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Bedford’s first social enterprise, Cultivate Food & Beverage, started up at Brooklyn Park earlier this year with a mission to serve great food while scaling social impact through its people. Cultivate has an ‘all abilities’ open employment model, which creates opportunities for those with a passion for hospitality, and assists people to move from supported to open employment.

Cultivate staff are not just serving our customers. The benefits received by each employee (such as financial independence, career progression, reduced social stigma and increased social connections) contribute to a positive social impact on the wellbeing of the whole community.

We’re pleased to introduce you to one of Cultivate’s first year apprentice’s, chef Kira Pfennig, who was kind enough to share her employment story with us.

Kira was thrilled to start her first job at Cultivate, after experiencing a series of frustrating setbacks in her job search. “I went through so many job interviews – no experience, and they didn’t want someone with a disability. I came here to interview at Cultivate and they were like ‘can you start Wednesday?’” Kira says, laughing.

Prior to starting at Cultivate, Kira had been studying Creative Writing at Flinders University, and had always harboured a secret desire to become an author. In the final year of her degree Kira developed Tourrette Syndrome. “At the time I didn’t know what it was, but it was a frightening experience until I got my diagnosis and learned how to manage it.” The disruption of the diagnosis process unfortunately meant Kira had to leave uni 6 months shy of completion.

Kira openly admits that she was never much of a cook, and was surprised to find out that she quite enjoys food prepping, “I like getting it all ready and then watching it become what it is,” she says, like a true storyteller. Kira says that the basics of good preparation are reliant upon organisation in the kitchen, “you have to know where everything is to do the job properly.”

The apprentices are required to taste all the recipes they make, although Kira tries to avoid anything with tofu – “I have some texture issues, so Lizzy taste tests those dishes for me.” Kira’s favourite dish is one of the butter chicken meals. “We make meals for Regency Foods and Foodbank and they each have their own recipes for similar dishes – which are secret and I can’t tell you what’s in any of them!” she laughs.

With her new skills, Kira does more baking at home – cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes. She was planning on going through her recipe books to find a cake to surprise a co-worker for his birthday the following week.

And how does Kira’s Tourrettes affect her work? “I have a lot of tics, hand movements, lip popping, winking, head flicks – I’ve grown used to it, and the more comfortable I am, the less likely I am to tic.” Kira says that stress is a big factor, and strangely enough, so is the cold. “But no one here bats an eye. Everyone is really nice and I’ve made a lot of friends here.”

Kira says she is aware of her triggers and if she feels overwhelmed one of the supervisors, Nick, will go out of his way to put her at ease, or give her a few minutes to regroup. “There’s a system that goes on here which I appreciate, and it has made working a lot easier.”

Kira has been identified by Supervisor Brett as a candidate to do a Food Safety course with the Head Chef. “They have put a lot of faith in me, and Brett trusts me.” Kira does a lot of the paperwork, and batch numbers to help track products, and she is first pick to relieve Brett if he’s away.

“For the longest time I thought I’d never get anywhere, so that trust is a big deal for me. Here I am, from where I started the year, to where I am now – it’s crazy.”

In her spare time Kira reads and writes, and is currently working on several fantasy books. She’s also a keen gamer, a Dungeons and Dragons fan, and takes care of ‘Noodle’, a Murray Darling River snake, and her pet dog ‘Dante.’

Kira has some advice for others who might be in a similar position as she was. “Just keep trying. Keep your head above water and just keep trying because that’s what I did. Even though I was rejected multiple times, I’m here now. And I’m loving it.”

We’re loving you too Kira, and wish you all the best in your apprenticeship – and with your writing!