The owner of the Seasonal Garden Café, Silvia Hart tells us of her intimacy with food and how it is entwined with her upbringing and passion.
Food and family go hand-in-hand for Seasonal Garden Café owner and South Australian Entrepreneur, Silvia Hart. Growing up in a Hungarian/Italian family, food has always been the focal point of family gatherings and activities. Her parents came to Australia following the 1956 Hungarian Uprising without a penny to their name and settled in the Adelaide hills to start a self-sufficient lifestyle. Hart says her relationship with food began during her childhood on the family’s 6ha property in Basket Range.
“We grew all our own food—we had chickens, cows, sheep, veggie gardens and Italian aunts and uncles who were growing food on the plains.” “When I think of my upbringing a lot of it is around food and it wasn’t a question that you wouldn’t cook—it’s just what you do,” she says. The tradition has passed down the generations, and Hart spends quality time in the garden and kitchen with her four children, aged 18, 15, 10 and 7. “Cooking is what you do with family, gardening and being around food is part and parcel of it.” “All of my kids can cook; even my youngest can make hollandaise sauce,” she beams.
Hart’s eye for great produce developed at an early age having free reign of the family property. “We foraged before foraging was a thing—I grew up knowing all of the wild edibles in the area, and all of the mushrooms and rosehips.” “All my kids know how to forage, they’ll go without me because that’s what they do,” she says.
Her resourcefulness has seen Seasonal Garden Café grow from humble beginnings in a cellar door on Main St, Hahndorf to its current premises further down the street with almost tenfold trade. The café serves sumptuous fare sourced fresh from the garden and local region, with wholesome options for vegetarians and vegans alike.
For the first 18 months, Hart worked with almost no kitchen gear, using camp equipment to heat meals and working late-nights alongside WWOOF-ers (volunteers from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organisation). “We got up early, put the food in the car we’d cooked the night before, drop the kids off to care, open the café to do the day’s trade, then go home to start all over again.” “Little by little it grew and I was able to buy equipment and hire more people, eventually moving to the building next door to double the seating.” “We moved to our current location in February 2016; I bet everything on it being a success, and it’s beyond success,” Hart proudly admits.
The café was the springboard to expand the Seasonal brand, opening Seasonal at its Hahndorf and Stirling locations in 2017, selling ready-made grab-and-go meals and coffee. “Seasonal is an extrapolated version of the café, it’s not fancy pants, it’s just good old fashioned home food that’s not going to break your budget—and it’s going to be really good for you as well,” she says. From soups, to salads, to slices of frittata, there’s something for everyone.
Silvia’s food philosophy prides the importance of “whole food, seasonal and definitely wild edibles”, she says it’s simple… “eat corn, not corn chips”. “Every time you can eat the whole food, do it; every time you can eat an heirloom variety, do it; every time you can eat a wild variety, do it,” Hart says.
Before her Seasonal ventures, Hart began in the food industry with business The Honey Lady. The concept developed during her three year stint on a permaculture property in Flaxley, where her self-sufficiency was put to test. “I lived without electricity so I had water that came from the dam, down into my rainwater tank which I hand pumped to the top of my building for gravity fed water.” “I had a wood jacket on my stove and little solar panels that would heat water if I didn’t have a fire going, and a south facing cellar that allowed me to keep my goat milk,” she explains.
At the time she learnt the art of beekeeping from a previous partner, and her honey surplus stirred her to set up shop at the local Aldinga Farmer’s Market. “Before Honey Lady, quality wasn’t even a thing, it was who could do honey the cheapest.” “I talked about unheated, unfiltered honey and blending organic whole spices and herbs that you could use medicinally or in culinary ways,” Hart says. Using quality produce and creating a family of local suppliers has been the key to her success.
“I’m passionate about keeping our farmers on their land, this can’t happen without businesses like mine that support smaller growers and have seasonal menus.” The fresh, hearty meals served in her cafes use greens from Salad Greens & Kitchen Herbs in Chapel Hill; cheese from Udder Delights, Hahndorf; Ashbourne Orchards for apple cider vinegar; Adelaide Hills Pasta Eggs for eggs; and bread from Rustico Bakery. “We use a couple of growers at the Adelaide Showgrounds Farmer’s Markets, Patland Gardens and Aldner Farms.”
The Seasonal Garden Café has an abundant orchard and meandering gardens that yield seasonal produce year round. “We’ve got squillions of pumpkins that have just been harvested; we had tomatoes coming out our ears in summer and loads of herbs like sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary,” she says.
Hart’s team of just under 45 staff are her very own work family, including a childhood friend Kelly, who is the Manager at Seasonal Garden Café. Food flair runs in the family, and the decadent display of cakes, slices and raw treats are lovingly made by head Patisserie Chef, Silvia’s daughter Magdalena, who joined the family business after working at Maximillian’s and an apprenticeship at Africola.
Hart says the success of the Seasonal brand is a testament to the amazing people she works with. “When you have a great team you can do anything and I’d like to think that our workplace is kind of unique—we’re not just deep frying schnittys and throwing chips on a plate, we’re doing something pretty amazing and everyone’s excited to be a part of that,” Hart says.
Words by Isabella Fornarino.
Image by Emma Lucy Cuppleditch.