Cuisine - - CRISPY BITS -

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

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