Nadia Lim's tour around NZ

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 12:31 28/08/2014
Nadia's tour around NZ

NZ'S BOUNTY: Nadia Lim has travelled the length of Aotearoa to discover the country's produce bounties.

Nadia's tour around NZ
ON LOCATION: Camera operator Dean Whitehead films Nadia Lim at Yealands Winery during filming.

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Winner of the second series of Masterchef NZ, Nadia Lim is back on TV screens with a vengeance.

As well as a position on My Kitchen Rules NZ's tasting panel, she also has her own series on Sky's Food TV. 

We caught up with the Kiwi culinary queen to discuss New Zealand. 

How did you first hear about or come up with the idea for the show, and what attracted you to it as an idea? 

I was approached by Kari and Maxine from KM Media who have created many television series that have been sold around the world. They were looking for a host for a new food series for the Asian Food Channel and Food TV that would showcase fresh New Zealand produce with Asian flavours.

With my Kiwi/Malaysian heritage, dietitian background and healthy good food philosophy, it suited the style of show they were creating. Telling the story of New Zealand produce from ''gate-to-plate'' and encouraging more Kiwis to look locally for amazing in-season produce was also a big draw card. 

How did you choose the destinations you visited? 

Throughout the eight-part series, we visited an even mix of food-producing destinations in the North and South Island, including Nelson/Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Central Plateau, Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, Southland and Bay of Plenty. In each episode, I visited major food producers who grow and operate in that region, including a Silere Merino sheep station near Lake Tekapo, an avocado orchard on an island in the Tauranga Harbour and a butternut squash farm near Hastings.

What geographical specialities did you encounter and what surprised you in terms of what people were growing?

The range of food and quality was astounding; New Zealand produce is among the best in the world. Not only does it look tantalisingly good, it tastes incredible and is grown with high-quality and nutrition in mind. We filmed apples the size of small melons in Hastings, I ate mussels straight out of the sea and used Pinot Noir grapes straight off a vine for a salad dish in Central Otago.  

There were a lot of surprises on my travels including black garlic - a new product developed by a Marlborough family, who've been garlic growers for three generations. I created ''black butter'' to melt over some free-range pork and it was incredibly good. KiwiBerries were another surprise. I met a KiwiBerry orchardist in the Bay of Plenty. About the size of a small walnut, they look like small green melons but smell and taste like baby kiwifruit. They are eaten whole and are just delicious. 

Who were the characters you encountered that stuck in your mind and why?

We met lots of characters in our travels. For episode one, I met the owner of a proud family seafood business and was taken on a boat - a beautifully restored old whaler, made from solid kauri to see a floating mussel farm. Some of the High Country sheep farmers we encountered were real characters, too. One in particular was one of life's ''conservative eaters'' but I managed to persuade him to eat my Asian-style lamb shanks - and to his surprise, he loved it! I also met a former Californian free-diver, who has now settled in Central Otago and set up his own boutique vineyard. I was shown how to smoke food in an old French wine barrel - we cooked salmon and paua, a few steps from the Kawarau River - it was a magical setting.

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What's the one locally sourced foodstuff that you'll be using a lot more of in your cooking, having done the show?

Being such a foodie, spending the time finding out how our produce is grown and raised was extremely positive. I think I was surprised and humbled by all of the regions we visited and genuinely have become even more inspired about seasonal, local produce from all over New Zealand. 

Do you think New Zealanders know enough about what's being produced here? And if not , why not?

New Zealanders have never been more interested in food or where it comes from, with the growth in sales of my own award-winning cookbook and interest from the public in my good-food philosophy around the world, more and more people are wanting to know the food they're giving their families has been prepared with nutritional integrity. That's why telling the whole ''gate-to-plate'' story about New Zealand was so important to me.

What was the toughest challenge you had to undertake while on your travels?

There were two things - the vast distances we had to travel in the South Island and the wind, which followed us everywhere! During filming we were lucky to strike another glorious Kiwi summer, which meant gob-smacking gorgeous scenic shots everywhere we went.

The vibrant colours of nature will really hit you in this series - intense blue seas and skies, brown tussock grass, incredible green hues of the orchards. But for some reason, gale-force winds would blow up out of nowhere when we had to film the cooking scenes. This meant the gas burner would blow out on the table-top cooker or the tablecloth would turn into a spinnaker. We certainly had a few challenges and laughs along the way.  

Finally, what do you hope viewers take away from your show?

Being the first television series I've hosted, it's a dream come true, and to do it in my own backyard has made it even more special. I believe sourcing seasonal produce from sustainable and local sources creates an even more exciting, delicious and nutritious meal and I hope Kiwis agree. In this series, I also take traditional Kiwi recipes and give them my healthy spin, so watch out for persimmon and fennel salad; fresh clams and mussels in a spicy coconut broth; sticky chicken drumsticks with Manuka honey and panna cotta with boysenberries. 

- New Zealand with Nadia Lim starts this Friday on Food TV at 8.30pm

- Fairfax Media

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