Renee’s flame burns bright

Meet Renee

“I love cooking, anything with fire and flames,” smiles 36 year-old Brisbane chef, Renee King. “But I hate pastries and desserts!”

Fortunately for Renee, the menu at Cedar & Pine – the award-winning bar where she’s worked for the past six years with the support of Omnia Inclusive – is a ‘dessert free zone’.

"Cooking is everything to me"

For most of her adult life, Renee has wrestled with major depression and other mental health conditions. Through the inevitable ups and downs, one thing that’s never wavered is her love for food. “My passion has always been cooking, I love it to bits. I started way back when I was 16, doing my first-year apprenticeship at school,” Renee explains. “Now I can’t think of doing anything else. Seeing the happy faces when people get their food, the rush I get from the service, how fast paced it is. Cooking is everything to me!”

It was precisely this passion that helped Renee secure her chef position at Cedar & Pine, as Daniel Valkenburg, her long-term Workplace Consultant at Omnia Inclusive explains. “Back when Cedar & Pine first opened, we dropped in for a drink one Friday afternoon and had a great chat with the owner, Mali Hannun,” remembers Dan. “It’s just around the corner from our office, so we got to know Mali and her business quite well. About a year later, Mali had a need for an inhouse chef and Renee ticked all the boxes, so we put her forward and it all worked out from there.”

“The day of her interview, Renee arrived in full chef’s outfit complete with her own set of chef’s knives,” recalls Dan. “We were super impressed, it showed just how serious she was. Mali saw that too and came back to us the next morning, ‘Yeah, we love her. She has the job’!”

"A fantastic asset"
Six years on, Renee still has that job – and her hugely supportive boss couldn’t be prouder. “Renee is the chef in our kitchen and is just a fantastic asset,” says Mali Hannun. “She brings a different dynamic to our team, but that’s what I love about having a little business like ours. Everyone has their own unique personality traits and Renee is no different.”
Mali also feels she’s grown as an employer through the experience of being Renee’s boss. “There are times when Renee gets a little overwhelmed or her anxiety becomes more noticeable,” Mali explains. “Just learning how to assess and calm those situations before they escalate, that’s been a really big thing (for me). Sometimes it’s saying ‘Renee, you need to go home’. Sometimes it’s ‘Renee, maybe take a couple of days off’. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘Renee, sit down for a moment and take a few deep breaths.’ It’s all about being flexible and aware.”
"I've stepped up a lot"

Renee still has her good days and her not-so-good days. But her confidence and responsibilities continue to grow. “When you find the right work crew like I have, it really gives you a boost. I think I’ve stepped up a lot,” Renee says. “I’m chipping in more across other parts of the business. I’ve started coming out of the kitchen to see how our guests enjoy their meals and get their feedback. That’s also helped me with opening up and communicating in my personal life – something I’ve often had trouble with because of my depression. It’s had a really big impact.”

Mali has seen it too. “There have been so many positive changes in Renee, even just the way she speaks to me. She used to be really shy and reserved, and now she almost takes ownership of the kitchen and really wants to step up and wants that extra responsibility. She has grown so much as a person, which is great to see.”
"Dan always has my back"
Importantly, both Renee and Mali receive hands-on support from Daniel Valkenburg and the wider team at Omnia Inclusive, as required. “I’ve been with other job agencies before, but nothing like I have with Dan and Omnia Inclusive,” Renee reflects. “It’s a lot more personable and they can relate to you better than most other places. Dan’s been such a great support in my life. I know he always has my back. I can talk to him about anything. He encourages me when I’m down and can also see when he maybe needs to contact Mali if there’s an issue.”
“It’s very handy to have the Omnia Inclusive office just around the corner from the bar,” agrees Mali. “Dan is always popping his head in to say ‘hello’. Fortnightly we will have a pretty in-depth discussion about how Renee is going, it’s really great to have that support.”
"She's really cracked on with things"
“Renee’s story is what inclusive employment is all about,” says Daniel Valkenburg. “If I was to use one word to describe Renee, I’d say ‘perseverance’. She’s really cracked on with things, a real ‘can’t keep me down’ attitude, and she’s still striving to better herself and her career.”
“You can say the same about Mali too,” Dan adds. “She’s exactly the kind of employer we love to work with. She’s very empathetic. She’s very level-headed and she’s really good at diffusing, calming and pushing forward, so it’s the perfect environment for Renee. We’ve had several people come through Cedar & Pine over the years. It’s a great relationship and we hope it stays that way for a long time to come.”
"I'm really happy here"
“I have thoughts of opening my own café one day,” says Renee when asked about the future. “But for now, I’m really happy here at Cedar & Pine and very settled. The hours and conditions really suit me. Mali’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had, so I’m happy to stick with her as long as I can, before one day maybe branching out.”
Whenever that day finally comes, it’s safe to say Renee will go with Mali’s full blessing. “Renee is a wonderful team member and a great example of what diversity can add to a workplace,” says Mali. “Far beyond the actual job being filled, as an employer it really keeps you grounded and offers an interesting, broader perspective when you’re managing an array of different team members, personalities and skills. Being able to work with people who often wouldn’t get the chance, helping to grow their confidence and their work skills, is such a privilege. I’m really excited about what we’re building here – and for Renee’s future.”
So are we Mali. So are we 🙂

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