4 August 2023

Five minutes with Elizabeth Burnett, The Quarry Cafe Kiama

| Katrina Condie
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Lady with cake

Elizabeth Burnett is passionate about home cooking and says her cafe’s carrot cake is a customer favourite. Photo: The Quarry Cafe.

Who are you?

My name is Elizabeth Burnett. I am one of the owner/operators of Burnetts On Barney, Kiama’s landscape and garden centre, as well as The Quarry Cafe on the same site, and Burnett Trees, an arboricultural service.

I grew up on a farm near Canowindra, Central NSW and later in our family home in Rose Bay, Sydney. I moved with my husband Andrew to Jamberoo in 2001 to open a tree care business to follow his experience as an arborist and we still live there with our three now-adult children Charlie, Ellie and Annique.

I studied as a journalist in Canberra and my first job was at the Kiama Independent newspaper which formed the starting point for my affinity for the Kiama area. I later worked in Tamworth and then in Sydney in corporate communications and public relations for GrainCorp agribusiness. I have no formal background in horticulture, arboriculture or cooking which makes me a fraud in the three collaborating businesses I’ve been involved with since we came to the Illawarra, but I do love serving and communicating with customers, so that’s where I find my fit.

What is your business?

In 2022 we opened The Quarry Cafe at Burnetts, a homestyle cafe which has just been announced as a finalist in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Local Business Awards.

The cafe is located at Burnetts On Barney, which my husband Andrew and I have operated in Barney Street Kiama since 2012. Our original business, Burnett Trees, which we established in 2001, also operates from the same site.

What’s a dish that you make that best sums up your venue and why?

Our customer favourite dish at The Quarry Cafe is our carrot cake, which is dense and moist and full of flavour. Our cafe prides itself on home cooking and, while there is a great savoury menu range, our changing daily range of freshly made cakes are most popular.

Most of our cakes celebrate the seasonal flavours of foods we grow and sell from the plant nursery. Our carrot cake sums up our venue because it is based on a family-favourite recipe that has been tweaked and played with so that it is now rich in ingredients and gluten free to appeal to many customers.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Kaveh Akbari, Alexander’s Bakery

Favourite cuisine?

I love Mediterranean flavours. Rustic Italian and farm French cooking is probably my go-to cooking style but anything Greek, Turkish or Middle Eastern piques my interest. I would love to travel to Morocco to better understand its melange of flavour cooking.

An ingredient you can’t live without?

Lemon and eggs are probably my favourite ingredients, often together.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?

I love the vegetable-based cooking of Israeli chef Yotam Ottolengi, the cake making style of Melbourne-based Maltese heritage Julia Busuttil Nishimura and the home-style, seasonal cooking of Australia’s legendary Maggie Beer.

While my mum didn’t consider herself a cook she served great meals which were fail-safe and followed tried and true recipes. She was a tidy cook.

My godmother Margie Alcock is a great cook who taught me to celebrate seasonal foods cooked without fuss. She has been a food writer as well as caterer and she has a personal story for almost every ingredient and every dish.

What’s inspiring you right now?

The women who are part of our small team at our still young cafe are inspirational. Led by Bec Hallam and Coz Lewis they produce a daily-changing menu of flavour bomb food that you’d love to be able to cook in your own home. They work from a ridiculously tiny kitchen and never lose their passion to try new dishes and to see repeat customers’ enjoyment. I’m also inspired by the sense of community that COVID has generated and people’s desire for connection. It feels so beautifully old-fashioned and wholesome to see people coming together and taking time to care about each other. A great example of that is The Man Walk which was started in Kiama by Mark Burns, a genuinely good and committed community man as well as talented businessman, whom I find inspirational.

Where do you dine out in the Illawarra for comfort food?

The best comfort food is always eaten in the home of good friends. However, the twice cooked eggplant and tofu dish at Hanoi On Manning, Kiama, is a revelation and you shouldn’t be put off by the concept of tofu because this dish is delish.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?

Silica in Kiama does a fantastic Saturday night a la carte dinner, Miss Arda in Kiama is a great cocktail and tapas restaurant and new Kiama restaurant Wild Ginger does an amazing pork belly. Actually, everything those three restaurants serve is memorable.

What’s your go-to coffee?

The Quarry Cafe at Burnetts genuinely does a great coffee and I’m a tough judge because I only have a small long black so there’s nowhere to hide flavour wise. Our house blend coffee is ground fresh for us here in the Illawarra by Cherry Black Roasters whose coffee is strong and Italian in style.

Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of the Illawarra region?

Start the day with a surf at North Bombo or a swim at Boneyard then go up to Burnetts for breakfast at our cafe and a bit of local history and natural beauty in the bluestone quarry setting garden centre. Other great spots for brunch with iconic Kiama views are Penny Whistler and Diggies.

Either a long coastal walk or a short Minnamurra headland walk are both breathtaking, followed by a drive up Saddleback Mountain from Kiama and back down into Jamberoo Valley. Then head for Kiama Farmers’ Market on a Wednesday afternoon. This market best sums up this area for me – good food grown by passionate local growers at a market that is curated with passion for locals and visitors to find consistently interesting and varied offerings with enough great takeaway meals that you can make Wednesday night dinner a leisurely affair sitting on the grass enjoying fresh food and a South Coast Distillery Gin and Agrum next to a beautiful Kiama beach and oceanscape. It’s a great place to catch up with people and it really is the heart of Kiama in my opinion.

READ ALSO: Five minutes with Daniel Fountain, Red Nectar, Helensburgh

Who do you admire in the local food scene?

Emily Lewisman, who brought Ottolengi-style food to Otis in Kiama and then moved on to a tapas-style menu at Miss Arda, also in Kiama, is a genuinely talented chef who somehow combines being a mum with running a busy restaurant that serves memorable food. She is encouraging and generous with her knowledge and experience and she’s got a killer smile.

Where are you travelling to next?

It’s nearly spring so, as a garden centre owner, I’m not thinking about travelling right now, but I love everything to do with France and it’s been a pretty long while since I’ve travelled so a trip to France in 2024 is on the cards. A bucket list, COVID canned trip to Western Australia is also still in the wings.

Where are you excited to eat next?.

There’s a great new art gallery in Kiama called Seven Marks and they’ve started to do fabulous private event dinners. I’m excited to be going to one of their dinners.

What are your top recipe tips?

I’m not the cooking talent at The Quarry Cafe, just someone who is passionate about seeing people enjoy shared food so I don’t think I’m anyone to look to for kitchen advice. My top recipe tip as a homestyle cook, however, is to choose recipes you think would taste good because there’s no point deliberately cooking something you won’t enjoy. Then, follow the recipe carefully the first time to know the result works … then, if the recipe is a keeper, don’t be afraid to experiment and change things up because cooking is a bit like gardens, there’s no wrong or right way.

Restaurant address and opening hours:

The Quarry Cafe is located at Burnetts On Barney Landscape and Garden Centre, 80 Barney St Kiama, and is open Monday to Saturday 7 am to 2:30 pm.

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