IT'S just six weeks since The Wild Rabbit catering owner Lucy Novak spontaneously moved to Newcastle and already the creative foodie is finding the sense of community she craved.
The former Sydney-based designer-turned-caterer credits picture-sharing social media site Instagram with connecting her to local suppliers and like-minded industry folk.
"You just follow the trail," Novak says as she pours tea at the Mayfield weatherboard cottage she shares with husband Nick.
"I follow people who give me inspiration and you follow the trail of comments. Everyone is interconnected somehow."
The trail has led her to suppliers who grow food just blocks and suburbs from The Wild Rabbit's new burrows, a welcome change from scouring wider Sydney for home-grown produce.
All five members of Novak's family work in artistic professions so it's not surprising visuals are a big part of how she works.
Colourful and decorative middle eastern styles "creep" into menus and presentation.
Photographs of food created for garden parties, backyard entertaining, cocktail parties and celebratory events lure new customers via The Wild Rabbit Instagram feed (@thewildrabbit).
"You eat with your eyes - looking at food is the first thing that draws you to it," Novak says. "I get quite a lot of business through Instagram. I think people do think visually - they look at something and say, 'oh that's what I want'."
Novak fell into catering three years ago as a fun and creative outlet on the side of her serious interior designer job.
She was brainstorming money-making avenues for a recently-returned-from-overseas friend and had soon planned herself into a joint catering venture. Their relaxed, no-fuss approach to catering and beautiful presentation was a hit with friends, and then friends of friends.
It grew organically into a full-time job for Novak, who was running solo six months in, after the returned-home friend lost interest.
Novocastrians were treated to a sample of the large grazing platter that is The Wild Rabbit's signature at the Newcastle launch event at The Lock Up last week.
The sample menu included: roast beetroot, caramelised onion and goat cheese tartlets; thyme and provolone stuffed arancini with garlic aioli; mini Moroccan lamb pies with currents and almonds; chocolate and lime brownie bites with a margarita cream.
Novak's catering style is an extension of the way she entertains at home - on the rare free weekend. "I like doing share food like big platters of slow-cooked lamb and salads. I enjoy people enjoying the food ... I always like to start with a big cheese grazing platter with yummy nibbles and let people entertain themselves."
It was over such a weekend with friends that the plan to move to Newcastle was hatched.
Novak and hubby Nick, who both grew up in the country, always planned to move out of Sydney - some time in the future.
The plan was to eventually buy somewhere south of Sydney. Neither had spent even a complete weekend in Newcastle. But after mulling over the benefits of the city when friends raised it as the idea, they were sold.
"At the end of the weekend we had pretty much decided, we're going to go north to Newcastle then," Lucy Novak recalls. Nick was offered a job at the University of Newcastle and within two months of even thinking of Newcastle they were here.
"It was crazy. But everything started falling into alignment. Once we started looking at property we thought, oh my gosh. We could actually afford to buy what we wanted here."
With the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens on her doorstep, Novak is confident the move will mean an expansion of her business - which will continue to cater to Sydney as well. She's also excited to be part of the growing buzz around the local food scene and hopes The Wild Rabbit will appeal to people interested in trying something new.
"The sense of community is really obvious and I'm looking forward to becoming a part of that. It seems like there are a lot of young chefs who have grown up here and have gone away. But they're coming back and wanting to stick around because they can get a sense that there's a bit of movement and a lot of potential.
"I'm enjoying being here at this time because I feel like we'll get to see all this change happening."