Ashy Bines – the name divides the women of our nation.
Haven’t heard it? Never mind, you soon will, so listen up.
Gold Coaster Ashy Bines, just turned 24, along with fiancé Steve Evans, is offering to transform your life. Together they have swept clean group training (to become the largest group trainer in Australia), online diet systems (Ashy’s Clean Eating Plan & Ashy’s Bikini Body Challenge), gathering in their wake a huge social media following via Facebook, Twitter and online forums. Their latest venture is a ‘clean eating’ café to support the soon to open ‘Transformation Centre’ (Jan. 2014), the ultimate in holistic life management centres. It’s the café which has drawn our attention.
With Ashy’s success has come criticism. Balancing her followers (who opponents label ‘Ashybots’) is an equally fervent band of critics, leading to a verbal and written cat fight: stinging attacks on both Ashy and her diet plan, met by equally strident defence from her followers.
But remember our promise to you, dear readers, that we would seek out ‘great food, great value’ dining experiences on the coast, putting aside any preconceptions, to bring you as unbiased a story as possible. So we venture out to the café, eyes wide open, to comment only on the food.
Undaunted by ‘Secret Women’s Business’, the Main Squeeze accompanies me. Farmer by derivation, his version of salad is “I only eat vegetarian cows; they’ve eaten the grass for me already!” So how well will he cope with the raw/vegan focus?
The café is a breath of fresh air. Open on several sides, it’s a luminous beachy space decked out in white furniture, timber bench seats around the perimeter strewn with bright highlight cushions. Its ‘women power’ lime, purple and white are light years away from the hippy ‘in need of a good wash’ vegetarian experience you may encounter elsewhere. It’s casual and laid back with free power and wifi encouraging people to hang out. Diners are dotted around us, almost as many men as women; girls enjoying a light lunch, guys on a break, couples, families with young children and even older European tourists. Not a bikini in sight, not even on the ‘cut out’ new promotional image of Ashy near the front counter.
To run the café, there’s a passionate team: Tumbulgum chef Craig Scott (owner of Tumby Sauce Company and Drift Café), Rochelle Cook (widely followed on Chelle’s Raw Food Kitchen) and partner Paul Holland, who ably manages front of house and the brightly enthusiastic band of young wait staff.
One look at the menu promises a fair range of dishes, which we learn contain no refined sugar or preservatives, dairy or wheat; food is gluten-free, vegan-friendly, mostly raw cuisine with additional sides of chicken, fish, lamb, roast vegies, rice and quinoa to please diners. Tweek things a bit and it’s also a neat Paleo fit! Moreover, it’s all made in house. Now that’s a real ‘tick the box’ menu; well priced at $5 (for an acai bowl) – $14 for breakfast and $10 – $17 for lunch. But how does the food taste?
As usual it’s a race to photograph the Main Squeeze’s meal before he tucks in: Roast vegies with a side of Lamb Backstrap (which he thoroughly enjoys), and for me a Raw Pad Thai salad of vegies, coconut, seeds, nuts and fresh spices, smothered in a lime and citrus soy dressing. Packed with flavour it’s a meal which satisfies.
The drinks are also a standout: fresh smoothies from the juice bar or a coffee ‘as you like’, mine with freshly made almond milk which is a knockout for a first timer. (For all those ‘non-soy’ people out there it’s smooth and delicious; not to be confused with processed nut milks.)
We’re lingering and chatting as Chef Craig takes a seat beside us. We continue the conversation about food philosophy, culinary journeys and even future adventures.
“My passion came from watching my dad, who was really sick (dying, in fact) having to eat dreadful hospital food. I became acutely aware that the best medicine is what goes into your mouth!”
My mind ticks over with images of what ‘fast food’ is doing to us internally and I feel nauseated. No surprise that the latest research confirms that junk food depresses us (Courier-Mail 26 Nov.2013 p.12). Even looking at the ‘golden arches’ (or a plate of glistening chips) reminds me: fast food, fast lives, fast track to…
“It’s so good,” Craig tells us, “to work in a place where you don’t have to worry about what’s going into the food,” referring of course to the freshness and ‘cleanliness’ of all the products making up this menu. “We also source as many products from local producers as we can to keep food miles down.”
He’s experimenting with vegan sauces: Red onion glaze as vibrant and rich as a well-crafted jus, vegan Aioli made from cashew cream and coconut sugar… He brings them for us to try as well as a couple of luscious desserts. Who could imagine the silken smoothness of a raw berry cheesecake, or the nutty spice combination of raw apple pie! Served with CocoLuscious ice cream they’re sensational!
What inventions will come out of Craig’s kitchen next! It’s a truly exciting journey which we’ll eagerly follow.
There are plans afoot to develop the takeaway side of the business, to conduct raw food classes, and to franchise the café later on. While I may not be a convert of the whole box and dice transformation deal or its branding, when I consider that some alternative food offerings include ‘a lump of meat, limp lettuce, tasteless tomato and half a plate of chips’ meals or worse, Ashy’s presents a preferable and far healthier alternative.
I think it would be a shame if, in criticising aspects of Ashy’s programs (justified or not), we overlook the strength and value of this venture, which aims to make healthy eating not only possible, but convenient and easy. Surely that aim alone is worth supporting!
DISCLAIMER: Food and beverages were supplied by the establishment on one of our visits.
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