Two Wairarapa women are each baking elegant edibles, working around their families, creative ideas and characterful homes. At the small businesses of Finom Catering and Sidonie’s Kitchen, sugar is used with sophisticated style.
Sarah Webster – Finom Catering, Carterton
Natural colours shimmer in Sarah’s edible flower garden, which grows adjacent to the little commercial kitchen she created inside a shipping container on her tree-filled property.
Sarah uses the blooms to decorate her celebration cakes of fashionable hues, drizzled icings and seasonal fruit flourishes. It’s all done with fine taste and flair, fired by Hungarian connections and Sarah’s love for the traditional coffee houses of old European cities.
Finom is the Hungarian word for ‘delicious’. Sarah’s partner, Gabor, is Hungarian on his father’s side. The couple travelled with their three children to Europe and the Hungarian capital, Budapest, where Sarah marvelled at the elegance of the cakes and pastries, and where they were served.
“The cafés were all vaulted ceilings and chandeliers – buildings that I thought should be museums – but with beautiful food. It certainly inspired me.”
Sarah’s multi-coloured macarons have become well known at local markets (she now sells more than 1,000 wholesale each month) and Finom cakes have made “cameo appearances” on television, most recently Country Calendar. Just reward for her creative perfectionism.
The shipping container may be sugar-rich, but Sarah uses top-quality gel colourings, freeze-dried fruit powders and other natural colourings and flavours where possible.
“When you have one of my macarons, there’s no doubt you’re eating a sweet, decadent treat,’’ she says. “But they are a luxury and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, sugar is unnecessarily added to many everyday foods, but there’s always room for a treat now and then.”
The family kitchen in Sarah’s century-old villa is meat-free – all five members are vegetarian. Her former work as a veterinary nurse led her to embrace a vegetarian diet and Gabor and their children have adopted it too.
Sarah’s flowers are good enough to eat – they include violas, roses, elderflower and pansies. She’s experimenting with flower syrups and working more flower flavours into her products.
“A lot of edible flowers have good amounts of vitamins and minerals, so not only do they look beautiful, they’re good for us. I want to leave people with great memories and experiences of my food.”
Caroline van Deventer – Sidonie’s Kitchen, Masterton
The moniker “Sidney” has been used for generations in Caroline’s family, but her parents created a variation – “Sidonie” – when they chose her middle name. She has used this name for her business, in a nod to tradition.
Caroline makes customised biscuits, the fondant-iced discs stamped with words to inspire, thank and tickle the funny bone. Sidonie’s Kitchen is run from the beautiful character home she shares with husband Jared and their two small boys, Louis and Alfie.
The house, formerly used as offices at a Rotorua timber yard before being relocated to the western fringe of Masterton, has a high stud and a large formal drawing room, with a ceiling Caroline is itching to paint blue.
She’s a creative person, with a degree in contemporary decorative craft from her native England. Before moving to Wairarapa, she taught sewing in Wellington. It was the courage of a close friend in the UK that led to Caroline starting her biscuit business.
“My friend (also called Caroline) bakes to create positivity in her life, after experiencing fertility problems. I was visiting her and she left some customised biscuits on my pillow. Her business is The Kitch-Hen – I loved the idea and she encouraged me to try it in New Zealand.”
Sidonie’s Kitchen biscuits can have any words applied, for friends recovering from injury or illness, as thanks to teachers or volunteers, or to those deserving good cheer and love.
“They’re sweet little gestures with punchy messages,” Caroline says. She’s tweaked UK-based Caroline’s recipe to her own taste – more vanilla and now brown sugar instead of white.
The two Carolines collaborate and share ideas. “I don’t feel so alone,” Wairarapa Caroline says. “It’s easy to feel isolated running a small business from home.”
She’s aware of a push away from sugar in a society seeking healthy options. “Everything in moderation,” is her response. “Sometimes we need a bit of comfort food. My biscuits put a smile on people’s faces. They don’t have to eat them – they can just admire them, or share them!”
Caroline’s prized possession is a Kenwood electric mixer gifted by her father on her 30th birthday. She’s also fond of the iron bedstead in her garden – a whimsical treat to herself. It’s part of Caroline’s plan to create a beautiful place for her family, while posting a bit of cheer to the rest of New Zealand.
Story by Julia Mahony
Photography by Jannelle Preston-Searle