Q&A- Angela Hirst, Director, Wandering Cooks


Angela worked as a casual cook in several Brisbane restaurants while completing her university studies, and then left Australia to take on a professional chef’s training in Europe. After some happy but hard cooking time in London (at the now Michelin starred Petersham Nurseries Café) and in Paris (at Rose Bakery), Angela is now a cook with several prongs to her fork: she has a PhD in food (on eating and ethics), blogs about basic cooking skills at

The Good Soup, works as a restaurant reviewer, and runs her own business, Wandering Cooks!Why Wandering Cooks? After becoming a mum 4 years ago, Angela worked in her own catering and teaching businesses, learning a heap but not earning a cent. This was her inspiration for creating Wandering Cooks. It’s really hard to grow a food business, and Wandering Cooks steps in where many food businesses struggle, providing kitchens, resources and community to help them flourish. This is what Angela needed, and she figures others probably need it, too.
Tell us about your background in the food industry?

I’ve worked in a restaurant but I’ve also been a researcher in a few subjects and between that I worked in restaurants in Brisbane, London and Paris so that’s kind of where I started from with food and since then I've done my own thing with cooking classes and catering and things like that.

Tell us about your PhD?

It was Philosophy and the question I was looking at was why is it so easy for us to avoid responsibility towards the places where our food is produced? So is it about the way we relate to the world and people that make food that makes it so easily for us to not care too much about the violence that happens to it that gets to our plate.

How did you come up with the concept of Wandering Cooks?

It really came out of what I learnt about business through my own start up attempt. When I stopped working for others and started to get my own thing going with cooking classes, catering, my own product line when I realised I could put an enormous amount of passion into making food, which admittedly might not necessarily make money, but it’s about so much more.

It’s about the product you're making. So I started getting some training and gaining the knowledge I needed whilst having a vision and trying to make a business out of it was actually going to give me what I wanted out of my life. It was through this process that I started to reassess and saw the potential possibilities.

Start up food companies -do you feel they effect how our cities evolve?

They help us look at how we set up our public and retail bases. And a lot of the time they use the way those bases already work and when you look at the potential diversity of the food offered the way people could be eating and engaging with food in the city, there are so many diverse ways that it could be shaped.

I think that’s one of the challenges we face in our community with food trucks coming onto the scene and new markets that are happening. People are looking for other ways to engage with their market and urban spaces is what is being talked about.

With food trucks, do you feel that they are currently affecting the retail and hospitality environment?

I doubt that there are very much because there are not that many of them [food trucks] and it’s really just the beginning of what could be happening with food trucks. I think that they’re sitting in a current code model of how to sell food in a mobile way which doesn't really make sense necessarily.

And I think that when that happens there’ll be a lot more interest and agitation that happens around what effect food trucks have on current Brisbane businesses who are selling food through retail. Whether there will be rules put in place or whether or not the rules are necessary or have the effect that they’re meant to have to have will effect us all.

Different cities are affected by food trucks in different ways, and I see them have a very interesting effect on how they make the food public, like how they set up. A lot the food trucks that are starting are getting a lot of gigs as caterers for private parties and I think that’s a really new thing that people are able to have very casual parties and invite food to drive up which is a very different way of catering than what we’ve seen from the past.

How important do you believe it is that people be aware of food miles - of where their food is coming from?

I think it is incredibly important, I don’t think it’s the only thing that’s important about food, I don’t think that food miles tell you everything about the food but I do think it’s a very important aspect of it for many reasons.

For questions about how much energy has gone into the creation of the food that’s come to your table; like how much different would the food taste if all the ingredients has been sort after locally rather than having bits and pieces grown and packaged overseas months ago.

With the Wandering Cooks did you find that there was a demand of this sort of thing in Brisbane?

Before I started I did some market research and I did that by putting an ad up on Gumtree asking the question that I was looking into going to start a business to help people get access to kitchen and that if people were interested then let me know and I had a enormous response that way and when we opened not many people came.

I realised that the demand is there and the demand is there for us everyday as we’ve had so many inquires from people who are starting out. But the difference between having an idea for starting a business and actually getting it off the ground is quite long. So the demand is there but there’s just a long period of germination.

You’ve been running for awhile now, so what sort of feedback have you had from the food community?

Highly positive which has been really heartening as it’s been a really hard year for us. Starting a business with this much invested in it is really scary and it’s been a really full on year and the feedback has been constantly generous and helpful. We know we’re doing something right, and we keeping having ideas of things we want to roll out so hopefully they all lead up in the right place.

What sort of training do you offer for passionate foodies?

At the moment we don’t have professional training, as lot of customers when they are going to start don’t see that as a really important component for starting a business is actually gaining knowledge.

A lot of the training we have actually happens informally, so people learn off of each other a lot in the kitchen; they end up talking to each other about what techniques they’re using and how to do things differently to gain a better effect.

We do sometimes have events where we invite people who have experience in the food industry to talk about some of the hurdles they had when getting into the industry. We’re hoping to do more of the informal experiences garnering events.

Earlier this month we had our ‘Small Batch Brisbane’ a trade show that had food stalls, food trucks and 54 Artisan food producers showcasing their produce. We invited 350 industry businesses to come and see what was out there, what was new that could potentially go towards their own businesses.

Do you have any future plans for the business- for example franchising or retail opportunities?

Yes, we have many ideas we would love to make happen in the future, but at the moment we’re just going to see how we go this year before we do anything too dramatic.

How important do you believe that community kitchens and community gardens are to the community?

Very, they’re something that brings life and happiness into the community. For instance having an edible garden, all you need is five to ten minutes and the neighbours gather and talk about the garden and want to know more about it. Those sorts of things or even just growing things becomes a place where people can connect by finding a common interest.


To date what has been your biggest achievement?

Wandering Cooks for sure, it’s so much more than what I wanted it to be already, I’m really proud of it, I really love it.

What are you currently reading?

It’s going to sound strange, but I feel like I need more classics. I’m reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

What is your favourite restaurant in the world?

This is difficult, probably one of the places I worked overseas; partly because the food was extraordinary and because they hold such good memories like Petersham Cafe in London.

 The simplicity they have in combining flavours, gorgeous. It’s in a nursery and a secret wall, herb garden, it’s just brilliant.

What is your favourite travel destination?

Berlin, my partner lived there for 15 years and I got sent there for awhile and I still miss it, it’s a wonderful place to hang out, I can’t wait to spend Christmas there again.

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