This diverse group of hard-working women are bringing flavours from around the world into Ballarat homes throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Ballarat social enterprise A Pot of Courage launched a takeaway and delivery model in July and has expanded its menu to include new dishes including a Malaysian banquet this week.
The group of culturally diverse and talented women originally formed in 2018 after working together to create a cookbook sharing recipes and stories of participants and their homelands.
The team of female staff and their supporters ran a cafe at Ballarat Community Health in Lucas last year before moving their operation to the cafe at Barkly Square in February.
A Pot of Courage founder and coordinator Shiree Pilkinton said the group had been running at Barkly Square for around six weeks before COVID-19 hit and they shut their operations.
This is such a great way to demonstrate when people are given an opportunity, you can see them fly.Shiree Pilkinton, A Pot of Courage founder
She said they spent time considering the possibilities of moving online, setting up a website and creating a menu before launching the takeaway and delivery model in July.
Ms Pilkinton said interest in the group and the number of orders had grown each week, providing important work and connections for the women involved during a tough time.
"Most of the women who are involved as cooks now had not been able to find employment before for a whole range of reasons. They were just not getting interviews even," she said.
"This is such a great way to demonstrate when people are given an opportunity, you can see people fly."
Customers can view the range of meals, snacks and desserts available on the A Pot of Courage website and must order by 6pm on Tuesday for delivery or pick up on Friday afternoon.
Malaysian, Egyptian, Colombian and Vietnamese food is currently on offer, with descriptions revealing the stories behind the food and its creators.
The newly launched Malaysian Hawker Market Experience banquet has proved popular, a selection of dishes carefully selected by Malaysian cook Lilly Wright.
Ms Wright joined A Pot of Courage last year after moving to Ballarat from Melbourne.
She shares traditional Malaysian dishes that have been made in her family since childhood and new exciting creations using creative flavour combinations, particularly in desserts such as miso caramel.
Ms Wright said she joined the group to be involved with community and meet new people, but she had since developed business skills and learnt the value of working in a team.
"I love A Pot of Courage because it is like a family," she said.
"It is so easy to have conversations and share how to improve yourself in business. For myself, it has been a learning process.
"I have learnt to be patient, ask other's opinions and make sure everyone is happy. We are thinking about risk management. We learn so much."
Cook Steffi Thello joined A Pot of Courage at the beginning of the year in a volunteer role, helping and learning in the kitchen.
She said she joined to learn new skills hoping to move from previous front of house roles in cafes to back of house and is now working in the kitchen as one of the paid staff.
"It is a good opportunity for me to cook my own dishes from Colombia or maybe just my creations. I really like to create food," Ms Thello said.
"Here it is like a family. We enjoy the day in the kitchen cooking. It is really nice."
Ms Pilkinton said every team member brought their range of passions and experience to the kitchen and everyone learnt from each other.
"We had a new chef start this morning (Thursday) as well who has 10 years cheffing experience and is from Mauritius originally," she said.
"We only interviewed her last night (Wednesday) and she was so great and energetic and wanted to be part of it, so we said 'do you want to start tomorrow morning?'.
"She brings a whole other range of experience and cuisines into the mix as well. That is what it is about. Sharing culture through food and the stories that go along with that.
"When we add new dishes to the menu we also add little stories about why that dish is so close to us and so important to us as well."
Ms Pilkinton said it was unique to be able to choose a variety of cuisines from the one business.
"You can open up the website and think 'do I feel like Vietnamese or Colombian or maybe both tonight?' It is not often that you have those choices," she said.
"A lot of hospitality businesses have not survived, so if people see we are really trying hard to empower women and create financial independence, they want to support that."
Ms Pilkinton, Ms Wright and Ms Thello said they were confident about the future of A Pot of Courage at Barkly Square, particularly with the announcement this week of $110,000 state government funding to upgrade the Ballarat Welcome Centre kitchen.
"We definitely want to still be in the mix at Barkly Square for when that kitchen is completed next year," Ms Pilkinton said.
"We are a little bit limited by the small kitchen at the moment but when that renovation finishes it is going to be amazing. If we can keep surviving through until then it will be a real plus."
Ms Wright said the team would work to keep up momentum, spread the word about their food and continue to be creative.
They will also re-open the Barkly Square cafe to dine-in customers from 12pm to 5pm on Fridays now restrictions have eased.
"I can't wait now that restrictions are easing the vibe of Barkly Square will start to change again because it has been empty for seven months almost," Ms Pilkinton said.
"Food is so central to people's lives for socialising and once we are able to grow the cafe side I think we will notice the whole vibe changing in the building. It is exciting to be a part of that as well."
Visit apotofcourage.com.au for more information or to place an order.
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