Whatever way people choose to eat, everyone could do with more vegetables in their diet, celebrity chef Nadia Lim says.
The Masterchef winner and My Food Bag co-founder has just wrapped up a nationwide tour promoting her new book Vegful and last week was hosted by Paper Plus in Oamaru for a book signing and cooking demonstration.
Vegful is an entirely vegetable-focused cookbook.
But Ms Lim emphasises that it is not a vegetarian cookbook.
“I’ve created this book for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike,” she said.
“It’s a cookbook to celebrate vegetables.”
Vegful has been about four years in the making.
“When I first thought ‘I want to do a vegetable cookbook’, I knew people wouldn’t be ready for it,” she said.
Now, people were more open to the idea of not having meat in every meal.
Even the reception in small towns, built on a plate of meat and three veg, had been positive, she said.
About 150 people attended Ms Lim’s event last week at Waitaki Boys’ High School.
A sheep farmer in the Oamaru audience who had turned to a plant-based diet was a telling sign that times were changing, she said.
“There’s a real wave of interest in more vegetable-based eating,” she said.
But most people who were interested in the book were not vegetarian or vegan, just omnivores, like Ms Lim, who wanted to learn how to cook more vegetable-based meals.
“I think it’s a great thing – everyone could do with eating more vegetables,” she said.
Ms Lim loves eating seasonally. In summer, her favourite vegetables are eggplants, tomatoes, courgettes, capsicums, new potatoes, kumara and beetroot.
Making vegetables the base of a meal, rather than meat, took a mind-shift but had became second nature and inspired more creativity in the kitchen, she said.
One of the most commonly-asked questions on the tour was the secret to getting children to eat vegetables.
“My secret is that I bribe them with ice cream and chocolate; I don’t have anything better than that, unfortunately.
“I hide vegetables in their meals, and getting them in the garden helps. Bodhi (3) will eat beans straight off the vine, but he would never touch a bean on his plate.
“He’ll try herbs straight from the plant as well – he loves nibbling at things.”
Ms Lim has lived in Auckland for the past 12 years, but is moving to Central Otago, near Arrowtown, “hopefully” by the end of the year.
Her husband, Carlos Bagrie, grew up in Southland and his grandfather and great-grandfather farmed in Central Otago.
“It was always [Carlos’] dream to return back to the area – we always loved Central Otago,” she said.
“We knew that one day we’d be back.”
It has been a busy eight years since Ms Lim won Masterchef New Zealand – and she is not slowing down.
A big labour of love for her has been My Food Bag and the uptake in Oamaru had been good, she said.
“In the beginning we all thought it was a great idea. We thought it would get some cut-through, but it definitely grew faster and wider than we had forecasted for, or anticipated.
“It’s so awesome to have the support of so many Kiwis, and also us supporting local producers has been a really cool part of the journey.
“We’ve grown together, which is really nice, and allowed [producers] to scale up their productions as we’ve grown bigger.”
And even though Ms Lim does not consider herself a celebrity, her impact is undeniable.
Vegful has been the No1 best seller in New Zealand for several weeks, and she boasts a social media following of more than 255,000 people on Facebook.
“I definitely don’t feel like a celebrity, not at all,” she said.
She does her own touring, and has been joined by her family this time for events and signings from Auckland to Invercargill.
“It’s such an awesome way to see the country, because you’re driving,” she said.
“You get to see it in a different way, rather than just flying in and going to one destination, you’re getting to drive the coast .. and see the outskirts of the [towns and cities].”
In Oamaru, she visited The Galley on Friday morning and enjoyed taking a stroll around the Victorian precinct and harbour with her family.
She is a big fan of Riverstone Kitchen and chef Bevan Smith.
“He’s so talented .. I would tout him as one of the most talented chefs in New Zealand, probably in my top five favourite chefs,” she said.
“I love his style. He’s all about simplicity and freshness and using what’s in season, what’s in the garden, but the flavours that he pairs together just make so much sense.”