, I began dating a Melburnian girl. She worked as an au pair in London, and was pretty well-connected and knew the people who ran a well-established restaurant called Smith of Smithsfield. To test whether I wanted to give up my life as an engineer, I worked for free every Saturday as a kitchen hand. It was my first taste of the professional cooking world.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a chef, but I liked the buzz of hospitality. After the stint, I knew I was closer to doing that.
My girlfriend’s visa was running out and she asked if I wanted to come back with her to Melbourne. The company I worked for had a Melbourne division, and I was successful in obtaining a transfer. I arrived in Melbourne aged 26 in 2005. Here I was, the only child, living the furthest place away from my parents in France. It was a big decision.
After a year, I was single again but decided Australia was to be home. It was around this time, that I met David Cox – my business partner at Woven. I had a vacant room in my apartment in Brunswick and was looking for a flatmate. David replied to an ad I posted. Here’s this little tattooed Kiwi guy who at the time was working as a bar manager in the CBD. He moved out a few years later, but we kept in touch.
Over the years, David has been involved in several food businesses, including being a part-owner of Nineteen Squares in Elwood with Jeff Wong of Huxtaburger. David and I had always talked about having our own café. Little did we know….
My new girlfriend and I decided to travel Australia. We bought a bright orange old Kombi van, quit our jobs and decided to earn money by picking fruit as we travelled.
One of the highlights of the trip was living on Heron Island, Queensland in the Great Barrier Reef. Not just for tourists, the island had a research station and an eco-resort. My girlfriend was a room attendant and I was a dishie. We felt like we were working in a nature documentary, with birds swooping everywhere, turtles laying eggs on the beach and rays and reefs sharks swimming along the beach shore. It was pure paradise. This short stint reignited my desire to get into the restaurant business, somehow.
We’d been travelling through Australia for a year by now and made a decision to go back. My girlfriend was really into the dance festival scene, where she introduced me to Rainbow Serpent Festival. It had all these food stands, but none of them tickled my fancy. I still had this food itch, and I wanted to explore it.
One of the best things about Brunswick is the Lebanese joints. I discovered a bakery, selling delicious za’atar flatbread. I began wondering if I could brand it and sell them at music festivals. I decided to call it a Ninja Roll and began selling it for a few years around dance festivals in Victoria while maintaining our day jobs. Ninja Rolls developed into various other iterations of food offerings that we sold at music festivals and markets (including a couple of seasons at the Victoria Night Markets).
However, I found that the festival food business was too volatile as there were too many variables out of our control. We couldn’t anticipate how many people would turn up, what the weather would be like or where you were placed in the festival! The food business for me was temporarily put on hold.
In 2009, my then-partner was pregnant and we wanted a home with a garden to raise our child. Rent was too high in Brunswick, so we moved to Footscray. This started our adventure in the western suburbs. Little Oskar was born on 1 April, our little April Fools’ baby.
My second son Victor was born on 5 November 2012, our little Guy Fawkes baby.
In 2014, I found a milk bar in Spotswood which David and I decided would be ideal to finally start our café dream. Around the same time, an opportunity presented itself to me for an empty retail space in Yarraville, where Woven is located. The landlord was looking for a cafe operator. We were interested in the opportunity, however as we had just signed the lease in Spotswood, we turned down the offer.
My Mum was visiting from France at the time, and when she heard we had turned down the offer, she wanted to whack me. She said ‘Are you stupid? Put the milk bar on hold. You cannot turn this down!’ Wise words from Mum.
It took us about six months to get the design and fit out done. A true collaborative effort between all parties. No designers were engaged. Woven opened in October 2014.
The café is located off the main drag of Yarraville Village in a converted factory which used to be a Dickies towel factory. When we were thinking of a name, we wanted something that referenced the origins of the building. We ran a contest on Facebook and received many great textile and sewing related names, but one definitely stood out – Woven. Interestingly enough, the person who suggested the name was an ex-work colleague of mine. Thanks Mel!!
The café has an industrial feel, yet still manages to be warm and homely. We have 70 seats, with a tight menu covering all the café bases but we definitely acknowledge the health aspects of the area. Our roots are in chicken and waffles and crazy burgers and we have a rotating fortnightly special with world influences which we have been doing from the start.
Our coffee is with Code Black; we believe they are the best coffee. Our baked goods and cookies are made by my ex-partner Little Miss Butter. We make most of our items in-house. It’s really important for us to keep it simple, homely and authentic.
I am an avid self-taught spearfisherman. I love being under the water and being able to responsibly harvest the oceans’ bounty has really drawn me to this activity. One of the most memorable meals I’ve had was after a day of spearfishing with some friends, where we had a meal of fresh abalone, mussels and fish we had caught that day. All we bought was some bread from Candied Bakery and a tomato and basil salad from my garden. Words can’t describe the satisfaction and bond created from the process of obtaining and sharing that meal.
As a consequence of spearfishing, I got into freediving. 15 meters is my deepest. I have gotten my kids into snorkeling as well. I took them to Thailand last year and initiated them into this world. If you are looking for me, I am often in Williamstown with the kids in flippers and wet suits.