Amanda Mulholland used to be a bacon and fried eggs bistro chef. Now the proud, hard-working owner of her own organic cafe in Islington, she prepares organic rice balls with tamari dipping sauce and vegan lasagne boasting layers of tasty vegetables and basil leaves with a crusty topping of roasted macadamia nuts.
Formerly Sunny's, Earth's Garden Organic Cafe is owned by Mulholland and her partner Melanie, who bought the site six years ago and have gradually tweaked the ambitious vegetarian menu. She is committed to organic ingredients and sources as many Australian products as possible (the couple also owns the organic grocery store in the next block on Maitland Road).
"It's not good enough to operate with an 'organics where possible' approach," she says.
"You have to be consistent, otherwise customers don't know what they're getting; is it the lettuce or tomatoes in the salad that are organic?"
Mulholland's dramatic change in culinary direction is very personal and was partly triggered by her own sensitivity to wheat and egg, as well as her decision to give up meat.
"In the beginning I was an unhealthy vegetarian," she says over green tea.
"My focus was very much on how I looked, not how I felt. I decided to educate myself and I realised that it was time to develop a healthy, nourishing diet. There's no way I could have done the hours [in the cafe] in the past few years if I didn't look after myself."
At one stage Mulholland, who began working in kitchens at 13 for pocket money, was clocking up 100 hours a week in the cafe.
Her heavy work load included twice-weekly trips to Sydney at 2am to source fresh produce at Flemington Markets.
It has been a hard slog and slowly, but surely, she has gained a following among health-conscious diners, including those whose dietary habits are a matter of life and death.
"We get a few people in the cafe who are dealing with cancer and are looking for wholefoods free of chemicals and additives," she says. "People are becoming more open-minded now and are embracing interesting ingredients and healthy options when they go out. I wanted to provide a place where there's a different connection to food."
There are juices, teas, and gluten-free bread, pancakes for breakfast and colourful salads for lunch ($12.50), as well as a range of burgers, including the "sun burger", which is made from gluten-free dehydrated seed bread with a black sesame and sunflower seed patty and salad topped with a sun-dried tomato relish and mustard aioli ($13).
The zucchini fritters are popular and are served with beetroot relish, guacamole and crumbled fetta ($12.50).
The "green smoothie" includes avocado, tumeric, spinach and agave is used as a sweetener instead of sugar ($6).
Ingredients such as goji berries, chia and acai jump out from the menu (anyone who follows Aussie model Miranda Kerr's comments about her eating habits will recognise them).
Raw food selections include vegetables tossed with zucchini "noodles" and for those with a sweet tooth, the jaffa brownie made from ground walnuts, cacoa, dates and orange zest are a hit.
Mulholland is happy to chat to people about the menu and explain the array of ingredients.
"For me," she says, "food is the most important thing in my life."
Earth's Garden Organics Cafe is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 4pm, and Friday 6pm to 8.30pm. It is located at 86 Maitland Road, Islington. Phone 4962 1304. Earth's Garden Organics Store is is located at 100 Maitland Road and is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11am to 6pm, Thursday to Friday from 10am to 5.30pm and 9am to 3pm on the weekend. Phone 4023 5465.