images: Jenny Susanto-Lee
Genesis in the Hills is a vegetarian hideaway hotspot doing brisk trade in Roleystone. It sits on the same road that leads into Araluen, and lots of pretty adjectives spring to mind while following its path: tranquil, natural, healthy, abundant. All the same words, really, that apply to the eatery. Genesis literally translates to mean ‘coming into being’ or, as Rivka Cohen - one half of Genesis - puts it, “the infinity of possibility”.
“We chose the name Genesis because it is from the Hebrew language, and ‘Genesis’ in Hebrew means ‘the beginning of creative potential’,” she says.
“It’s the beginning of things, where potential is brought to life. It is a very, very big word in Hebrew.”
Ably commandeered by Rivka, Genesis’s cook, and her musically gifted big sister Ita Goldberger-Amran, the restaurant has been running since September 2007 and proved to be a massive hit with locals. But the rest of Perth is quickly catching on.
“We have people coming from everywhere now, from Fremantle to Joondalup,” says Ita.
Formerly an artist’s dwelling, the gorgeous nine acre site caught the sisters’ eye in December 2003 and they decided to escape the city to embark on a tree-change journey. It took two years to plan and store the property. They renovated the house, which Ita had been living in, into a restaurant, and then built another house, being were ever-mindful to retain the peace and tranquility of the area.
“We decided to move to Roleystone because it is extremely pretty,” says Rivka.
“There’s lots of nature, lots of orchards and also a strong sense of community, which I really missed in City Beach, where I was living before. And I wanted to have contact with people. There is lots of variety – artists, creative people, just a beautiful mixture of people. Roleystone is the right place for us”.
The sisters moved from Israel to Perth ten years ago after the sisters were at a personal crossroads, and they emigrated to Australia in search of peace and a better quality of life. Rivka decided that it was more than just her address that needed a tweak.
“I was once an economist, and then I was a Maths teacher for a while,” she says.
“But I always had a great passion for cooking and baking, and then when we came to Australia I thought it was time for a change. So I opened a little vegetarian restaurant in Subiaco, which was called Bay Tree Café. I ran it for two and a half years, and it was actually quite successful. Then I sold it because I wanted to change my life again, to make it more peaceful. I bought my piece of land in Roleystone, where I could grow my own stuff. We’re basically really alive with nature now.”
Growing up in a semi-rural village in Israel, where their father ran a vineyard, the two women were privy to enormous cultural influences from their family. They had a Turkish grandfather, a Spanish grandmother, and their mother was born in Bulgaria. Their father was a baker from central Europe, with a Hungarian and Czechoslovakian background. The family table was a place for lively discussion, with languages jumping between Bulgarian, Jewish-Spanish-Latino, Hungarian, Russian and Yiddish.
“And outside in the street it was Hebrew,” recalls Ita.
“The neighbours were all Holocaust survivors who ended up in Israel after the war, so everybody spoke another language, and the children were all in and out of each other’s houses influencing each other.”
With such an eclectic history, it was only natural that the sisters would go on to be profoundly affected by their upbringing. But it is the food they were raised on as children that they seem to remember most fondly.
“Oh gosh, the food we ate as a child!” laughs Ita.
“My favourite dishes from my mother were her different aubergine dishes that she got from Bulgaria. People call it baba ganoush. And her cakes, of course. Her cakes were notorious. Everybody came to eat them. School was only two hundred metres from where we lived, so everybody would ask, ‘Oh, can we come to your house to see what cakes your mother has baked?’ So during the breaks we would all go to my mother’s kitchen, eat her cake and then go back to school. It was so wonderful.”
“My food influences definitely come from my family, and I do Mediterranean and lots of Arab cooking,” says Rivka.
“Lots of my influences come from the use of tahini and hommus, which are Arab ingredients, and broad beans and spices and herbs. And with Mediterranean cooking, it’s all about using a lot of fresh seasonal ingredients. You can’t compromise it, really.
“My Mum is a beautiful cook, she actually just celebrated her 80th birthday. She immigrated with our families here. Mum is from the Balkan area in Bulgaria, and there are lots of things I’ve learned from her. She is very much into what is called the philosophy of how you work, what you do, and how you cook. She showed me how to work locally, work with local produce, and work seasonally. Trying to make food as fresh and as healthy as you can”.
Food is abundant in this neck of the woods, with the property being home to a good-sized herb garden and an orchard of around sixty fruit trees. There is an impressive chicken pen containing forty laying hens, who are all very grateful for the restaurant’s leftovers. And what the property does not provide, the local community does.
“With the produce that we have access to, the possibilities and the flavours of vegetarian food are just as endless as non-vegetarian food,” says Rivka.
“For example, I’ve got a huge amount of figs in the area. So in the times of the figs I do millions of things with them. I stuff them with cheese. I make cakes. I make pies. I make jams. There is a local Italian lady who takes them, cuts them in the middle and dries them, and they are the most delicious figs ever. And then we have a beautiful orchard of chestnuts. So I make chestnut cakes and chestnut cream. It’s really important to explain the contribution of these things to the flavours of dishes. We work very much by what we actually find in the season, the seasons completely inspire me. Many people don’t know what to do with produce such as figs, quince and pomegranates. So they just bring it in. So we have a lot of cooperation with the local people. For me, Genesis is not just a business. It’s a way of life.”
The neighborhood is of paramount importance to the pair, who believe Genesis is less of a restaurant than a haven for the community. Rivka sources much of the restaurant’s produce from the surrounding area, such as oils, bread, milk, cheese and coffee. Local art exhibitions are held at the property once a month, as are jazz nights featuring local musicians.
“We buy locally, we share, we give the place to local people to sell their produce,” says Rivka.
“We sell honey, we sell flowers, and all kinds of food without taking any commission. In a way it’s symmetry. The community aspect of Genesis is very important to me.”
However, what you notice most about the remarkable duo is their passion, which seems to drive everything that they do. The beautiful aspect of their property, which they also live on with their families, the warm reception they have received from the residents of Roleystone and their deeply-held set of beliefs are what keep these two women motivated.
“I believe it’s a very natural way of growing up, with neighbors and community that are very, very close to each other,” says Ita.
“And that’s how we feel in Roleystone. We are very involved with the community, not only in food, but our place has become a meeting place for people to come and talk. It’s a way of living. That it’s not only about you and your family, but that there is a bigger picture. That’s how we grew up, so that’s who we are.”
“It’s all about living consciously,” emphasises Rivka.
“You try to make your life worth living, not only in the sense that you live but with what contribution you’ve made. I feel I’ve contributed by producing good food, which I’m happy with.” Genesis in the Hills is at 124 Croyden Road Roleystone. For bookings and more information, telephone 9397 7799 or go to