Meet the mentees

12 May 2015

We’ve given four new food and beverage outfits the chance to be mentored by some of Auckland’s finest foodies and marketing gurus. Among them are winners of last year’s My Kitchen Rules, the ‘urban hippy’ duo, and a 2015 Cuisine Artisan award winner.

And these aren’t just any food and beverage companies – they’re new products still at the smaller scale that are pushing for good food in New Zealand. The products were selected because of their values, how the products were produced, what the ingredients are and what the company is trying to achieve. We’re giving these guys a leg up so that they can crack the food and beverage market, helping to grow the health of New Zealanders and our ecosystems.

Our four chosen food and beverage companies were announced two weeks ago and the mentoring by celebrity chef Michael Van de Elzen, ecopreneur Chris Morrison and marketing guru Martin Yeoman from Assignment Group has begun!

My Kitchen Rules’ urban hippies strike again!

If you think this dynamic duo looks familiar, you probably recognise them as the winners of last year’s My Kitchen Rules (MKR). Staying authentic to their desire to promote nourishing, ancestral eating, Neena Truscott and Belinda MacDonald earned the nickname the ‘modern day hippies’, whipping up sugar and gluten free, healthy treats for the judges. “We tried to be authentic to ourselves on a conventional TV show doing unconventional things for chefs that want indulgence and sugar and lots of sweet food,” says Belinda.

After their crowning as queens of the kitchen in October 2014, the pair decided to use their new-found fame for good, setting up The Green Kitchen this year to create and promote food that leads to better health and wellbeing.

“We wanted to do something with our winnings rather than just becoming a catering company. We knew we wanted to put out a product, but we didn’t really know what,” says Neena, who studied integrated nutrition. “So we thought, what’s the one thing we can put out that’s going to benefit the most amount of New Zealanders. And we decided on bone broth, to heal and seal the gut.”

Bone broth is renowned for its digestive properties – not only does it aid digestion, but it is a natural remedy for ‘leaky gut’ syndrome. The gut, says Neena, is core of our health. “Basically everything comes from gut health which is why we chose the broth because most diseases start in the gut.”

Belinda, who has a background in hospitality and is a secondary school food technology teacher, says they want to see their bone broths being used in schools and hospitals to increase the health of the population. They want to market it as a sip-able beef or chicken tea with shots of turmeric, ginger, chilli salt or lime, but also as a nutrient-dense addition to dishes like risottos, mash, curries, sauces and stews.

Neena and Belinda are looking forward to the marketing and promotional mentoring, but also finding a sustainable, non-toxic product to package their broth in. “That’s what our conscious consumers demand.”

Danish ingenuity

Line Hart’s hospitality background set her up with a real interest in food. And, being a Dane living first in England and then in New Zealand, her own culture’s food and food practices, particularly the Danish art of baking which is a national pastime, became more and more important to her. “I think a big thing for me was always missing Danish food, because Denmark has quite a different food culture to England, even though they are quite close geographically. So I became more and more interested in baking and making things myself.”

A visit from Line’s mother, who delivered a special, seed-based knaekbrod (Danish baked cracker bread), saw Line sweating in the kitchen to fine tune the recipe to a point where it would be commercially viable and suitable for Kiwis who like thin, crunchy crackers to munch with their avocado,  smoked salmon, cheese and wine. Her business started about 18 months ago and just this year she was awarded a Cuisine Artisan Award for her cumin flavoured knaekbrod.

This twist on traditional cracker bread comes in three flavours – original, cumin and rosemary –  and she has also released a wheat-free rye and fennel cracker. All products are vegan, yeast-free and sugar-free, and chock-full of pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds and linseeds. She’s also developing a cardamom variety to give the cracker a sweeter hint.

“It’s huge and exciting to be chosen, and it’s just the right time,” she says. “We won the Cuisine award in February, so we’ve had a ridiculously busy time and it’s just me doing everything – the packaging, the baking, the rolling – the whole thing. I thought what do I do next?”

Hungary for success

Partners Sam Darragh (English) and Attila Kovacs (from Hungary) are the duo behind The Hungarian Artisan Co. Attila trained at chef school in Budapest and has worked around Europe as a chef, where he met Sam, who also has a background in hospitality, and they both decided to move to New Zealand in 2008. The couple have non-Hungarian-food day jobs, but work tirelessly on their business which is only a year old. At the weekends, they are regular fixtures at the Tauranga markets. Attila’s dream is to be fully employed by the company within five years, with a solid customer base and an established position in the market place.

The Hungarian Artisan Co. offers a range of yummy salamis which are all made from free-range pork, without the use of nitrates or any other artificial preservatives or additives.

The range is manuka-smoked and dry-cured to create unique and intense flavours and includes the smoked Hungarian paprika kolbasz and the spicy Hungarian paprika kolbasz , which has a Kashmiri chilli kick. They also produce salami with porcini mushroom and truffle and one with pink, green and black whole peppercorns and toasted fennel.

“Being chosen has given us an opportunity that will provide us with invaluable benefits for the future of our business. We really look forward to what’s ahead and are both very thankful for the privilege we have been given.”

From Aotea to Aotearoa

Twenty-four-year-old Tama Toki is taking Aotea (Great Barrier Island)’s wild medicinal plants and turning them into a health tonic. Growing up on Aotea, the law student, who is also a national athletics champion, says he didn’t have huge amounts of access to medicine. “When we were sick we used natural products like kumarahoe, which helps as a blood purifier and helps to move the mucus in your lungs.  So I suppose the history of growing up on the Barrier and exposure that I had to traditional medicine over there planted the seed for Ahi Ka Wellness Tonic.”

Tama’s first foray into food was with his small food business Great Barrier Style, which creates organic, sugar-free muesli. His tonics, which are now stocked in several shops in Auckland and around New Zealand, consist of a kawakawa and kale tonic (with spirulina, wheatgrass, a squeeze of lime and a dollop of Aotea’s mānuka honey) and a kumarahoe tonic with ginger, turmeric, lemon and honey.

These plants are well-known for their medicinal properties, says Tama. “The key tenets are two separate leaves. There’s kawakawa: the studies that have been done on the leaf show that it has a high concentration of anti-inflammatories and it is a huge part of Māori medicine, used externally made into a poultice, used as an analgesic if you chew on it – it’s one of those wonder plants for Maori.

“Kumarahoe has got a high concentration of saponin, a plant chemical that is quite soapy and it’s a key constituent used in health to help clear the lungs.”

Having just finished a 1000-bottle batch, production is still quite small-scale. Tama father picks the herbs wild, ensuring not to pick more than a third so as to not destroy the plants.  “The idea is to grow and have a native plant plantation. But that’s going to be determined by how it goes over the next six months.”

Tama says he’s so happy to have been chosen, and to be among such esteemed company. He’s particularly looking forward to tackling the issue of taste – balancing the bitterness of the tonic with the integrity and health-giving properties.

Sample our mentees’ food and beverage products at the Good Food Forum on May 25th in Auckland.