Dressed in a khaki parker, skinny black maternity jeans, ankle boots and sporting a neat baby bump, Melbourne-based Neredah McIntosh is one of those effortlessly chic women...
Flawless fashion sense aside, she’s also an expert on how to put together a fabulous feast (a warm and inviting table setting; proper glassware; great beverages; and simple food done well are just a few of her tips). It’s no surprise that her father is renowned chef Andrew Blake, the man behind Blake’s, a famous fine-dining eatery located in Melbourne’s Southgate in the 1990s, and McIntosh now heads up the branding for the family boutique catering business Blakes Feast.
Her sweet blonde-haired daughter Missy was born at 34 weeks after McIntosh developed grade 4 placenta praevia. “Missy was in the special care nursery for a few weeks and even though I knew it was where she needed to be, leaving her in the hospital was hard and very emotional… to see your child vulnerable or sick is a fear I never knew existed,” she recalls. McIntosh is also honest about finding the work/home juggle challenging at times. “It’s the constant logistics that I find overwhelming, especially in our busy period. Sometimes there will be three different people looking after Missy in one day. It’s an obvious one, but being really organised makes me feel better… and wine or scotch.” (She’s not only chic, she keeps it real too).
We caught up with the beautiful mother at the spectacular family farm to talk pregnancy essentials, growing up surrounded by food and more.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Driven, particular and thoughtful. When I asked my father, he said “velvet sledge-hammer!”.
What has motherhood taught you so far?
That everyone is an expert. Whether it’s friends, family, night nurses or strangers, everyone will give you their opinion. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can be helpful, other times it makes you doubt yourself and your ability to read your own child. A mother’s intuition is a very powerful tool. Trust yourself.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
The beginning was by far the most challenging. I had grade 4 placenta praevia with Missy and I was on bed rest in hospital from 30 weeks. My condition worsened, so I had an emergency c-section at 34 weeks. Missy was in the special care nursery for a few weeks and even though I knew it was where she needed to be, leaving her in the hospital was hard and very emotional (the added hormones didn’t help!). She had a feeding tube and bottles for the first few weeks. I then brought her home and had to express every feed so that she could gain weight. As a result of being prem, Missy’s lungs are her weak spot. She has had pneumonia twice and ended up at the The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne both times. To see your child vulnerable or sick is a fear I never knew existed. Missy also didn’t sleep through for what felt like an eternity. I think being tired is just part of the package. I learnt not to compare my baby’s sleeping with another’s early on, as either way someone is going to feel hard done by.
Has your second pregnancy been quite different to your first?
Yes and no. Yes for the reason above and no because I had morning sickness with both pregnancies (both stopped at 23 weeks).
What are your pregnancy fashion and beauty essentials?
Fashion: great blazers, coats, knitwear and shoes. Mavi maternity jeans. I didn’t buy any maternity clothes with Missy, then realised I had stretched everything afterwards and could no longer wear most things in my wardrobe. Beauty: facials and Aspect serums for the face. Sukin bio-oil for the body.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
I am very healthy Monday- Friday. The weekends are for indulging. I exercise four times a week. When pregnant, it’s a mix of Pilates and walking. When not pregnant, Pilates and cardio of some sort.
Talk us through your morning routine?
5:45am – wake up.
6am – exercise.
7am – breakfast. Missy and I make a green smoothie and toast or eggs and we all sit-down and have breakfast together.
8:15am – out the door and drop Missy off at day care.
8:45am – arrive at work.
What about your nightly routine?
I pick Missy up from day care before 6pm and we go home, she plays or helps me while I get her dinner ready. After dinner, it’s bath, book and bed by 7pm. Ant and I will sit down to dinner at 7.30pm and afterwards we will either read in bed, watch a show or when it’s busy at work, I will jump on the computer for a few hours. At least once during the week, we do a kiddy dinner at home with Missy and all sit down together. We also eat with her on the weekends, whether at home or out.
What are some vivid memories of your childhood – what was it like growing up surrounded by food?
I spent a LOT of time in restaurants growing up. My parents were separated and both worked incredibly hard, so I am sure it was a constant juggle for them. My father’s restaurant Blakes brings back too many fond memories to list. It was his first restaurant, so even from a young age, I was very proud of it. Dad let me have several birthday parties there – 20 x 10-year-olds for a Saturday lunch – spoilt much!?
My parents taught me from a very early age how to behave appropriately in restaurants. I would have to order my own meal (not a kid’s meal in sight), use cutlery correctly, I even had a port glass with a splash of wine, which would be so frowned upon now. I had to try everything growing up, if you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to eat it, however “your palette constantly changes so you need to try it again soon”.
How do you approach food with your daughter Missy – what kind of things do you like to cook for her?
I cook anything and everything for her. Now that she is three, it’s a lot easier. She eats a lot of what we eat. I go by theory that the more they try, the more they will like, it’s worked for us so far. She will give anything a go once. At the moment she is obsessed with salads and apple cider vinegar (so weird I know! But I am running with it). Sitting down and eating together is something I am really conscious of. For one, it’s my favourite thing to do, it’s quality time where we all talk together as a family. Secondly, it teaches Missy manners and how to behave at the dining room table.
What does a typical day look like for you – what do you eat?
For breakfast, I have a green smoothie and a piece of toast or eggs. For lunch, we are very lucky, our offices are above our kitchen. Whether it’s something one of the chefs have whipped up, or cool rooms full of mise en place to make a beautiful salad. We are taken care of. For dinner, I will cook. I don’t have a go-to dish as I get bored of cooking the same thing over and over again. I use recipes as a reference point but don’t follow them. Middle Eastern, Japanese, Szechuan, Afghani – I love to cook it all.
Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Coffee and Earl Grey tea.
Tell us about your role at Blakes Feast? How has the business grown since the beginning?
I take care of the branding at Blakes Feast. Everything from social media to chefs uniforms to our menu design and food presentation. I drive everyone in the company mad – I am a stickler for detail and know what I do and don’t like. When I joined the family business 10 years ago, we were doing a few small events each week. Mostly private and a few corporate. There were some very hard periods financially but we worked hard and grew steadily. In 2013, we cracked the wedding market and haven’t looked back since. We book out in peak season, we don’t want to be greedy, we want to ensure that the food and service and every event we do is exceptional. A year ago, we moved out of our rabbit warren and into a purpose-built facility. We feel very grateful for the position we are in, but certainly not complacent.
What makes a great feast?
1. A warm and inviting table setting – flowers, candles, placemats, cloth napkins. (and ensure this is all done before your guests arrive!)
2. Proper glassware – everyone loves drinking wine out of good glass.
3. Great beverages – start with an aperitif then to wine.
4. Thoughtfully selected platters – I always go through and allocate what will work and look best on what platter.
5. The food – keep within your comfort zone. Simple food done well can never be faulted.
What’s your approach to fashion?
I love investing in classic pieces. There is a LOT of black, grey, white, navy and block colours. I never wear prints (they do not suit me at all). I adore good jackets and coats, knitwear, shoes and bags. I wouldn’t say motherhood has changed my style – age has (and will continue to no doubt).
How do you juggle being a mother to Missy with work – how do you make it work for you?
I rely on my amazing family. My mother looks after Missy and my sister’s two daughters on a Thursday. Missy is in day care three days a week and Wednesdays is our day together or otherwise during peak season, I have my aunt look after her. My mother and father-in-law, sisters-in-law… everyone has been called upon at some stage. I am seriously lucky. I also shop a LOT online. I don’t ever go out shopping for clothes, presents or household items. Anything I cook and can freeze I make in bulk, I portion it up for Missy and Ant and myself. When I don’t have time to cook, the freezer is full of food.
What makes you laugh?
Everyone around me. I grew up in a family where humour plays a huge roll. I love a dry sense of humour.
What makes you feel stressed?
People around me doing it tough. I tend to take on others issues as my own.
Describe your inbox…
How would you describe your approach to parenting?
I am strict. I am a stickler for manners. If I am having issues with Missy, I prefer to talk through things with her rather than reprimand her – explain why it’s so important to be polite, thoughtful and caring and that actions have consequences. I find if you have a discussion after the event, once the dust has settled it works a lot better than in the heat of the moment when emotions are high. I am a routine person, but I don’t get too stressed out if it gets thrown out occasionally.
What do you love about raising a child in Melbourne? And where are your go-to spots with your daughter in Melbourne?
Everything. We are so lucky to live so close to such amazing schools, parks, restaurants, cafes, friends and family nearby. We love going to Hawker Hall with Missy – we sit up at the bar at the kitchen. She loves watching the chefs’ cook. Yum Cha – dumplings are her weak spot – she is obsessed!
Where do you go for your summer holidays and can you tell us about them?
My in-laws have a place in the Mornington Peninsula. We usually spend a week or two down there over Christmas/NY and then go down on weekends when we are back at work. It is such a special spot and so many great things to do. Missy loves being in the water. Ant takes her out paddle boarding in the mornings and then we catch up with friends and family during the day. We have early kiddies dinner and love using the wood-fired oven down there for pizza nights. It’s heaven.