Cupboard of Love at Nilla’s Pantry
With its range of fresh, flavoursome salads, organic home-cooked meals and delicious deli products, the recently opened Nilla’s Pantry in Noosa is a one-stop shop for fast, healthy wholefoods, discovers Rebecca Jamieson Dwyer.
After years of being asked by her VanillaFood café customers for a range of organic food they could heat and eat at home, Nilla Tomkins finally gave in, opening her newest venture, Nilla’s Pantry, just a few doors down from her beautiful Noosa Junction premises in April 2023.
Stocking healthy, hearty family favourites such as lasagna, soups, bone broths, curries and dips – all made in-house with the highest quality ingredients – alongside a delectable range of sandwiches, salads and cakes, as well as pantry staples such as sauces, pickles and dressings, Nilla’s Pantry allows customers to enjoy nourishing meals at home after a busy day rather than reaching for a takeaway or filling themselves up with junk food.
Nilla’s food philosophy is simple: she wants to look after her family and loved ones by serving up wholesome, seasonal, organic food.
“Keeping my family healthy is my number one priority,” she said. “What we offer at Nilla’s Pantry is good, honest food. People don’t have time to cook every night but they still want to take care of their family; that’s why we exist.”
Her commitment to using 100% organic produce means the pantry and café menus are constantly evolving, with her team getting creative behind the scenes in order to work with the fruit and vegetable delivery that comes twice a week.
“When you eat organic, you only work with seasonal produce,” she explained. “We get an ingredient one week and then the next week it’s gone, so we’re constantly changing our menus.
“It’s an interesting challenge for our chefs to work with what they’ve got, and our customers are usually understanding when we have to substitute one ingredient for another. It’s a trust thing – they know that we only use organic produce.”
In keeping with this theme, Nilla has also sourced a range of natural and Lo-Fi wines – wines that are crafted with no or very few adjustments during the winemaking process.
As well as being innovative in the kitchen, the Nilla’s Pantry team are taking a unique approach to waste, as one of the only cafes in Queensland to have implemented the global HuskeeSwap reusable cup exchange scheme.
Designed to make reusables as easy and convenient as single-use items, customers simply hand in their (clean or used) Huskee cup when buying a coffee, and are served their coffee in a fresh, clean Huskee cup – with the cycle continuing with each coffee they buy from participating venues.
But it doesn’t stop there: Nilla and her team also encourage people to bring their own containers for the cakes and salads, helping to start a conversation with the community about the importance of reducing waste, and hopefully creating a knock-on effect that goes beyond the walls of the pantry.
“We love having these conversations with customers and we’re slowly starting to educate people who hadn’t thought about it before,” Nilla said. “I grew up with that reuse mentality because my mum would always pack her Thermos for a picnic and her reusable bags for the supermarket – most people of that generation did. And I think our young people are getting back to doing that.”
In an area out the back of the café and pantry, a kitchen garden is bursting with life: a huge lemon tree grows alongside coriander, chillies, rosemary, parsley, sage, edible flowers and more, while the compost bins at the side collect food waste from the cafe and turn it into precious nutrients for the soil – nourishing the herbs and flowers that will end up back on plates.
Even the stems from the micro herbs aren’t discarded, instead being replanted in the ground to grow again, creating food from something many people would view as ‘waste’.
After publishing her first cookbook during the pandemic, Nilla is currently working on a second one that’s inspired by her Danish heritage and the foods she remembers from her childhood.
“It’ll feature many of the flavours I grew up with, but with my twist on it,” she said. “I did a lot of foraging in the forest growing up, and have lots of recipes inspired by this time that I’m excited to share.”
But when it comes to making future plans for the business, she likes to take a holistic approach – paying careful attention to the staff, customers and the business itself, until she intuitively feels her way forward: “People are always asking me what my plans for the future are, but I don’t really ever have a plan,” Nilla said. “I just listen to the business – it tells me what it wants to do.”