Story and photo by: Vivienne Pearson
It was a fecund cumquat tree that started Steve’s jam-making journey. ‘Marmalade is the only thing you can make with cumquats,’ says Steve. So he did, cooking up a batch over an open fire. To make it a bit different, he added some spices. The result was such a hit with his friends that he cooked some more and sold jars at the Byron Community Centre. From there, he gradually added to his range and started selling at weekend markets.
‘Jams and marmalades over here, chutney and relishes over there and hot sauces in the middle,’ is his standard opening line. He offers tastings, and the enthusiasm for his creations is incredible.
‘It’s just like drinking a Pina Colada!’ enthuses Mel, a chef visiting from the UK, about Steve’s Pina Colada jam. Jayden, a hot-sauce aficionado from Newcastle, trades chat about the world’s hottest chilis before trying Steve’s Deadly Toughie Pants Relish. ‘I like the fruitiness – it’s not an immediate hit; the spiciness builds slowly,’ he says before declining to try the aptly named ‘Hellish Relish’.
Almost none of the flavours are ordinary – with options including caramelised banana jam, sour lemon+lime chutney, and caramelised onion in balsamic. When looking for inspiration, Steve draws on things from his past, such as an orange-and-caraway bread he used to buy from a local bakery, and the quintessential combination of lime, coconut and chili that he enjoyed while in Thailand.
Steve’s main inspiration though is the community he has created around him. Firstly, it’s family. His son Jed helps Steve pick produce, do the cooking and man the market stalls. Jed’s first creation, a grapefruit, rosemary and rosewater marmalade, is the newest addition to the range. Other flavours are named after other family members.
Secondly, it’s friends. ‘A friend of mine grows the limes in the hills behind Mullumbimby. Another friend grows chilis near Bangalow, and the grapefruits come from my doctor.’ Steve is the enemy of food waste: he shares his lime supplier with the market cane-juice seller, using just the off-cuts of the peel not used for juice, and also buys from farmers produce that doesn’t meet ideal standards and would otherwise be ploughed back into the ground. He rents the commercial kitchen at the YAC (Youth Activity Centre) in Byron. ‘It’s a great community resource that is otherwise empty at night,’ he says.
Steve has many elements of a successful business – a great product that people love, total knowledge about his product and a genuine connection to his customers and suppliers. What he doesn’t have, but would like to develop (or get help with) is the business and marketing know-how to take his product to the next level – both upping production quantity and getting his jams into stores. In all, Steve sees his work as a way of channelling money from visitors through him to farmers and the YAC.
Find Byron Steve at markets – Byron, The Channon, Bangalow, Bruns, Mullum and the summertime Byron Artisan Market (Railway Park, Saturdays 4–9pm). Contact: 0410 109 993