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Alumna shares recipe for success

Friday 22 September 2017 6:20pm


Celebrity chef Nadia Lim returned to her alma mater last Thursday to promote her latest cookbook Let’s eat! and give Human Nutrition postgraduate students a masterclass on the value of educating people about healthy eating.

Nadia took time out from a busy Dunedin visit to give an informal hour-long talk based on questions from about 50 students and staff.

After gaining a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (majoring in Human Nutrition) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics at Otago in the late 2000s Nadia worked for the Auckland District Health Board as a clinical dietitian.

While claiming the 2011 New Zealand MasterChef title catapulted her into the limelight, the subsequent publication of several best-selling cook books and, since 2013, being the co-founder and public face of the My Food Bag, Bargain Box and Fresh Start brands has kept her status as one New Zealand’s best-known celebrity chefs on the boil.

Nadia explained that taking a “few risks”, and preparing and photographing meals in her home during the business’ early days turned into a recipe for success.

“My parents didn’t think the idea would fly, but now my mum loves getting My Food Bag every week. The challenge four years ago was that Kiwis were not used to grocery shopping online, let alone entrusting someone to decide what they were going to have for dinner.”

The innovative plan worked and My Food Bag and its subsidiary companies have grown to employ about 150 people, delivering an estimated 35 million meals to over 60,000 customers in New Zealand to date.

A viable business model has been underpinned by her desire to promote healthy eating. Nadia describes My Food Bag’s easy-to-prepare nutritionally-balanced recipes, which feature locally produced ingredients, as a “subtle way of educating consumers” on portion size and a good way to get people away from highly processed food.

In response to a student question on the meals, Nadia explained that all My Food Bag recipes meet Ministry of Health recommendations, following the ‘plate model’ and suggested portion sizes.

Nadia chats with students after the presentation

Understanding customer experience is also key to the brand, and Nadia says she enjoys talking to real customers “on Mondays” about what hit the spot in the previous week’s recipes.

The Development Kitchen team has 21 recipe developers and testers, in addition to photographers, and each recipe takes up to 10 hours to create from the concept stage, through to development and consumer testing. Recipes are tailored to deliver on taste, ease of preparation, perception of value, and nutritional balance to ensure customer satisfaction.

When asked about her interest in studying Human Nutrition, Nadia said she was inspired by Jamie Oliver as a 12 year-old. Even at that age she had an interest in promoting food free of additives and packaging, and how a good diet could benefit kids in schools, hospital patients and the elderly.

She now takes a great deal of satisfaction in thinking that My Food Bag might encourage young people and children to become interested in planning and preparing balanced dishes “from scratch, but conveniently”.

“I believe the biggest impact My Food Bag has may be in 20 or 30 years’ time when the generation who have learnt to cook through My Food Bag are still eating healthily, and not having to rely on processed foods and takeaways. Imagine what that will do for their health, and New Zealand's!”

After question time Nadia signed cook books, posed for selfies and enjoyed a nutritionally-balanced afternoon tea with students and staff.

(All images Sharron Bennett)