In Her Shoes: Jenna Holmes

For the launch of St Agni’s resort collection, we invited Jenna Holmes a.k.a P Mami to host one of her infamous ‘Pasta Clubs’ for our family and friends at The Joint. At a time where constantly optimising your time is rewarded, it felt incredibly prescient to experience an evening that unfolded organically, to experience time as time itself, sans restraint, and to embody the values of slow-living. P Mami heads both her own design studio in Melbourne as well as hosting her own Pasta Club among many other projects. We were so impressed by the vitality that emanated from P Mami and her infectious energy — that manages to reinvigorate and inspire anybody that enters her orbit — that we just had to invite her to sit down and answer some questions about her life philosophy.

You have formed what's called a "pasta club" that allows you the freedom to both curate, cook, design, and entertain your guests, what do you do to unwind after such a hands-on experience?
I recently had this conversation with another female working in the events industry, about the hours after each P Club and how interesting they are - such a range of emotions and I think something many people who spend time building something that ends quickly would understand. As someone very much not from the hospitality industry (I worked at La Porchetta for a year at 17 years old), I wasn’t accustomed to that post-service/show slump where you are still mentally running on adrenaline from the event, but your body and feet are on fire, so you stay awake for 2- 3 hours post-event just thinking about how the night went and then watching some ridiculous mind numbing reality TV until you stop thinking and fall asleep. I am an introvert by nature, so after such an intense human interaction and day - I MUST retreat for days after to be okay and functioning again.
Your aesthetic style is so personal and imbued with such warmth, how did you come to develop this eclectic sense of style when it comes to arranging the dinner table?
Ahhhh you said my word, the word that controls my life: warm! I remember years ago I met this man who was a bit of a mentor and he asked me when I was 21 to pick one word that describes what I gravitate towards, or what I want to embody - and I said ‘warm’. He told me that whenever I am faced with a decision that I am confused about, to always go with what feels warm. A very random story but not many people have noted that word yet when describing my style… so thank ya! I like those yellows, oranges and reds and I also adore things that don’t match. Unified and consistent design doesn’t appeal to my eyes, I kind of enjoy an element of curated chaos. So, things don’t match but the table has actually been built quite thoughtfully and methodical to my aesthetic. That would be my style: warm, curated chaos.

You've mentioned before that Past Mama is not a restaurant, but an experience. There's been a push in recent years towards more experiential modes of dining that are community-centric, slow-paced, and seasonal. How did you come to refine this philosophy and why do you think it's so important?
This is a slightly wild story but when I was 18, I saw an episode on Oprah about The Blue Zones with Dan Buettner, and I became INSTANTLY obsessed - like deeply (hello ADHD). To summarise as best I can: The Blue Zones are five designated areas around the world who have the highest number of centenarians aka 100+ year old’s. They have recorded lower levels of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and all five areas whilst vastly different - follow the same bigger life principles. Predominantly seasonal and plant-based diets, strong connection to family, moving naturally and celebrating culture with wine and community. Sharing food, cooking together, slowing down, eating seasonal, eating vegetarian, eating smaller for longer and eating simple, high-quality ingredients. Whilst our menu isn’t blue zone dishes and all that jazz, I have based Pasta Club broadly on the concept of eating simple, yum food with others slowly in a visually stunning environment with loud disco music and a focus on fun. We have no menu and cook based on what is currently in season, although we do have some favourites that feature at every P Club. Taking the menu away makes some attendees nervous, but we hire chefs and cooks who are producing dishes we know are delicious. Because if you understand the basic concepts of flavours and cooking as well as selecting good produce, you can really do anything.
You've described yourself as 'chaotic' which can often be a force of great creativity and growth. What is your relationship to chaos and how do you counterbalance some of the more destructive aspects of it in everyday life to stay on track and juggle so many amazing projects?
WOW. What a question. Loved that this really made me think. Chaos and I have had a tricky dance over these last few years. In one way I have balanced out some of the harder, physical chaos by moving closer to the beach and sunshine, but then also harnessed some good chaos for bigger and better projects. I spend a very good portion of the week knocking things over, breaking things, spilling things, and staining things because I tend to always be in a rush or thinking about something else whilst doing a task. And I hit my hips on corners at least 8 times a day. I think I have begun to make peace with myself and the energy and level that I run at. This is me and learning to handball tasks to staff that cause more of the destructive/stressful chaos has helped, as it allows me to use my creative chaos in those amazing projects. I just am on the journey of learning how to constructively direct the consistent, chaotic energy to specific places rather than trying to be the only one wrangling my mind, body, and ideas. 

You have been vocal about your diagnosis with ADHD in the past, how did your perception of yourself change with this diagnosis? And how did you incorporate this new knowledge into your daily life for the better?
I have, haven’t I! Ha-ha! Like many others will tell you too, the day I got diagnosed was literally the next first day of my life. It was like I finally got the computer manual to my brain that I had been searching for, for a while. I think I always knew I was different; I could feel that a lot throughout my whole life, but I really had no idea what it was. Why didn’t anyone else lose their phone and keys THIS MUCH? Or cut people off verbally? Why can everyone else sit still, stay on top of laundry, life admin and emails? Does everyone else sometimes work for 15 hours straight with no pee, coffee, or water break (hyper focus)? For 29 years I thought there was something wrong with me, but it turns out my body and brain just make chemicals differently, and I now know how to work with me now - not against me. Diagnosing has changed every aspect of my life, my work, my earning potential, my relationships, my mental state and my awareness of my triggers and fixes. It's a long journey to find out all the information and try different strategies but when you get your combination right, life is…chefs kiss*. Also getting my Border Collie Sprout has been a game changer too, she's literally like my therapy dog and comes with me everywhere. Her impact on my life was something I knew would help and be great, but it has superseded my expectations. She grounds me, she calms me, she gives me routine and she's always there for me. We are a little duo - better when together."

We love that the pasta mama catchphrase is "eat your spaghetti to forgetti your regretti." What is it about this kind of cuisine that is such a source of comfort for you? What are some other favourite dishes of yours that harken back to warmth, safety, and friendship?
This might be a little too spiritual and woo woo for your audience, but I think in a past life I was some Italian or Greek lady, it feels so strong to me. Though there is a teeny bit of Italian heritage in me (10%), it feels more connected than that - like an actual lifetime lived in me. My first trip at 19 was to Greece and Italy because I wanted to explore those countries since seeing them on the Blue Zone country list and was just dying to go there and eat the food (Blue Zone-specific areas are Sardinia and Ikaria). Since visiting those countries at that age I have just consistently chosen them as my primary holiday destination, skipping the cold Melbourne winter for a 2–3-month adventure through the Mediterranean. Full of both lone wolf trips and whirling days and nights of fun with girlfriends. We take our hire car to the nicest beach in the area, stopping at a local grocer for mozzarella, basil, prosciutto, and a fresh bread roll. Grabbing nectarines, a packet of chips, grapes, and sparkling water - our daily lunch menu. Nights are filled with summer dresses over sexy Europe tans, Aperol spritzes and some loud, packed local restaurant for a pasta dinner and a late-night gelato wonder through the town. Giggling our drunk asses off as we piggyback each other and act like fools. That is living to me and all those things: warmth, safety, food, and friendships.

You mentioned that you've never trained as a chef and that you've struggled in the past with imposter syndrome, how have you come to deal with this and what ways have you tried to overcome this?
This is what holds me back from doing so many more things, because the food world I think here is so fierce, especially as I started it all in Melbourne. They really celebrate and relish in fantastic chefs, but also ‘well known’ ones in the industry. I am just the gal who cooks yummy food for her friends, so plating recipes I have made or cooked or created in front of someone who loves food or is a critic, is incredibly daunting to me because I cook on intuition, not on trained skills — which makes your probability of mistakes higher. If you saw me chop an onion you would die, I’m like a five-year-old. But taste my red sauce, and you may die a happier human - so it's a weird dynamic because some aspects of my cooking I am confident in, and others are a constant test. I have just learnt to, again, hire people to help me with the things that are harder in the kitchen. And rather than sending myself into absolute stress head mayhem when doing it alone, I share the load and the chopping with others and then I also can bounce ideas and processes whilst we are cooking. Like Brene Brown says: “you don’t have to do it alone, you were never meant to.” 

If you could share a plate of pasta with anybody in the world, who would it be and why?
It would be my Nana, Audrey who passed away a few years ago. We had such a special connection as her only granddaughter, but I felt like I didn’t get to ask the questions about her that I am now curious about as I have aged myself. You realise that a lot of where you find yourself comes from the decisions made by others born before you. I would love to have gotten to know about who she was when she was my age. 

You've mentioned in the past that you've been a P.E teacher, a photographer, a plant mama, and that your career tends to have a six-year loop. What can we expect next from you? What do you see yourself doing next?
I definitely have one big idea that everything is leading to, it's something I have had rolling around for years and years, but it will cost some money and logistics so I think in the next few years once Pasta Club is rolling without me as much, I can focus on this project. It's wild and huge and fun and something that I have seen coming to fruition for a while, it just needs more marination time and I need to gain more lessons and experience in the biz world before starting it. Sheilas Club is getting more of a formation and time spent on it, as is a new business opening in Northern Rivers at the start of 2022. Reveal soonish...or maybe not at all!

Meeting you in person, you're so open, engaging and inviting — all the qualities of a great host. What are the qualities of the perfect dinner guest, in your opinion?
That's delightful to hear because in my head I am having a wild level of social anxiety after all this lockdown business, so that’s nice to think that the opposite is happening on the outside! I think it's all about planning, guests, and the setting. You cannot be disorganised with a private dinner setting and you don’t want to be flighty and stressed because you guests can feel your energy, it dictates the night. The guests are important as the vibe can instantly change by how well the space, food, and energy flows. When everyone knows each other it's easier, but when they don’t it's more challenging to balance that energy, but it encourages you to use your hosting skills to connect people more, and food is a great topic to discuss. And the setting is important because it gives people the sense that their visual enjoyment was considered, and you also want to present something that as the stylist you are proud of too.

And lastly, if you could give your younger self a piece of advice. What would it be?
Whilst you think you want to be like everyone else, it's your uniqueness that makes you special, and will be the key to your success. Time wasted on considering what others think about you is best spent either at the beach, or with the dog, sweet gal. 

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Photography by Morgan Munday