You wouldn’t know that Nilla Tomkins has called Australia home for more than 20 years. She talks with a thick Danish accent and her calm, laid-back mannerisms as well as her love for the sweet and simple certainly pay homage to her Scandinavian background.
But the Dane fell in love with life Down Under during a trip back in 1995, and as they say, the rest is history. “I grew up in Denmark. My life was there until I travelled to Australia back in the ’90s,” Nilla says. “I have lived here ever since!”
Nilla’s path to cafe ownership started out as it does for many, in hospitality.
“I did that for many, many years when I moved here,” she says. “Then when I wasn’t working, I was enjoying the Sunshine Coast lifestyle with my two daughters Emma and Fia and our dog. I was innovating new recipes in the kitchen, and in 2014 I decided I wanted to take this further, do something more, so we opened our first cafe at Belmondos in Noosa,” she says.
“I really wanted to do my own thing with a focus on organic and sustainable eating,” she says. “It was always a passion of mine so it made sense. That was nearly five years ago. Then, 12 months ago, we had the opportunity to open a second cafe, which was a bit daunting, but I knew I had a good team and we could make it something special. This is how VanillaFood was born.”
And it would be hard for Nilla’s Noosa Junction creation to be anything but special. From the food, to the simplistic yet coastal Scandinavian design, it all just works.
“The building was an empty shell when we got it,” Nilla says. “I drew up designs. I wanted it to be simple and light, a lot of white and timber, but something fresh and coastal with unique bits and pieces. I had a specific vision and with the help of the design team next door to us, CLO, we made it come to life.”
“It’s amazing because everyone tells me the cafe is calming and although it can get noisy on busy mornings, locals come in to get some work done on their laptops and families enjoy the big space and communal tables,” she says. “It did turn out very special.”
It’s not only the decor, or the design, or the soothing atmosphere that shines. The food does that too. “I suppose my interest in food started when I was very young helping out my mother in the kitchen back in Denmark,” Nilla says. “And then during my time as a chef, I developed a love of wholefoods and health. It is something I knew would be a big part of my cafes.”
Something else that would inevitably be a big part of her ethos as a cafe owner was sustainability. “I mean, we compost, recycle and minimise our plastic waste at home. We bring mugs and reusable bottles to the markets and always have spare bags in the car,” Nilla says. “We eat meat maybe once a week and buy line-caught fish to have occasionally. It is a way of life for us, so this is what VanillaFood is about too. We care about good food, health and the environment.
“We use organic produce and buy local where we can. We source most of our produce from an organic supplier in Brisbane and we have our own edible garden. We are already getting herbs, flowers, tomatoes and some of our leafy greens from there, which is exciting.
“You won’t find any preservatives, additives, refined sugars or any artificial colours or flavours in our food. Instead we embrace the power of food as medicine and its ability to bring and connect people together,” she says. “I want all our customers to feel relaxed and to feel that they are somewhere they can enjoy good, yummy food, with a strong focus on local and sustainable products too.”
She isn’t wrong either. Nilla’s menu is created around Scandinavian food with an Australian twist and the food really is what I would describe as “yummy”.
And, after our chat, she put her executive chef hat on and whipped up the most delicious meal I’d had in a while. Spinach gnocchi with garden peas, native greens, coconut feta, roasted macadamia, finger lime and micro greens for me. Line-caught fish tacos on blue corn tortillas with corn salsa, avocado, slaw and chipotle cashew cream for my husband. Needless to say, there were no leftovers.
So, what’s next for this slice of organic heaven? Some delightful wines to complement the menu.
“After a few evening events over the last year, we decided a nice glass of biodynamic wine would suit our lunch menu,” Nilla says. “It was a bit of a process getting the licence, but I think it’s worth it.
“We will only be using a few select organic suppliers and keeping the menu small,” she says. “We’ve sourced some beautiful biodynamic wines from Cullen Wines in WA, a biodynamic NZ Brut and a Mountain Goat Steam Ale, so we are excited about launching this soon.”
I know I can’t wait to head back in to VanillaFood for another tasty dish over a glass or two of wine. Care to join me?