Kitchen Tips

6 Kiwi women who are shaking up the food industry

This International Women's Day, we are celebrating the Kiwi women who are pioneering change in our local food scene. From championing Māori cuisine to empowering locally owned eateries, these women are all an inspirational force in their fields.

By Harriet Keown

1. Monique Fiso - Hiakai

There could be no list of inspiring Kiwi women in food without mention of Monique Fiso. She's had a whirlwind few years since returning home from working in Michelin-star New York restaurants - opening her hugely successful Wellington restaurant Hiakai, starring on Netflix's The Final Table and teaching Gordon Ramsay the ins and outs of Māori cuisine on National Geographic's Uncharted. On top of all this, she's been busy writing a book that will be coming out in 2020. Throughout all her work, Monique has been bringing about a renaissance for Māori cuisine, combining her own heritage with her Michelin training to help people experience Māori food culture with a higher level of sophistication and luxury.
Hiakai was named as one of TIME Magazine's 100 Greatest Places of 2019, so its impact on the New Zealand dining scene is obvious. The hype around Hiakai's food and cooking techniques have encouraged a greater appreciation of native ingredients and enriched the business of local food suppliers, all helping New Zealanders find their way back to the roots of Aotearoa's traditional cuisine.

2. Damaris Coulter – The Realness

Anyone who knows their way around the dining scene in Auckland is undoubtedly aware of Coco's Cantina, a K' Road institution serving up homestyle Italian food with a laidback and eccentric personality. What they might not know is that one half of the co-founding sisters of Coco's, Damaris Coulter, flew the nest in 2018 to set up a digital platform where diners could discover locally owned eateries all over the world. The Realness was launched with the goal of helping owner-operated restaurateurs keep up with the big players in hospo, and now boasts a growing global network of some of the best independent cafes, restaurants and bars you could find.
For Damaris, The Realness is about making it easier for diners to support locally owned eateries, and shifting the balance in hospitality to shine more light on neighbourhood-style dining. Every foodie knows that warm, homely feeling from their favourite hometown eatery, but now, thanks to The Realness, you can find a place that captures that feeling anywhere you go.

3. Nic Murray and Marie Fitzpatrick – Good Bitches Baking

When Nic Murray and Marie Fitzpatrick each experienced the joy that a small gift of food brought them in times of despair (for Nic it was a cheese scone left anonymously on her desk; for Marie, a cup of tea), they decided to band together and do something with that feeling. Thus, Good Bitches Baking was born – a charity with a network of volunteers who make and distribute boxes of baking to families going through a tough time.
Their mission is to make Aotearoa the kindest place on earth through small, delicious gestures of good will – and with chapters in 25 areas of New Zealand (and counting), it seems it's having exactly the impact Nic and Marie expected. Whether the baking is for women and children seeking refuge from domestic violence, a family spending time in Starship or people eating at food banks, a little bit of sweetness (pun intended) goes a long way.

4. Mimi Gilmour Buckley – Burger Burger

Her career in hospitality began at just 16, and it's been a directly upward trajectory since then for Mimi Gilmour Buckley. As the co-founder and creative CEO of Burger Burger, she's responsible for one of New Zealand's most successful casual dining empires, which is renowned for their honest food and relaxed atmosphere. Nurturing their staff is one of Mimi's biggest focuses, with her ultimate goal being to make Burger Burger the most inspiring place for under-25 year olds to work in New Zealand. To achieve this goal, they've set up a training programme they call 'BB University', which provides support and advancement opportunities for people in all stages of their hospitality career.
In an industry that can get a bad rap for the treatment of its staff, it's the encouragement and training from leaders like Mimi that puts hospitality forward as a respected career path for young New Zealanders. And when you walk into a Burger Burger outlet, it's plain to see that empowered staff makes for a pretty special dining experience.

5. Shama Sukul Lee – Sunfed Meats

What if you could eat meat that was healthy, sustainable and animal cruelty-free? It seems like a long shot, but thanks to Shama Sukul Lee, eating 'meat-free meat' is as easy as popping to the supermarket. After leaving her job as a software engineer in 2012, Shama saw an opportunity in the New Zealand food scene to make a meat alternative with a friendlier impact on the earth. This led to the launch of her food tech start-up in 2017, Sunfed Meats, with their first product being Chicken-Free Chicken, a meat alternative made from yellow pea protein and just a small handful of other wholesome ingredients. Shama and her team produced the infrastructure to replicate the taste and texture of the world's most popular protein, ensuring everything was made from clean technology and with the smallest impact to earth and animal as possible.
On the back of their first product's success, Sunfed have launched two more alt-protein game changers, Boar-Free Bacon and Bull-Free Beef. With meat alternatives on the rise around the world, it's fair to say that Shama's food-tech ingenuity is part of a movement that is set to change the way we eat for good.