Wellingtonian of the Year: Des Britten

Des Britten, TV chef to father of soup kitchen

Last updated 23:24 17/11/2011
DES BRITTEN: Wellingtonian of the Year.
ANDREW GORRIE/Fairfax NZ

DES BRITTEN: Wellingtonian of the Year.

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A former DJ and one of New Zealand's first TV chefs, who left showbiz behind to help the needy, is the Wellingtonian of the Year.

Father Des Britten, who retired in July after 17 years at the helm of Wellington City Mission, was announced as the supreme award winner at last night's ceremony at the Amora Hotel.

He took over the mission in 1994, increased the staff from seven to about 30, and shouldered the task of feeding hundreds of people a week.

In the 1970s Father Britten hosted two television shows, Thyme for Cookery and Bon Appetit, and wrote several cookbooks. He was also the owner of top Wellington restaurant The Coachman.

Before that, he was a disc jockey who entertained up to 3000 kids who would turn up to his Coca-Cola Hi-Fi Club dances in the Town Hall.

Speaking to The Dominion Post earlier this year, he revealed his association with the mission began around the same time The Coachman opened, although his work was not well known then.

"From the restaurant, we used to take the prized onion soup that people would pay a fortune for. We'd take bucket-loads of it to the mission. That was the very early 1970s, my first association with the mission.
"We did it for many years, just the soup. There was no kitchen in the men's room, nowhere to serve it. It was a very dismal room."

Father Britten, who has been married for 49 years to wife Lorraine and was ordained a priest in 1983, has described himself as an "ordinary old Anglican".

Mrs Britten joined him at the mission a couple of years after he took over and worked alongside him, manning the office and writing thank-you letters.

After the demise of the Coachman, Father Britten kept up his interest in food by writing newspaper restaurant reviews, including for The Dominion and The Dominion Post, talking about food and demonstrating cooking, sometimes with other cooks.

He fronted a television campaign about cheese for the New Zealand Dairy Board and toured overseas as an official ambassador for the dairy and meat industry.

In 1995, he was honoured by the Food Service Association for his contribution to the industry with admittance to the association's Hall of Fame.

Father Britten's award and the winners of nine category awards were applauded by their friends, family and other notable Wellingtonians at last night's awards dinner.


The Honours List
BUSINESS
Sir Graeme Harrison

Sir Graeme, who was knighted in this year's Queen's Birthday honours, is the founder of beef and lamb exporter Anzco Foods. He started Anzco in 1984 as a sheepmeat marketing company. Today the company employs 2800 people, has assets of $500 million and revenues exceeding $1.2 billion.

YOUTH
Henare Mihaere

Henare Mihaere, 21, has been instrumental in the local music and barbershop-chorus scene for several years. He has coached sports and music groups in between caring for his mother, a stroke sufferer.

SPORT
Conrad Smith

The All Blacks' World Cup-winning centre and a Wellington lawyer, he made his All Blacks debut at 22 and has scored 105 test points for them.

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ENVIRONMENT
Lisa Argilla
Head vet at Wellington Zoo, Dr Argilla has been in the news this year for her work caring for wayward penguin Happy Feet. She is also a member of a team of specially trained kakapo breeding experts, and helped save Manukura, the little white kiwi with stones in his gut.

COMMUNITY SERVICE
Des Britten
The former TV chef and restaurateur turned Wellington City Missioner is 2011's Wellingtonian of the year.

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Graham Le Gros
Dr Le Gros has headed the Malaghan Institute of medical research since 1994. A long-time asthma researcher, he is leading a project at the institute to develop a vaccine for the disease. He is a leading researcher in the field of immunology, specialising in asthma, allergies and parasitic diseases.

EDUCATION
Prue Kelly
After 47 years teaching and 17 as principal of Wellington High School, Ms Kelly felt the time was right to call it a day. After teaching for several years and deciding she wanted to be a principal, she returned to university after having her third child, studying extramurally and in the holidays until she completed a BA in geography.

ARTS
Suzie Moncrieff
What started as a promo event for her Nelson art gallery has turned into a world-renowned artistic spectacle. In 2001 Wellington adopted the World of WearableArt Awards show and, with it, its creator Ms Moncrieff. Designers from Savile Row to Bombay now flock to Wellington with their weird, wonderful wearable art, bringing millions of tourism dollars and priceless creativity with them.

GOVERNMENT
Jim Stuart-Black
The Fire Service's director of special operations, Mr Stuart-Black is also a United Nations disaster assessment team leader. He became the face of the Urban Search and Rescue effort during the Christchurch quake, and led the New Zealand rescue effort after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the northeastern coast of Japan in March.

- The Dominion Post

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