Lara was the first of our international superstars. We didn’t realise that people like her would want to live and work at Pinetrees. She could work anywhere. Name the best place in London, Lisbon or Rio, and she’d get a job there. That’s how good she is. Not only has she raised the bar in the kitchen, where she works as a senior chef, but she’s also appeared in just about every ad and magazine article that Pinetrees has featured in over the last 3 years. There’s something about her Italian genes and Brazilian confidence that bests any model, and after the photo shoot, she just wants to talk about food and the last pair of sunglasses that she lost. Lara is our kind of ambassador!
Outside of work, Lara has climbed the seven peaks of Lord Howe in one day (twice!) and is a dedicated ocean swimmer. Her partner, Denis, has given up trying to compete with her – wisely – and remains inside with his latest self-help book. Together, they are a formidable couple, and Pinetrees would be a lesser place without them.
Where are you from? I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Where did you go to high school? Barra da Tijuca, Rio.
What did you do for fun as a teenager? I grew up in the mountains, but only 15 minutes from the beach, so I was exposed to all sorts of fun things to do. I played every kind of sport you can think of, and I loved camping and hiking.
Where did you go to university and what did you study? I studied business administration in Rio for 2 years then went for a month holiday to London that turned into 10 years.
What did you do in your spare time at university? My mum owned a little cafe inside the Rio botanical gardens, so I worked there most days – including weekends, the busiest time. When I had spare time, I’d zip down to the beach or get away for the weekend somewhere in the country to enjoy nature.
List the countries you’ve travelled to: Probably a lot more than I can remember as my mum used to work as a flight attendant and would fly with me everywhere as a kid. But to name the ones I’ve been to as an adult: UK, Spain, Portugal, France, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, India, Indonesia, Germany, Greece, Belgium, Ireland
Which countries have you lived in for longer than 6 months? I lived in Brazil until I was 21, then UK for 10 years and now I’ve been in Australia for nearly 4 years.
What languages do you speak? Portuguese, English and Portunhol (Portuguese with espanhol). I’m actually learning Spanish at the moment. However knowing a Latin language makes life a lot easier when travelling, there’s always a way to communicate.
Tell a story about an unforgettable travel adventure you’ve had: A few months ago my partner and I were invited to work at an Indian wedding in Italy by celebrity chef Tom Kime. Tom had put me in charge of pastry for a wedding of 200 people, and on this particularly sweaty hot day, I had to make 15 litres of ice cream, with no ice cream machine! With a few cliché Italian waves of the hands and a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and English, I managed to ask if I could use an ice cream machine in a near by restaurant. ‘Nearby’ happened to be a 30 minute drive into the hills of Puglia and the pressure was on to get this component made before the main service in only a few hours.
So we found ourselves in the basement of this famous local Italian restaurant when an electrical storm blew out all the power and we were all left standing in pitch darkness, also cutting off our hand communication with the lovely Italian chefs.
Long story short, we managed to churn two massive containers of ice cream and squeeze all our other pastry goodies into a tiny rental car in record time, and after a few hugs, kisses and mandatory shot of espresso, we sped off through the hills of Puglia. The air con on full blast – trying to keep everything cool – and we had things packed to the roof top and on our laps. Meanwhile, it was absolutely pouring with rain, but sticky with humidity, and we were rally car driving around these tiny streets with Google maps pronouncing all the Italian street names in this ridiculous American accent. I think we laughed all the way back to the wedding, and asked ourselves what the hell had we gotten ourselves into!
Tell a story about a funny situation you’ve had while travelling: Last year I walked the Camino the Santiago – an 800 km walk across the north a Spain. I decided to do this walk to challenge myself, which I did, mentally and physically.
On day 18 of the walk, I was in so much pain with blisters and just sore from walking an average of 30 km a day, that I did something that I never usually do – take medication.
One night I met this American guy that was insisting I should take ibuprofen for pain relief, so he gave me a couple. The American ibuprofen is only 200mg, so I took 2, and oh my Lord! It worked wonders! Probably because I never take anything, the effect was really powerful and I felt like I could walk 500 miles! And just like that, I was hooked.
The next day I went into a pharmacy and stocked up on the drug. I couldn’t believe it when I was only charged €2 for 20 pills and, it gets better…for 600mg each! This was the good stuff and I was in heaven, walking on sunshine with my head in the white fluffy clouds.
That same day while having a beer after a long walk with my fellow travellers, I shared my drug experience with them, and a few beers later, I was handing them all some of my pills. Everyone was so happy that night that I became known as the Brazilian drug dealer of the Camino, a reputation I was keen to walk off….
What other jobs have you had? I’ve worked in hospitality all my life. My first job was age 14 at my mum’s cafe in Rio. Many years later on the other side of the world, I worked as a manager at the same Notting Hill restaurant my mum worked at 30 years before me! It was well known for celebrities and rock’n roll guests like the Rolling Stones back in the day, and the likes of Cold Play more recently. Hashtag, Londonlife.
I actually tried doing a 9-5 job in a communications office, but I didn’t last 3 months. When we decided to leave London, I decided I wanted a fresh start and to do something I really love – work with food. So I started my career as a chef, aged 30, and worked for 6 months at a horrible little cafe flipping burgers and bacon in Queensland, just to get some sort of experience before coming to Pinetrees. It was perfect because when I started here, they wanted someone with very little experience who they could train the way they wanted. This is my 4th season here, and I love it.
What got you interested in hospitality? I had no choice haha – my bloody mother!
What’s your perfect job? One that’s integrated with a healthy lifestyle and connected to a natural environment.
How do you spend your spare time? Doing something active, be it physically or mentally. I love hiking, swimming and playing tennis, and I love to learn new things. Podcasts and exercise, for me, are a great combination. I hit two birds with one stone. Working long hours as a chef, my free time is precious!
Tell me three things that other people find interesting about you? That I’m a fake Brazilian – my mum is English, and my dad is Italian, but I was brought up in Brazil.
That I used to be really good at equestrian.
That I’ve done the Camino of Santiago, twice.
What have you done (even something really small…..) for humanity? I like to think that I can bring something to humanity every day by choosing to be happy and smiling a lot.
Meet our Staff – Pia Funch