Who are you?
I’m Karen Hall, owner of Passionate Palate. I was born and bred in the Illawarra and discovered my love of cooking at about 12 years old. I started with scrambled eggs and then savoury mince and then went from there. Thankfully, I can cook more than those two dishes now. I have two beautiful daughters and two and a half grandkids, who I adore. I can’t wait to meet the one on the way in November.
What is your business?
Passionate Palate cafe and catering. It’s a family business – my two daughters, my mum Fay and my partner Chris help out when they can. It’s a great cafe in a beautiful setting in Forest Grove estate at Kanahooka. We are situated on the pond, have 100 seats and serve breakfast and lunch. We also do a lot of catering and functions, including birthdays, engagements, christenings and wakes. It’s such a beautiful setting at any time of the year.
Why did you open a cafe?
I’ve always been passionate about food. I love cooking and creating food that has flavour and I especially love making people happy with my food. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked for one of my recipes I’d be rich … but I don’t reveal my secrets! That just means people have to keep coming back for more. I took on my first cafe in Wollongong in 2012 and had that for three and a half years. I then acquired the Kanahooka site, and after a refurbishment we opened eight years ago in February. I ended up selling the Wollongong cafe after six months of trying to run two at the same time.
What’s a dish you love to cook?
Risotto is one of my favourite dishes to cook and eat. I make a lot of arancini balls for functions as well. I also love baking sweets and I’m known for my lemon meringue pie.
I’d probably say Indian, I love butter chicken and garlic naan. I make a pretty good butter chicken myself but always love getting it when I’m out.
An ingredient you can’t live without?
Garlic, it just goes in so many dishes. I love the aroma when you put it in a pan with some butter or oil.
Who is your biggest culinary influence?
This is going back years ago but when I was young I loved watching Ian Hewitson cooking on TV. I loved how he always packed his food with flavour. There’s nothing worse than bland food. I picked up a lot from watching him.
Where do you dine out in the Illawarra for comfort food?
We’ve just started going to the Master Builders Club and their food is really nice. I’m not usually a fan of club food but we’ve been about four times in the past month.
Where do you dine out for special occasions?
We love the Harbourfront for special dinners. For special lunches we drive to Bowral to Briars Inn, it’s awesome there.
What’s your go-to coffee?
I don’t drink coffee … everyone always asks, ‘How do you own a cafe and not drink coffee?’ I’ve always relied on other people’s opinions of my coffee and the coffee brand I use, which is 4M. I drink an oat hot chocolate, though.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
How stressful it is. It’s not just turning up each day and pumping out food. After hours involves ordering, shopping to get bargains, invoicing, quoting and then stressing about the next day. Plus I work extra days, extra hours and having a day off still involves getting texts, calls and emails. It’s basically 24/7.
Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of the Illawarra region?
I love the coastline. We have so many beautiful beaches but unfortunately we don’t take advantage of the beautiful views as there are not that many places to eat on the water up and down the coast. I love walking around Wollongong Harbour.
Who do you admire in the local food scene?
Any small business owner who is doing their best to keep going. It’s a hard slog, this is probably the hardest year yet. I’m doing whatever I can to keep going, we had a burger night two weeks ago and I have a High Tea coming up on Friday 7 July. We just have to keep reinventing our businesses to stay open. Hats off to everyone doing the same.
What are your top recipe tips?
Put flavour in your food. Don’t be afraid to try new spices and sauces. Start with a little because you can always add more. I don’t follow a recipe, I generally get an idea from a recipe and then make it my own, so just experiment with food and see what you can come up with.
Passionate Palate is at 1 Stanthorpe Dr, Kanahooka and is open seven days, from 9 am to 3 pm. Seating is available indoors or out, and liquor is available.
For bookings, including the High Tea, phone 4261 9111, or go to Facebook.