Elizabeth Hewson, head of creative at Fink Group, author and pasta enthusiast
My story isn't about overcoming adversity or trauma – it's a rather ordinary tale of overcoming anxiety. I've always struggled with anxiety: that all-consuming, often paralysing state of being. When it flairs up, often brought on by a stressful situation, it leads me to lack confidence, questioning every decision and analysing every comment.
This struggle led me to search for a coping mechanism that would distract me from those plaguing thoughts. Something I could lose myself in. Like most people, I've always loved eating pasta. Having lived and studied in Italy, I have a deep understanding and appreciation of it. There's a pasta for every moment, every occasion, every place. Their food not only celebrates, it also heals. So, one Saturday afternoon, I decided to make pasta. I poured a glass of wine, turned on the music and started to knead.
Much to my delight, the kneading alone proved to be intensely therapeutic – I can't recommend enough the satisfying feeling of channelling a really shitty week into dough. I started to repeat this routine every Saturday night, wanting to recreate the curative effect it had on me.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and I soon realised that for me, absorbing myself in the act of making pasta provided this. During this time, my husband was travelling a lot for work, so most often it was just myself and my Bernese Mountain dog, Forest, at home alone. Learning to make pasta alone felt safe. It became a place to learn, to make mistakes and to know that the decisions I made were only going to affect dinner and nothing beyond that. There is a sense of value you get when you cook for yourself, it's extremely nurturing and empowering. Cooking and eating alone allowed me to establish this self-care ritual.
In March this year, I had a baby. It's true what they say about becoming a mother for the first time; having Louis turned my world upside down. You are instantly changed, in a process that almost happens against your will. I wasn't prepared for the adjustment. Going from a productive, busy and exciting life – a full-time job that I loved, writing a book and doing what I wanted, when I wanted – was challenging. I struggled with the demands and repetition that came with a newborn. It was here that I leaned into my self-care ritual. Making pasta during this time was one of the things that made me feel more like me. Yet again, it became my escapism. We're eight weeks in now and the fog has started to lift. Gradually you become more confident and comfortable with the change of pace. And a smile from Louis certainly helped.
Whilst not conventional, making pasta on Saturday night has become my way of dealing with anxiety. This routine combined with the magic that comes with the process of making something simple has resulted in an immensely comforting experience. Sure, it might not be the best pasta in the world – but it's the best for me because I made it with my own two hands.
Elizabeth Hewson's book Saturday Night Pasta is out now.
Adrien Bochel, owner, Sacrebleu
Baking was not my initial passion, and it wasn't my first livelihood either. When I was young, growing up in France, I always loved cooking and preparing meals using cookbooks from iconic French chefs like Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon and Michel Guérard. My parents took me to beautiful restaurants, and I loved having conversations with the chefs afterwards. I've always been fascinated by the craftsmanship of cooking.
After my last year of high school, I decided I wanted to go to culinary school in Paris. But I felt a lot of pressure from my family and friends to do something else. Cooking was not encouraged – it was all about going to university. So I went and studied finance and law instead. I passed the bar exam in Paris and went on the practice as a tax and business lawyer – five years in France and three years here in Australia. I don't regret it at all because it gave me the opportunity to travel and still go to excellent restaurants. Eventually though, I got to a point where I found going to restaurants frustrating. I was in the dining area but what I really wanted was to be in the kitchen. It finally got to a point where going to restaurants was too hard – it was so strange.
In my late 20s, I decided I needed to make a change – I was desperate. When I was in my office and working, I was unhappy. I would come home from work and it was in the 30 minutes preparing my dinner when I'd forget everything else. It was my meditation. I wanted to work out how I could do this every day – no more Sunday night blues, or mental exhaustion and emotional fatigue.
Finally, I decided to send an email to Guillaume Brahimi's personal assistant. Two weeks later I got a reply saying the chef was going to be at his restaurant for another hour and that I could come and have a coffee with him. It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, so I cancelled all my meetings and raced to get a cab. I met him and said, "I know I'm not young but I need to change my career – what do I do?" He then explained he was opening a new restaurant in two months, and suggested I come and work there. It was probably one of the best days of my life.
Brahimi gave me a chance – and I worked for him for seven months, then went back to France to study at the culinary school I had always wanted to go to. Then I worked in a three Michelin-starred kitchen. I worked in the pastry and larder section, which eventually led me to open up my own business back in Australia, Sacrebleu. We bake canelés, madeleines, meringues and croquants aux Amandes. Seeing people enjoy these is more rewarding than any bonus in the corporate world.
Usually, you can't change the world in a few minutes, but I'm glad that email set me on a course to change my life. My mental health is so much better for that. My meditation is when I'm cooking. It's almost like I forget what I am doing because I'm so immersed in it. It's like a treasure – you find it and you just want to keep it.
Charlotte Ree, communications manager, author and baker
My earliest memories of baking were with my nan – we would make jam drops together. To this day whenever I beat butter and sugar together, I still dip my finger in for a taste – it just reminds me of licking the beaters of my nan's old Kenwood mixer.
Many years on, I began to develop an immense love of food. My love for baking really ramped up when I started managing staff in my job. I placed a lot of pressure on myself to be a good boss and I was really stressed. I'd find myself trying to get to sleep and all I could think of were the 15 things on my to-do-list. A way to stop that was to just start baking, even at 1am. I wouldn't have my phone, I'd be totally focused. So I kept baking. It became my own thing – I could lose my job, or I could lose my relationship, but I'd still have this beautiful thing that brings me joy and quietens me when I get loud in my head or too busy in my body.
Recently, my husband and I separated. We'd been together for nine years. What is beautiful and also incredibly sad about the whole thing is that we love each other, but we also love ourselves enough to know that we needed to move on. You could say I hit rock bottom emotionally: I'd moved into a house on my own and the world was shutting down around me. I've really had to "sit in the shit" as I like to call it. It's processing on steroids.
Baking became a saviour in a lot of ways – it's been a form of surviving. I have to focus on the baking process itself and not think about my sadness or not think about how much I love this person that I am not with anymore.
There's also the therapy of gifting. I am a sweet fiend, but I really love making people happy, simply by giving them something I've baked. In a beautiful way, it's enabled me to connect to my community. I have gotten to know my new neighbours by delivering them banana muffins and chocolate cakes. Feeding people and cooking is like a love language for me. It's a way to connect in a time where I'm not just isolated because of my divorce, but because everyone is.
I'm from the country and it creates this really nice feeling of community. It's this vulnerability – that I can drop off cookies or something and ask someone how they are doing, and it will turn into a 15-minute conversation, instead of just a quick text or an Instagram post.
Even though I use baking to ground myself, it's not always as immediate as that. I've had times where I didn't seal the spring-form tin and it's leaked all over the oven, or I've forgotten to put in sugar – times that have resulted in moments of total despair. But there's also beauty in those frustrations and learning.
The thing is, you really don't know what is going on in someone else's life unless you're in their inner circle – so you have to show kindness. Baking allows me to do that.
Charlotte Ree's book Just Desserts is available now.
Eliza Cannon, co-founder of Borrowed Ground Farm and primary school teacher
When I reflect on my relationship with food, I see an undulating, at times chaotic, spectrum. It has always been at the forefront of my life but the ways in which I have engaged with it has changed and evolved greatly over time.
My mum is an amazing cook and, even though we didn't have much money growing up, she never made us feel that we were falling short. We'd always be the kids with olive mortadella sandwiches at school.
Growing up, my home life was extremely tempestuous. My father was a violent alcoholic and my sister and I witnessed violence from an extremely young age until mum worked up the incredible courage to leave him when I was 12.
This trauma has affected me horrendously and my coping mechanisms have been food and alcohol. Food was the only thing I could manage and regulate when everything else felt out of control. When I turned 18, I was partying a lot around Oxford Street in Sydney and I remember getting to a point where I just felt really unhealthy and uncomfortable in my own skin. I started watching what I ate and running quite obsessively. That snowballed into an eating disorder, fuelled by people's comments about how good I looked and how much weight I had lost. At my worst, for two days straight, I'd eat three apples and two muesli bars, then binge the following day. It was a vicious, self-destructive cycle.
I can't pinpoint an exact time or epiphany, but I can definitely say that my internship at Old Mill Road – a bio-intensive market garden on the South East coast of New South Wales – was the catalyst for realising there's a whole other world out there when it comes to food. I still have periods of destructive self-talk where a particular photo will send me on a negative spiral. Yet, these dark periods grow smaller and less aggressive each year.
This is because farming has taught me that eating is an act of nourishment, privilege and joy, as opposed to a guilt train of shame. Following my internship, my partner Alex and I both became obsessed with growing vegetables and knew that the end goal for us would be farming.
Farming has no doubt healed my relationship with food and the Earth. Its often monotonous tasks allow you to contemplate things on a daily basis, in a non-confrontational way. Even though that's scary sometimes, it has helped me process my worries and figure out what I actually want in life.
Also, just by eating food grown ethically and locally, you feel a thousand times better. It's satisfying, packed with nutrients and tasty as hell. It almost sounds too simple, doesn't it? Healing will be a lifelong process for me. But my yellow brick road is a food expedition, which has shown me a world where true contentment and satisfaction is possible.
For me, growing food and cooking is a form of meditation. There's nothing I love more than cooking for the people I love. Sharing moments of good food, wine, stories and belly-aching laughter is what makes me the happiest.