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The Ten: Ashleigh Payne

Name and job title

My name is Ashleigh Payne, and I kind of have three jobs at the moment: full time Head Baker (Bestie café), and casually a “Bao Baby” (that’s the official title; in my friend’s bao-based food truck, Bun Hun), as well as a Cake Decorator (The Caker).

Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born in a flat in Mt. Wellington, Auckland and now I live in another flat 15 minutes away. I’ve been within this little area of mostly-central Auckland all my life.

How do you describe what you do?

I try to do something different as often as possible to broaden people’s horizons while keeping them tangible -- by making whatever it is (broccoli cooked forever, chicken adobo, black sesame paste, or matcha, for example) into a sandwich or a cake. While it’s mostly a hit sometimes it’s a big old miss but I try not to get too deep in my feelings about it.

In terms of the everyday, I’m the first person in the café in the morning at 5:30. I spend a couple of hours baking, decorating cakes, and getting the cabinet ready for people to come in and grab breakfast or lunch or snacks in between!

How much did you spend on your last cup of coffee?

Well, I am lucky enough to have free coffee on tap at work, and the last coffee I got outside of Bestie was the $4.50 bottomless filter at Federal Delicatessen, which my partner paid for. That’s pretty much the standard price of a coffee in this city, I think. At home we’ve invested in a Moccamaster which is an expensive cup of coffee at first, but after two and a bit months it’s already paid for itself.

What is one ingredient that is crucial to your work?

Literally speaking, I guess it’s the internet. It keeps me in contact with friends, with family, and it is where I keep my eyes on what is happening in certain corners of the world, food-wise. It’s where I receive newsletters from various writers, chefs, or food publications. It keeps me aware and inspired.

What does a food and/or drinks system mean to you?

A food/drink system is any way that ingredients make their way from the ground to your plate. It can be positive or negative, or a mixture of both, in terms of its impact on people and the planet. In an ideal world, it would be positive, localised as much as possible, fair-trade, with no exploitation. But we’re not in that ideal world, and we have a long way to go to get there.

How does your immediate locale affect your work?

I think being in Auckland really pushes me in interesting ways. There is a lot of different food here, with so many establishments doing their thing and doing it really well. So I feel a drive to be as good as the people around me, and reflect this city’s multiculturalism. That said though, in my experience, when it comes to a sandwich for lunch, or a cake for afternoon tea -- the stuff I do at work -- people like their comfort zone, so I have to pare back what I want to do to suit the audience as a whole. It’s a delicate balance.

Where do you draw inspiration from, in your work?

I follow a lot of bakers, chefs, and other people involved with food across social media, and I’ve begun a collection of cookbooks. Sometimes I draw inspiration from meals I’ve experienced, but I don’t get out much, so it’s less of an influence than it could be.

I really want inspiration to come from my culture, and I do draw a lot from my English heritage because it’s easy and obvious, having grown up solely with my English mother, but I would love to look deeper into my Māori roots too.

What impact do you want to have?

A positive one, of course, where I am in a position to help as many people as I can, and to inspire people who see me as a representation of themselves in some way.

I have a dream of an establishment that functions in a similar way to the imminent Daughter in Brooklyn, New York. They were funded by Kickstarter, they give no-questions-asked free meals to anyone who needs them, and they have a real focus on supporting and enriching the neighbourhood instead of changing it (I remember Adam Keita, one of the founders, saying while he loves a croissant there is no way they can make them at a price-point that makes sense to the people in the area, so they won’t).

After walking to work along Karangahape Road in the dead of winter all I wanted to do was offer people on the street a hot cup of something to give them even a little comfort. A piece I read by Rebecca M. Johnson (@rebeccamjohnson) called “I Dream of Canteens” really hit home for me as a person who grew up poor, and those two things coincided to birth this deep need to create a real space for everyone to just be, for as long as they like. So one day, I’d like to have that as my legacy, but for now it’s on the back-burner. Living through this continuing pandemic is draining and I’m allowing myself to function at a minimum: I’m just content with having as little negative impact as possible, living as small a life as I can.

What change do you want to see in the culinary system?

So many! I want to see indigenous foodways accepted and implemented more widely -- indigenous peoples the world over know their land and produce intimately and in a more holistic and less detrimental way than the industrialised system does. Indigenous methods understand and care for nature and in turn they are good for the people they serve.

I want to see better visibility in all aspects of the supply chain to encourage better advocacy for growers and producers. I want to see a deeper appreciation for and understanding of ingredients among the wider public -- where things come from, when, and what it takes to get those things to the consumer.

I want to see workers at every step in the system being paid living wages (at least!), I want to see appropriate prices being charged for ingredients, meals, drinks. I want to see society learn that hospitality and its surrounding industries, as they currently operate, are unsustainable.

Above photograph by Emily Parr (@em.ily.parr)

Top photograph by Tim D (@timdfilm)

We ask all our interviewees to please send us two photos: one that represents themselves and one that represents their work.

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