Walking amongst the lush Hentley Farm kitchen garden in full Spring bloom, apprentice chef, Karmin Poulish has eyes only for the flowers.
“These are marigold flowers. We use them on top of dishes, and these flowers are off of the broad beans,” she says, handling the stems with care.
“This is my favourite part, especially first thing in the morning when I’m out here watering and there’s bees in the flowers, on the pumpkins and in the passionfruit vines.”
As apprentice pastry chef in the restaurant kitchen, Karmin, 19, genuinely understands the importance of seasonality.
The team at The Atrium is dedicated to showcasing produce growing wild around Greenock Creek or sourced from local and regional growers.
In fact, foraging is all in a day’s work.
“Every morning all the chefs stop on the side of the roads and pick different flowers,” says Karmin.
“I go down a very scary dirt road that says ‘dry weather only’ – I even cut my pants getting the flowers this week!”
Championing quality seasonal ingredients is not only inspired, but sensible too.
“Anything that’s in season – berries, pears, apricots – can be used for pastries,” Karmin says.
“Obviously that’s not completely practical all the time and sometimes there’s not anything in season.
“But we always make extra so we can preserve the fruit – it’s definitely the most practical way.”
This kind of efficiency is an essential tool of the trade, and something Karmin takes seriously.
“I’m the only pastry chef, so I have a lot of things to do and I have to keep pushing,” she says.
“I think that’s why I love it, because I’m always going and going, and I find each day I’m learning how to do something better.”
While she relishes the creativity and adrenaline in the kitchen, Karmin says the most rewarding part of her job is the interaction with guests.
“As chefs we’re allowed to take the food to the table, so we get to hear about their experience – it definitely is a dream job,” Karmin says.
“I find 95 per cent of the guests are here because they genuinely love food and wine.
“Everything we work really hard to showcase, like the produce, they appreciate.”
With an intuition for food that belies her age, it’s hard to believe Karmin’s pathway to hospitality was anything but textbook.
But just a few short years ago, Karmin was struggling at school and suffering “terrible mental health” – the result of undiagnosed bi-polar disorder.
“Because it was undiagnosed, at first people thought I was just being a trouble child,” Karmin says.
“I was up and down, all over the place mentally.
“We started to piece together that something more was wrong. I went to see a psychologist and a psychiatrist – they were like, you’ve got to get assessed properly.”
Karmin’s decision to switch schools and study food and hospitality at St Patrick’s Technical College was life-changing, unlocking opportunities she’d only dreamed of.
Teacher, Anastasia Cavuoto says Karmin showed remarkable resilience and courage in the face of adversity.
“She is an amazing young woman, definitely a student you won’t forget,” says Anastasia.
“I had her in the kitchen and my way of teaching was sometimes throwing students in the deep end – and Karmin always stood up to every challenge.
“The more opportunities she was offered, she took those chances and gave anything a go.”
Karmin went on to participate in a Le Cordon Bleu French patisserie programme.
Enter the Young Achiever Awards SA and volunteer at Tasting Australia, which paved the way for her school-based apprenticeship at Hentley Farm.
This year Karmin was named among 32 national finalists in the ‘Proud to Be a Chef’ competition, where she will compete for an international culinary scholarship next year.
She is still refining her recipe – a set sour cream with crushed honeycomb, crumble and crushed berries plus a berry sorbet.
Winning the competition would bring her one step closer to her dream of opening a dessert degustation restaurant, pairing beverages with desserts.
With the support of her parents, partner, Adrian and Hentley Farm executive chef, Clare Falzon, Karmin says if she’s learned one thing, it’s that anything is possible.
“My best piece of advice is to genuinely never give up – on what you want to do, on yourself, anything,” she says.
“There’s always a way around something. It might be a long road, or a bumpy road, but you can always do it.”