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A sweet way to reach goals

Stroke survivor Neil McKenzie is rebuilding his life one cookie at a time. Baking has become a key part of the former pastry chef’s rehabilitation.

Before having a stroke, InLife client Neil McKenzie’s life was burning the candle at both ends running his own Parisian-style patisserie in inner-city Melbourne.

It was proving a hit with foodies and described as a “little slice of Paris” in downtown Essendon.

For Neil, it was a culmination of 17 years as a chef and training at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” he says.

“We wanted to give people a full experience, not just a full belly.”

But in 2019, everything changed not only for Neil but also his wife and teenage daughter when he suffered a massive stroke.

He spent 10 months in hospital and had seven operations on his brain before he was able to come home.

The family had to step away from the patisserie and with the support of InLife moved to Bendigo to be closer to his wife Majella’s family.

One of the key things Neil’s health team emphasised was to find something he was passionate about to focus on as part of his recovery.

“I was told to go home and do something that brings me joy. Baking brings me joy.” he says.

And when Victoria faced a series of Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, Neil was able to connect to people again through his love of baking. He started teaching online classes to InLife staff and clients.

“I just love teaching people about cooking and there's more than one way of teaching. It's about having fun and making sure that they feel included,” he says.

Neil also got back in the commercial baking game and started making and supplying cookies to two cafes in Bendigo - Hustle Cafe and Bennett St.

And he’s recently launched an online business called Cookie Hustle through social media platform Instagram. The tagline is “rebuilding my life one cookie at a time”.

“What I am finding is that we still have a lot of customers in Essendon where I used to live,” he says.

“It’s going crazy, every time I put something up on Instagram I get all these orders coming through.”

“It’s great, it’s the best business in the world to have.”

The cookies are deliciously decadent, ranging from from triple choc chip to white choc and cranberry, and red velvet.

“I never thought I’d be doing cookies, but I fell in love with cookies when I went to Levain bakery in New York in 2016,” Neil said.

Neil prides himself on only using the best ingredients including Belgian chocolate, Maldon sea salt, Aussie butter and local eggs.

“I describe them as an elite cookie,” Neil says.

“To get a quality product, you need to use quality ingredients.”

Packaged up safely to avoid breakages, the cookies are sent out via express post to customers.

For Neil, baking has been part of the long road to recovery following his stroke and he has no intention of stopping - in fact he has the goal of building his own Australian cookie empire.

“They're made with a lot of love,” Neil says of the cookies.