I returned to New Zealand in 2008 after 25 years in the US, the
Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.
I was thrilled by what I found in Aotearoa - especially the
food. Our artisanal food products are leading the charge.
In Hawkes Bay, where I was based, there has been an incredible
change, and I soon found that the Bay is a microcosm of the nation
as a whole.
I had always thought of New Zealand as being the culinary global
backwaters, with great agricultural product but little more.
Compared with restaurant life in New York and Miami, it seemed to
me that we did little to celebrate our food culture.
But what I found coming back was nothing short of a
A terrific range of value-added hand made products - incredible
jams, chutneys, cheeses, oils, smoked mushrooms, charcuterie and
much, much more- had now overlaid the Hawke's Bay's already
Fine restaurants followed and we now have a region that rivals
Napa Valley. The Farmers Markets in the Bay are brilliant and are
the must-do weekend activity.
As I rediscovered New Zealand, I found that the same is
happening everywhere. We have always been a nation of farmers, so
for this culinary bounty to emerge from our agriculture is of
course a natural for New Zealand.
So, as a foodie, I fell back in love with New Zealand. Living in
New York, I had come to distrust the food supply and only shopped
at the city's farmers markets, where I could chat with the grower
and feel really connected to the supply chain.
Because we are a small nation, we have never developed the
industrial scale that has created, as a backlash, the 'locavore"
movement in the United States. Now, back at home, I found that our
food had not taken that path.
As my good friend Lauraine Jacobs says in her blog:
No-one in New Zealand lives more than 20 kilometres from a
farm, and there's a vineyard within two hours' drive of every town
and city. So New Zealanders are blessed with an abundance of fresh
fruit and vegetables, rich dairy products, aromatic wines and olive
oils, and a plethora of artisan and gourmet foods.
The diet is loaded with protein from the grass fed beef,
lamb and venison that is farmed on the extensive pastoral lands. If
New Zealanders grow anything better than anyone in the world, it's
grass and many countries would be envious to hear the animals are
raised outdoors year round.
It seemed to that I had come to the ultimate farmers market. We
have always been a nation of Farmers Markets, albeit not
So when the opportunity came around to work with NZTE to help
with our food export relationships with China, I was thrilled.
I feel excited by our culinary identity, and I think that my
being away for so long has given me the enthusiasm of the
objective, much as a writer feels enthused about his topic. I do
not take New Zealand for granted!
From my US perspective, I know that the New Zealand 'story' is
that of a small nation of producers with agricultural integrity,
and I saw quickly here in Shanghai that this is also what
New Zealand offers not only fine product, but a sense of trust.
A small producer nation, a good environment, products with genuine
In short, everything that bigger nations do not.