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Q&A Vudu Larder & Bespoke Kitchen

A collaboration of experience and talent are the foundations of award winning Queenstown cafés Vudu Larder and Bespoke Kitchen owned by Michelle Freeman and Rae Ellis. Michelle established her original Vudu Café in Beach Street 21 years ago creating the template for their sought after food experiences.

What started your love a air with food?

Michelle: Growing up on the West Coast I was always baking something. At university I worked at Nomads in Christchurch who were ahead of their time making everything from scratch with lots of vegetarian, falafels, baklava and amazing salads. I became a vegetarian at 17 so that forced me to get creative in the kitchen.

Rae: A sports background in the early years brought health food and a good diet to the fore, but travelling through Europe, Asia and Australia was when my hospitality career and obsession with food and coffee started. I loved the people personalities,  vibrancy and energy of the industry.

There has been a spike in organic, vegan & gluten free foods at your cafés in recent times – is the world catching up with you?

Michelle: We’ve been doing this for a good ve years having always offered vegetarian and vegan dishes. I recently looked at the original Vudu Café menus and our philosophy has hardly changed. After becoming ill a few years ago I completely changed my diet, cutting out sugar and dairy which led to research and experimentation with raw baking, which is now a big part of what we offer.

What are the key principles around the food you create?

Rae: Half of our menus are vegetarian with an amazing variety of vegan dishes. Families might have a 15-year-old daughter who is a vegan and Dad just wants eggs benedict, but everyone can find a delicious dish.Today’s dietary requirements are something we cater to – whether it’s coeliac, gluten or dairy free – that’s definitely who we are and what we represent.

What ingredients are you currently championing?

Michelle: By dehydrating, using raw ingredients and alternatives, people are often amazed at how good our vegan food tastes. Over winter I made vegan scones served with whipped coconut cream and quince jam and customers devoured them. We like to innovate like using charcoal in buns, blue spirulina in meringue and nut cheeses. I also make a vegan hollandaise with cashews, hazelnuts and turmeric.

Both cafés o er a stunning selection of bakery goods – what’s the secret?

Michelle: We do eat with our eyes and little things make a big difference. I did ne arts at university spending six years studying how things look and that design ethos is still with me. A lot of time is spent checking aesthetics and food decoration.

Rae: Raw baking has been big since Bespoke opened, with colour and texture really important. Our chefs use interesting ingredients like puffed quinoa, dehydrated fruit and flowers for that final flourish.

In your heart – who are you cooking for?

Michelle: We cook for locals and we cook to make people happy. We want to see our chefs are proud of what they’re putting out.

Rae: We are serving a broad range of people and it’s lovely when you go to the table and people are wowed by what they are eating and taking photos and sharing.

Do you cater outside of the cafes?

Rae: Our bespoke catering and cakes are really popular with regular clients for corporate lunches, morning and afternoon teas. We do a lot with the local schools, the medical centre and community events. Packed lunches for the movie industry are big, plus canapes for private parties and gatherings.

What foods do you personally enjoy when celebrating life’s big moments?

Michelle: I love making cakes and celebratory food – big tables laden with dishes that I don’t necessarily eat myself.

Rae: Good high-quality food grabs my attention – it just depends on what mood I am in. I am loving middle eastern flavours at the moment – and I love a good pie!

Where would you choose to eat out –Queenstown or Melbourne?

Michelle: Melbourne. I don’t really go to other local cafés because I am always in ours, but I do highly recommend Sherwood and Rata for dinner.

Rae: La Rumbla in Arrowtown,Tanoshi and Sherwood – I would go to any of those places and the Kettle Black in Melbourne.