When Free To Feed founded its cooking school in 2015, they didn’t have a kitchen. Borrowing from cafes after hours they founded the not-for-profit social enterprise to help get their organisation off the ground. Six years later, and the Free To Feed team have just put the finishing touches on a spectacular new space in Fitzroy North to host events, cooking experiences, creative workshops, hospitality training programs and more!
This lofty new space designed by Circle Studio Architects features original timber beams and terrazzo tiled floors, as well as plenty of pieces brought in from local designers and artists (thanks to the styling team at Made Rupert). Spread out over 800sqm, it might just be big enough to hold the epic dreams and ideas coming from the Free To Feed community.
We chatted with founder Loretta Bolotin to hear a bit more about how it came to life.
Can you tell us a little about this new space? how long did it take to bring it to life?
Loretta: In late 2020, we hit the streets in search for our new home, we were looking for a new kitchen to house our evolving catering offering and our new Commercial Cooking Training and Employment Program when we came across a run down space that had lived many former lives (as a motor car garage, nightclub and barbecue retailer…) It was dark and dank and kind of falling apart but it had some fundamentals that we were very curious about. An almost-ready commercial kitchen, high-ceilings, original timber beams, terrazzo tiled floors as well as big windows that opened and were hinting at the wonderful afternoon light that could pour through. In all these details and given the incredible Fitzroy North location, we saw a glimmer of potential and the scale felt inspirational, ambitious and the right kind of scary! The expansiveness of the space [800sqm] meant there was potential to expand our impact, offer more employment opportunities and finally become the attentive and generous hosts we always wanted to be when we “grew up”.
Talk us through the space itself. What kind of events and activities will happen here?
We can’t tell you everything we’ll be doing here because that’ll just spoil all the fun! But we’ve got big ambitions and a seasonal program of stunning events that we can’t wait to reveal over the coming months. Currently we are running some sold out Blooms (floristry) and Baklava making workshops and have already started to host birthday parties and team dinners in our spaces!
The grand ballroom space has a roaring fireplace for wintery long table dinners and it’s neutral and flexible for us to style as we please whether that be for cocktail events or communal meals.
There’s an active workshop space for cooking experiences and creative workshops, an intimate living and dining room, where guests can gather for a meal or browse our extensive cookbook collection on our cosy sofa, our grazing tables and florals will be a BIG feature and in spring we can’t wait to open up the space to weddings and in summer we can’t wait to host beautiful end of year functions!
And of course, we’re already using the kitchen for our training and employment opportunities! Seeing our Chefs and Participants deep in concentration brings us all SO MUCH JOY!
It feels like Free To Feed has come back better than ever after 20202. How has the business evolved over the last five years – from working in borrowed spaces to now having this grand events space of your own?
Our humble beginnings date back to 2015 when we decided to open up a cooking school without a kitchen! Borrowing cafe kitchens around Melbourne to run our classes in the early years, as word got around about what we were doing we took on a little shop front in Thornbury.
In 2017 we set up an official cooking school – it’s still there on High street Northcote and currently hosts five immersive cooking experiences per week in a variety of ever evolving cuisines, we have instructors who are Lebanese, Syriac, Colombian, Iraqi and Iranian ready to run you through their incredible menus! Today after so much experience we are proud to say that we facilitate true empowering opportunities for our cooking instructors as part of our Program. Not only do these participants run their own classes but we also offer them leadership training covering areas like communication and storytelling, advocacy, public speaking and media opportunities should they wish.
We’ve also expanded our offering further into the catering and events industry with our signature grazing tables taking a true centre stage. Our participant pool today is made up of around 80% women, who have opportunities to gain accredited certification in Commercial Cookery through our program under the guidance of professional chefs, and can gain experience in hosting events and front of house service.
In 2021, our programs will touch 120 beneficiaries.
Throughout our journey, a constant essence remains, together, as a team, we are committed to providing empowering employment opportunities to people seeking asylum through the creation of shared food experiences!
You can book the fab new Free To Feed space for your next event here!
Free To Feed
205 – 211 Queens Parade
Fitzroy North, Victoria