LIVING ON THE LAND // Tory Bevan of South Hill Kitchen
How Tory’s farm life feeds (literally) into her busy Bowral café.
“I always wanted to be a country girl,” Tory Bevan says.
“I grew up in Sydney but was a frustrated farm girl the whole time!”
Tory is now living and breathing that much-wanted country life having moved to South Hill Stud in the Southern Highlands, now the location of an amazing kitchen garden that provides much of the fresh produce for South Hill Kitchen, the café she owns on Boolwey Street in Bowral.
We caught up with Tory to chat about life on the land and as a business owner in these super-uncertain times!
1 // You own South Hill Kitchen. Is the hospitality industry something you always had an interest in?
I started out working in the kitchens of one of the old school law firms in the 80’s in the school holidays I studied French, Spanish and Italian linguistics for my undergrad degree, and my dream was to live in France. But straight from Sydney Uni I got a job as a junior marketer with Telstra’s first version of the internet, and then spent 12 years working in marketing, ending up as Director of Marketing for Stadium Australia during the 2000 Olympics.
I bought my first “little” farm - only 5 acres in Moss Vale about ten years ago. In the ten years since, I have been busy renovating properties for myself and my daughters, as well as a long list of clients. At last count, I have renovated about 89 properties which has certainly kept me busy, and the MBA in Marketing that I did in my late 20’s certainly gave me some good project management skills.
2 // Tell us about South Hill Stud.
In 2017, my little Moss Vale farm had become home and I had had enough of the city, so I sold my Bondi Junction house and moved to the Southern Highlands permanently. It was a really easy move - I had been spending every spare minute down here for the previous seven years.
But not too long after that, my 5 acres seemed too small for all the horses, so I started looking for something with a bit more land.
I found an amazing 50 acre farm, now South Hill Stud, which needed a huge amount of work, and it took me six months to negotiate and pull the purchase together. It had a rundown little cottage, a shed and stables. And lots of really big paddocks with barbed wire!
I've spent the last two years completely renovating the house, replacing all the barb fencing which wasn't good for my horses, and splitting up the big paddocks into smaller more usable spaces. I've also built an Olympic sand arena, a good sized round yard and lovely day yards so it is nicely set up for horses.
I offer agistment here which is great as we are only five minutes from Moss Vale and ten minutes from Bowral, but we are out in the middle of nowhere - I can't see another house from my land.
3 // You also planted a stunning kitchen garden. What role does this garden at the farm play in the paddock to plate vision you have for South Hill Kitchen?
I bought South Hill Kitchen in Bowral in April last year, and my concept was always to create a paddock to plate experience for my customers. So, we planted out a 50-metre x 50-metre space in August 2019 and it's been so wonderful to watch it grow.
I have had a couple of wonderful gardeners and chefs working in the garden with us - an amazing Nepalese farmer who has been growing crops in Nepal all his life and a talented Australian chef who wanted time out to learn how to grow fabulous ingredients - all of whom have helped me to set-up, plant and manage the garden from a chef's perspective.
Now it provides so much fresh produce for the café. My Dad and I are in the garden every morning weeding, picking flowers and whatever crops the kitchen team need for that day.
Our customers love it. Produce from your garden is completely different. It's all organic, there's no pesticides or anything nasty and it's picked that morning from only 6 kilometres away – that's special.
4 // Let's say it's been quite the rollercoaster ride for business owners in the Southern Highlands in recent times. How have you coped? And do you see a way out of it now?
It depends on when the locusts are going to hit!!
Look, it's been tough, but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel now. I bought South Hill Kitchen in April 2019 and spent most of last year renovating and replacing all the kitchen equipment. I got to where I needed to be in November and then of course, the fires hit followed closely by COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions.
At no point was I ever going to close. I knew we had to trade our way through this, even if it meant treading water and that's what it felt like. Treading water, not knowing when the next wave was going to hit you.
We had to adapt, and I did what I needed to do for the cafe to survive. It wasn't easy and there were some long, dark days in April and May for me.
But I really wanted to stay open for our customers. I wanted to be available to our customers who had been so loyal and supportive the year before. It was a commitment to our South Hill Kitchen community.
5 // So now we are moving out of lockdown slowly and restrictions are easing, what's next?
Our ethos has always been on creating rustic, honest food made with love and amazing ingredients sourced from South Hill Stud and other local properties. The Allpress coffee is truly amazing, and we're keeping our takeaway cabinet.It just seems to work for the business. Every morning Aries fills the cabinet up with the most delicious pies, sausage rolls and baked treats. She's a trained Patissiere so I am very lucky to have someone so talented do our baking. That's turned into its own little business, actually!
One of the things I loved about South Hill Kitchen when I bought it was the sunny terrace, so we can't wait to use that space more next summer by creating a cocktails, wine bar and tapas experience for the warmer months.
And we're looking at doing special dinner events with well-known guest chefs in the coming months - South Hill Kitchen is truly a beautiful venue at night.
We launched a new menu at the beginning of the month and have installed a new management software system – so it's been busy!
6 // Is your farm the place you escape to?
I love it. And my family loves it too. My daughters, Coco and Sylvie are in high school, and they have horses and love riding, and they love the farm.
I lost my Mum in February last year, so my Dad moved from Sydney to be with me at the farm. It's been a saving grace for him and for me also. We've been a good support for each other through all this mess.
I'll often find him in the garden, he shares the picking and weeding workload - or if I'm honest - he does most of it! He's ended up with a real green thumb. But he's also keen on chopping firewood. The other evening, I was driving out of the farm at 6:30pm, and there was my 85-year-old dad chopping wood in the cold and dark with my chainsaw - he loves it and he is unstoppable!!!
7 // So how has that dream of living on the land turned out for you?
South Hill Stud for me is a miracle. When you want something for long enough, and you work really hard to get it, when you do finally get it I think the gratitude never goes away. I wake up every morning and look out my windows which stare straight down my 50 acres. I can see my horses and paddocks and no other houses. I love our misty mornings the most - when you can't see past my verandah to start with. Or cosy nights in the cottage when it's cold outside. I truly feel blessed to own and to be living on South Hill Stud.
And I love the Southern Highlands. It's a lovely community where everybody looks out for each other. The best way I can describe it is by saying when you're there for the community, the community is there for you.
I also love that being on the land and running a café means I can connect the farm to what ends up on the plate just 6 kilometres away. You take the beautiful produce, and mix it up with some love and skill, and that's South Hill Kitchen right there. On a plate.
South Hill Kitchen is a fully licensed café in Bowral with their very own market garden, offering a rustic seasonal menu of beautifully cooked home-style food made with vegetable and salad ingredients harvested from the garden daily, local wines, amazing coffee and awesome takeaway options. Their takeaway patisserie items have earnt a deserved reputation for amazing quality!
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