Supporting the journey of motherhood, in style
img-1

Founder of Stories to Gather, Lia Townsend, On Creating Lasting Memories Through Food

We spoke to Lia about how her love of food and bringing people together grew into a business – personalised hampers and grazing tables that create memories to last a lifetime.

Lia Townsend grew up in an Australian-Italian household in Sydney where food and family were everything. “As a child, there were parts of my Italian heritage that were really embraced and it’s only looking back now that I see how important this was,” Lia tells THE INARRA.

“From small Sunday dinners with the family to larger gatherings where all the aunties would bring their signature dish, to being taught how to make suppli by my mum, I discovered at an early age that so many important moments in our lives revolved around food.”

“At every gathering, we always made sure that the table was overflowing so everyone felt welcomed and that they left with a full stomach and an even fuller heart from all the time spent with loved ones.”

“As I grew older, I realised that this union between food and family was the way I could keep my connection to my Italian culture alive.”

Lia now lives in Sydney’s Inner West with her husband, son and fur baby, but her journey to motherhood wasn’t straightforward.

“My husband and I couldn’t take the traditional route to starting a family,” Lia says. “Our seven-year journey had low points: moments of ‘why is this happening to me’ along with shame and guilt and dark days. But we also found courage, resilience and a much deeper love along the way.”

“We will forever be grateful for the learnings and support we received, all of which shaped us and our story – a story we are proud to tell. It’s the story of the greatest gift we will ever receive: our beautiful son.”

"I’ve always had a love affair with food and its ability to create shared moments and memories. I was inspired to start Stories to Gather because I’ve seen how food can foster connections. I love how food is a universal language and hope that as a society, we can continue to use it to help learn from and understand each other."
img-2
img-3

Almost five years ago, Lia began her business, Stories to Gather – gorgeous hampers, grazing boxes and personalised grazing tables for events.

“I’ve always had a love affair with food and its ability to create shared moments and memories. I was inspired to start Stories to Gather because I’ve seen how food can foster connections. I love how food is a universal language and hope that as a society, we can continue to use it to help learn from and understand each other.”

Lia designs hampers and grazing tables specific to individual clients and occasions, which she says is a “deeply personal process”.

“I always talk with my clients about what they want to achieve with their event. This then influences what we include in the food installation, such as the type of food, colours, presentation and general ambience of the space where the feast will be held. Every event is different, which is why personalisation is so important.”

“I think that level of personalisation, combined with my own creative vision and signature style, has helped me find success and build a community. What I create often becomes part of my client’s most treasured memories and I feel honoured that Stories to Gather allows me to do that.”

Lia ensures that all the ingredients and produce she uses are of the highest quality – knowledge she has absorbed from her family.

“I didn’t realise how culturally significant fresh produce was to my family until I was older and spent more time around other people,” she says. 

“I came to learn that not all families gifted their small harvest of backyard tomatoes as a ‘thank you for having us’ present. I thought it was normal to give your garden basil and chillies as a ‘congratulations’ gift.”

“I later discovered other people usually arrive for a dinner at someone’s house with a dessert or wine, rather than freshly picked capsicums.”

“My family, my father and his siblings, in particular, would discuss fruit and vegetables like other families might discuss sport or music. Knowing what was in season, where the moon cycle was up to and how it would impact your plants, and how to be confident the eggplants you were purchasing were going to be perfect for a sauce in three days. These were the culturally valuable teachings I soaked up as a child.”

Lia’s hampers aren’t just tasty, they’re also beautiful. “I love to play on textures and flavours that contrast each other, like sweet, candied apricots atop a soft, creamy French d’Affinois cheese,” she says. 

“It’s important from an aesthetic point of view and a taste perspective that there’s a balance between how each item on the table interacts with another. That’s one of the most important things to me as a food artist: creating a sensory experience that’s as inviting to the eye as it is to the palette.”

When creating grazing tables, Lia finds inspiration in many places. “It can start with a theme that a client has in mind – a colour, a seasonal ingredient, or a mood. Inspiration can spark from anywhere.”

“I often collaborate with a lot of other creatives who inspire me. Often, an idea evolves as you start to have creative conversations with others, and I love this process of bringing a vision to life.”

img-4
img-5
img-6
img-7

It’s Lia’s care and attention to detail that makes her food stand out. “I want every experience that people have with Stories to Gather to feel like it’s filled with love and care. Everything is hand-made or hand-selected and I collaborate with other creatives that bring the same thoughtfulness and attention to detail that I channel in my work.”

Lia’s top tips for creating a grazing table at home are as follows.

Before you start:

Select a colour palette and tie all the elements back to this. Seek inspiration for your colour palette from a beautiful ingredient that is in season, florals, or the table linen you would like to use.

Choosing your ingredients:

I’m a firm believer in seasonality. I think it’s important when working with food to use produce that is fresh and in season (and local if possible!).

Try to have something from each of these categories in every graze – salty, sweet, creamy and crunchy.

While choosing your ingredients, remember to keep in mind your chosen colour palette.

Building your graze:

Arrange the table linen, boards and bowls in the location of the graze. Create different heights by placing boards on top of upside bowls or cans for an elevated and impactful set-up. Make sure any elevated boards or platters are stable, especially if guests will be cutting cheese on them.

Place the hero ingredients on the boards. These are typically your cheeses and any larger or special items. When placing the cheese, the ‘nose’ (the point of the wedge) should face towards the edge of the board. This makes it easier for your guests to cut the cheese.

Layer the crackers and add the accompaniments. This is where you can have fun with flavour combinations. Keep in mind the interesting contrast of flavours you can create between salty/sweet and creamy/crunchy.

Add your finishing touches, like flowers and serving ware, and enjoy with your guests. 

img-8
img-9

When she started Stories to Gather, Lia used metrics such as Instagram followers and how many boxes she delivered in a week to measure success. However, as the business has grown, she has found success in other places.

“What I never imagined in those early days was the connections I would make with my clients, and it is in these relationships that I now find my greatest successes.”

“I still pinch myself at how privileged I am to be a part of such momentous occasions in people’s lives. And then from these incredible moments that I get to help build and share, I often get to foster strong, ongoing relationships.”

“For example, the beautiful clients who allowed me to be a part of their wedding, their milestone birthday, and their baby shower. That’s where my true joy lies. It’s no longer in the fluctuating numbers of a social media post, but in the living and loving scenes I am blessed to help create.”

Behind the joy and success of Stories to Gather is a lot of hard work balancing the demands of motherhood and work. 

“Since becoming a mother while also balancing a corporate career, building Stories to Gather has become my creative outlet and has allowed me to focus on something I’m truly passionate about,” she says.

“Juggling all three is not easy, but being fortunate enough to have a space of my own to create, collaborate and connect with people has been amazing and incredibly fulfilling. I find seeking out and appreciating moments of quiet and taking pleasure in the simple things like sharing a meal, always helps me feel grounded within myself.”

“The main challenge is trying to do it all. I’ve found that it’s possible, but not all at the same time. Taking the time to prioritise the different parts of my life – even if it’s all on the same day – is the best way to overcome this.”

“For example, if I know I’ll be spending Saturday away, creating a table for an event, I like to make breakfast for my son and have a moment with just the two of us before my workday begins. Having a supportive husband and family also means so much to me and makes those busy times a little easier!”

Lia also gets her son involved in Stories to Gather. “I am fortunate that my son loves coming to ‘Casa’, our studio space in Rozelle. He’ll often work alongside me, providing a running commentary on how he thinks the design is coming along, or he’ll work on his own creative design.”

“It is such a privilege that I can share my passion with him and I hope to instil in him a love and appreciation for the creative process and the adventures it brings.”

Lia’s advice to other mothers considering starting their own business is: “Be kinder to yourself”.

“Don’t let YOU get in your own way. For a long time, I was the one holding myself back for fear of failure. Just get out there. You’ll grow and learn as you go and it’s all these learnings that will shape you and your lens on the world.”

“Perhaps most importantly, I would advise anyone thinking of starting their own business, to find or build a solid support network. Growing a business is a lot like raising a child and we all know that it takes a village to do that. Find your people, the ones you can rely on, the ones who you know will be there for you, and don’t be afraid to lean on them.”

"Since becoming a mother while also balancing a corporate career, building Stories to Gather has become my creative outlet and has allowed me to focus on something I’m truly passionate about."

Self-care is important to Lia, but with so much on her plate, she has shifted her focus to taking pleasure in the simple things and stealing quiet moments – for example, “being present while I prepare a meal for my son, having chamomile tea before a face cleanse and shower in the evening.”

Lia has also recently hired a Studio Manager to handle some of the workload. “Sophie is a fellow mother from my mother’s group and has essentially been with Stories to Gather since its inception when I first shared my dreams and vision with the group while our babies played on a rug at the park,” she says.

As a creative person with a love for style, colour and texture, it’s no surprise that Lia has a love of fashion – a love that was born at the tender age of two when she selected her own outfit to wear (“a tale fondly recounted by my mother,” says Lia).

“I would describe my style as timeless and I usually lean towards a clean tonal palette,” she says. “I favour tailoring and natural fabrics that allow me to move freely and aren’t fussy, as I am often active, out and about, using my hands all day.”

“My go-to brands are Maggie Marilyn, Beare Park and multibrand stores like Mode Sportif, Girls with Gems and Duck Egg Blue.

“I’ve also found myself moving away from online shopping and venturing into these physical stores more often. I find that spending an hour in-store with their well-curated range and knowledgeable staff always gets me the item I am looking for and actually involves less time and hassle.”

Looking ahead, Lia’s aspirations for her family and her business are intertwined. “By nurturing my loved ones, making meaningful connections and pursuing my passions with purpose and determination, I strive to create a life rich in love, creativity, and fulfilment. Being a mother who encapsulates those things is one of the greatest gifts I can give to my son.”

 

Words by Ellie Wiseman | Photography by Iris And Me

RECOMMENDED READS