A well-designed event can leave guests talking for years later, as Comestibles owner Faith Nichols knows all too well. She talks to us about winning her Lifetime Achievement Award and why, after “falling into food”, she wouldn’t want to do anything else for a career. By Rachel Smith
Congratulations on winning Restaurant & Catering’s Lifetime Achievement Award! What does that mean to you?
It was a real compliment to win and I was very flattered. I think you tend to beaver away at something, and you don’t necessary get accolades at the end of the day, so it was really nice to be recognised after so many years doing what I do.
You’ve been in business since 1986. How does Comestibles set itself apart with so many caterers out there?
It’s about working hard and building relationships. I’ve got a very strong client base; a lot of my clients have become almost friends. We also maintain a very high level of quality, and I try to leave my mark on as many jobs as I can. I still have people coming up to me saying, ‘You did my wedding 18 years ago!’ I also surround myself with hospitality professionals who see it as a career. I’ve just re-employed a young man who was my apprentice in 2007 and is now my head chef. I see that as being a real achievement for both him and myself.
You’re not a trained chef yourself. How did you get into the industry?
I kind of fell into it. When I was young and travelling with my husband, I ended up working as a cook at a hotel in Kinloch Rannoch in Scotland. I’d never cooked for more than four people, but I learned! There was one complaint I’ll never forget though, from a diner who actually told one of the servers, ‘That’s nae how you make porridge’. She came and told me and said she’d teach me after her shift!
And you continued to work in food on your return to WA?
Yes, when we got back to Australia I worked at the caterer Miss Maud for two years. It was probably equal to an apprenticeship because after 12 months I was running her kitchen. And then after having my first child I was offered more work in catering, and I found it just suited me really well. I didn’t want to be a teacher or nurse or secretary—so this was the perfect career because it allowed me to be creative, to work with other people and to give back.
Tell me more about how you support your community.
At the moment we’ve got five people on our team from Edge Employment, which finds work for people with disabilities. In the past, I started the Long Table Lunch for breast cancer, a fundraiser which is now in its 16th year—we did it for four years, but we no longer do it. I’ve done St Vincent de Paul’s CEO sleepout, we continue to support Mission Australia and we work closely with OzHarvest. They helped us during COVID when we provided meals for various charities and people in need.
You’re very much into the art and science of food. Is there always something to learn?
Yes, food is an art. I’ve got a distinct way of presenting food, and the science is a big part of it—the rising agents for a souffle, the mechanics of getting a dish just right. If you take an educated approach to food, it opens up your whole world. I’ve been doing it a long time and I’m still learning. I like to watch others do things I can’t—and it helps me pick up new skills.
What do you love about putting an event together? Any really memorable ones?
I love the team effort and taking an idea and presenting something that delights and often surprises the guests. We’re fortunate to be on the panel at the Art Gallery and it’s one of our big opportunities for storytelling—we can actually design functions and menus around the exhibition. Some memorable events for me include a function we did for the Anglican Archbishop from Sri Lanka—their food has so much depth of flavour and colour. When we do weddings, I try to wind stories around menu suggestions. You can take people on a journey with you and generate a lot of excitement for them. But the royal visit is really the feather in my cap—Buckingham Palace were very pleased with the event we did for them.
Any big trends coming through for 2021?
I think the trend towards local produce and indigenous produce will continue. We’re also finding more people are dropping meat, and more of our clients are turning to veganism. We’re becoming more accomplished at putting together menus that are purely plant-based!
What’s next for Comestibles?
We’re excited to be working again. I feel really good about the coming season. I’m looking forward to all the new functions we have coming up and to give them our own special twist.