RACHEL TA U L E L E I
RACHEL TAULELEI has been telling New Zealand’s food story for over 20 years by championing this country’s sustainable and premiumquality produce. Of Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Rarua and Ngāti Koata descent, she became chief executive of Māori food and beverage company Kono NZ, which produces fruit, ciders, wines and seafood, just under two years ago. Before taking the helm at Kono, Rachel set up premium seafood supplier Yellow Brick Road, which is now owned by the company she heads. Before that, she spent eight years working for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) as trade commissioner to the United States.
Awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016 for services to the food and hospitality industry, she’s credited with leading significantly positive change in the seafood industry.
“I guess my drive, or passion, in general, is from my parents. They have always worked and operated their own businesses and that gave me a certain kind of energy, if you like,” she says.
Not long after finishing her law degree at Victoria University, in 1997 she joined NZTE and spent much of the next nine years in the States. She returned to Wellington in 2006 and set up Yellow Brick Road, and soon was providing long-line-caught seafood to the best restaurants in New Zealand, despite initial plans to focus on exporting to the US.
“A couple of [New Zealand] chefs came to me and said ‘we want this’.”
It came as a shock, she says. “What, we don’t have this?”
She felt the provenance of New Zealand’s seafood deserved a bigger focus. “The model of the company flipped pretty quickly, because I’ve got a real focus on New Zealand being the best version of itself.
“I saw a huge amount of work going into the production end, and equally the care given in restaurants, but between the two there were a lot of hands which served to diminish the quality of the product.”
The born-and-bred Wellingtonian has always been a food lover, and for her it’s about much more than what’s on the plate. “I think like most New Zealanders, I grew up enjoying really good food,” Taulelei says. “It’s more about the people you eat it with.”
kono.co.nz / THOMAS HEATON
Everybody Eats is a group that cooks payas-you-feel dinners on Monday nights at Gemmayze Street in Auckland using food that otherwise would have been binned. instagram.com/everybodyeatsnz