August 19, 2022
Ambition For Experience Behind Spicer’s Blue Mountains Retreat
Ivy Houia’s career at Spicers Sangoma Retreat in the Blue Mountains an hour’s drive west of Sydney, shows how her personal passion for once-in-a-lifetime hospitality experiences has found a home, as she successfully balances responsibilities as General Manager and family life with husband Will Houia, the retreat’s talented Head Chef.
“Creating amazing experiences for guests and helping them celebrate their most important occasions brings me so much joy,” explains Ivy.
However, becoming a mother was a priority for her, and she took some time away from hospitality before returning to Sangoma as restaurant manager. “My goal was to always work my way to general manager,” says Ivy, “I pride myself in being both a career women and mother.”
Ivy started in hospitality working in a restaurant part-time job, while at university, where she met husband Chef Will. She was managing her first restaurant few years later and fell in love with hospitality. Together in 2014, Ivy and Will relocated to Australia to work at Spicers Hidden Vale retreat near the village of Grandchester, an hour’s drive south-west of Brisbane.
Spicers invaluable mentoring
It was at Spicers Hidden Vale that Ivy met Andrea Martin, now Chief Operating Officer of Spicers Retreats, Hotels and Lodges, who was then the retreat’s general manager.
“Anj always pushed me to be my best and always challenged me to grow as a leader,” said Ivy. “Her drive and passion for what she did inspired me to one day manage my own property, and she was the start of my journey to Sangoma.”
Ivy loves the opportunity for internal growth working with Spicers, and she’s had experience across many departments and opportunities for development, including a place in Spicer’s Star Anise leadership program.
“Mentors like Anj have put so much time into my career. I’ve grown so much with Spicers, not only as a person, but as a leader,” explains Ivy.
“And that’s so important, because the reason I’d always aspired to be and a general manager position was the opportunity to lead a team and in turn help our people reaching their own goals within the company.”
Exploring a passion for fine dining
When Will and Ivy were working at Hidden Vale, they took time off to travel around Europe, and were inspired.
“We dined in as many of the best restaurants we could! A few years later we made the decision to broaden our horizon and move to Copenhagen, where for a year I managed BAEST, one of the city’s best-known restaurants,” said Ivy.
“Living and working in Copenhagen was a huge influence on us,” she said. “Being such a hospitality-driven city, it’s seen as a well-respected career and the work-life balanced they created was inspiring.”
Freshness and harmony in all things
Ivy has a tertiary degree in Geography and Marketing and a post-graduate diploma in environmental management, so sustainability has always been a priority in her life, and at Spicers she can combine that passion with hospitality.
Restaurant Amara, the Zulu word for ‘grace’, puts diners at the centre of an ecosystem of local producers and sustainable on-site practices. It’s an elegant and graceful dining experience in harmony with nature and the alluring bushland surrounds.
Head Chef Will Houia’s food philosophy embodies a simple, ultimately natural approach to cooking, preferring traditional cooking techniques with charcoal and fire over gas and electricity, and the use of controlled dehydration to prepare fruit and veggies, as well as indigenous ingredients to add subtle layers of flavour.
“We have built incredible relationships with our local suppliers,” said Houia. “We work together to deliver the finest produce the region can provide and bring out it’s best in the kitchen.”
Every day the Amara Restaurant team creates a dinner Tasting Menu of five courses for inhouse and dining-only guests – a degustation all based on the freshest organic and seasonal meat, cheese and hero produce available within 100km (or one-hour drive) of Sangoma, among the historic and highly fertile Hawkesbury region.
Affectionately called the ‘Harvest Menu’, the two-course shared lunch concept, focuses on one succulent protein and the freshest organic vegetables, mostly sourced from local friends at Harvest Farms, followed by an irresistible dessert. In addition to the lunch ‘Harvest Menu’, dining-only guests also have the option to indulge in the five course Tasting Menu.