How did your passion for food and creating recipes begin?
At some point in my late 20s I became aware of the connection between food and my wellbeing. I was suffering from chronic allergies and food intolerances and eating, especially eating out, had become really challenging as not all restaurant staff understand what goes in the food they’re serving. I think a critical moment for me was enjoying a meal at a restaurant overseas where the chef actually came out and chatted to me personally about making sure I got to enjoy my meal as much as everyone else instead of just having things removed from my plate as I’d got used to. I think that moment planted the seed for where I’ve ended up. I enjoyed the experience so much, it made me decide to retrain so I could do the same for others.
I’ve always needed a creative outlet; before food it was fashion and before that it was floristry. I love the satisfaction of making a delicious meal for others, I take a lot of pride from knowing that it’s healthy too. I also enjoy the challenge of adapting recipes given a person’s dietary needs. With the professional training and experience I’ve gained I feel I can confidently look at a "conventional” meat, egg or dairy-based dish and use it as the inspiration for something just as delicious, but plant-based.
Can you tell us more about your role as a Botanical Cuisine Specialist? What does this entail and how did you get into it?
I found the phrase “Botanical Cusine” in a book by Omid Jaffari. I think it nicely conveys the emphasis on plants I’m trying to create. I feel it reflects how I draw on several disciplines at once: growing seasonal food, maximising the nutritional benefits of food and creating delicious plant-based dishes. It’s important to me that I try learn more about crops that have historically been grown or foraged rather than just counting on the limited range of foods from the supermarket. I like to consider more than just the flavours when I’m creating something, I also like to consider the colours and textures of a dish too.
I feel I’ve been lucky to have a range of careers and interests before deciding to become a professional chef. Through my mother I grew up loving gardening – and my first career was as a florist – so I’ve always had a good understanding of plants and how to grow them. I had a fashion label for a while and I really loved being able to physically create the designs we imagined on paper. Both fashion and floristry are skills I draw on when I’m plating and presenting food. In some ways I’m even lucky to have had the allergies and food intolerances I have; they eventually lead me to retraining and they’ve made me think creatively and unconventionally when “traditional” ingredients aren’t available.
You specialise in plant-based food. Can you tell us how this began and what you enjoy about a plant-based diet lifestyle?
My husband and I discovered Dr T Colin Campbell’s China Study almost accidently – my husband wanted to find a “food-related” audiobook for us to listen to one summer as we camped around the Coromandel. I was just about to start my study as a professional chef. To be honest, I was initially reluctant to commit to it, since I was about to spend a year and a half learning how to cook “conventionally”. I was also already on a restricted diet and didn’t like the prospect of giving up even more food. My husband persuaded me that we should at least try it – and we’ve never regretted it. We gradually transitioned to being “whole food plant-based” [over] a number of years. We both found cheese (dairy-based) the hardest thing to give up.
There are obvious health benefits that being plant-based has given me. I never expected that changing my diet would have such a positive effect on my blood pressure for instance. I feel it’s given me a greater appreciation of how much waste there is in modern life – we’re even more committed to reusing, reducing and recycling, and we’ve found that growing our own food has helped us to reduce our waste even more. It’s also given us a greater connection to our immediate environment and appreciation of seasons as we try to eat what’s seasonally available.
When you’re not dreaming up recipes or cooking, what else do you enjoy spending your time doing?
Any excuse for being outdoors really. I love gardening and foraging – sourcing food that’s available locally. I try to be involved with our local locavore movement. My family and I had been living in Scotland for the last couple of years, we loved the outdoors there, but we really missed camping opportunities here – so we try to get away whenever we can. I like to use our camping trips as an opportunity to try new food ideas. I say camping, but really it’s more like glamping – we travel with a well-stocked kitchen (and kitchen tent). Our camping trips are about slow food and cooking over fire.
Where are you based, and if people want to see more of your work or learn more about you, where should they go?
I’ve been keeping a blog of my recipes, foraging and camping experiences since 2015; I enjoy sharing what I know and discover. I’ve tried to create a collection of recipes that are useful to people trying to transition to a whole food plant-based lifestyle. As well as the blog, I’ve catered for special, plant-based events. And I’ve helped people adapt their kitchens (pantries) over to being plant based or gluten free.
I offer private cooking lessons for individuals or small groups from my home. I’m currently based in Martinborough – an hour or so outside of Wellington. Martinborough is a lovely place to live or visit (of course that’s true of all of New Zealand). There are plenty of great local wines to try and cute character cottages to stay in.
I also offer tuition on adapting to special diets and on transitioning to eating “whole food plant-based”. Currently, I’m developing a course on how to make nut cheeses. I also help restaurants add vegan dishes to their menus, advise on food handling with respect to allergy and food intolerance awareness.