Eat My Lunch gu­rus’ recipe for change

The Eat My Lunch guru are serv­ing up a new treat

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - CONTENTS -

Two years ago, top Kiwi chef Michael Mered­ith couldn’t shake the feel­ing that some­thing ma­jor was about to hap­pen in his life.

His restau­rant Mered­ith’s is widely re­garded as one of New Zealand’s finest, but the 42-year-old, who im­mi­grated from Samoa as a teenager with his brother and solo mum, had a grow­ing sense that it was time to give back to peo­ple less for­tu­nate.

“As hu­man be­ings, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help and to try to make a dif­fer­ence if you can,” he as­serts. “I didn’t know ex­actly what I was go­ing to do, but I knew that’s the di­rec­tion I had to go in. It was in­tu­ition.”

At the same time, high­fly­ing mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive Lisa King – whose favourite restau­rant hap­pened to be Mered­ith’s – was work­ing on an idea to ad­dress child poverty. She and her then-part­ner Iaan Buchanan came up with Eat My Lunch, a food de­liv­ery ser­vice that worked on a buy one, give one model. For ev­ery lunch or­dered, a meal would go to a child at a low-decile school who would oth­er­wise go hun­gry.

“I had no idea if it would take off, but I knew I had to give it a go,” says Lisa. “I’d grown up in a very priv­i­leged home and lived in this bub­ble of think­ing ev­ery­one was as for­tu­nate as us. But ob­vi­ously that’s not the case and I wanted to do some­thing to help.”

Start­ing off in the Auck­land kitchen at her Mt Eden home, she de­cided she needed a chef to lend his name and knew ex­actly who to call. Fast-for­ward two years and the ded­i­cated pair – helped by 27 paid staff and a team of ded­i­cated vol­un­teers based out of their cen­tral Auck­land head­quar­ters – feed more than 1500 chil­dren at low-decile schools each day in Auck­land, Hamil­ton and Welling­ton.

Now, after re­cently branch­ing into din­ner de­liv­er­ies, the car­ing duo are launch­ing a cook­book, Food

for Good. Filled with more than 200 de­li­cious fam­i­lyfriendly recipes, it’s the cul­mi­na­tion of six months’ hard work, with Michael metic­u­lously test­ing ev­ery recipe. De­spite be­ing one of Aotearoa’s best chefs, he ad­mits that writ­ing his first cook­book was no walk in the park.

“I don’t work like that,” says the dad-of-three. “I’m not used to writ­ing things down or us­ing recipes. But I’m re­ally happy with it, es­pe­cially as each copy sold also buys an­other lunch for a child. That was the re­ally im­por­tant part for us.”

Tastes of home

His favourite recipe is a co­conut panna cotta, one of the first-ever Eat My Lunch desserts, while Lisa, who’s mum to Ella, 10, and Toby, eight, can’t go past Michael’s egg and an­chovy sand­wich. “It’s de­li­cious. Ev­ery­thing Michael does with food just tastes that much bet­ter.”

But they can’t help but laugh when re­mem­ber­ing a dis­as­trous at­tempt at mak­ing 600 egg sand­wiches dur­ing Eat My Lunch’s early days.

“I ob­vi­ously didn’t think it through be­cause cook­ing and peel­ing more than 1000 eggs in my kitchen at home at 5.30am was not fun,” tells Lisa. “We had a few steep learn­ing curves like that.”

While the money-mak­ing side of their en­ter­prise has been ques­tioned, Lisa, 40, and Michael in­sist they’re in it for the right rea­sons. And judg­ing by the num­ber of thank-you cards from grate­ful chil­dren on dis­play at their in­ner-city head­quar­ters, and a two-month wait­ing list for the op­por­tu­nity to vol­un­teer, it’s clear that the peo­ple clos­est to the ac­tion are firm fans.

In fact, Eat My Lunch has been such a suc­cess that Michael has de­cided to shut the doors on Mered­ith’s for good at Christ­mas. It might seem a huge move, but the softly spo­ken chef in­sists it’s the right time.

“Ten years is a long time to do any­thing,” he says. “I’m ac­tu­ally feel­ing very good about it. It feels right.”

It’s not the only ex­cit­ing step, with Michael and his part­ner Claire ex­pect­ing a baby girl in Fe­bru­ary. With his girls Sophia, 13, Tahlia, 11, and Ella, nine, liv­ing in Aus­tralia with their mother, Michael says he’s look­ing for­ward to do­ing things dif­fer­ently this time around.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited about be­ing able to be there for it all,” he ex­plains. “When I told the girls we were hav­ing a baby, they were a bit like, ‘But why didn’t you take time off for us?’ There were lots of ques­tions. But it was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion back then. We were in debt. I had to work. And the girls are pretty happy about it now – they keep sug­gest­ing baby names. It’s sweet.”

When asked what’s next for Michael and Lisa, they coyly re­veal that they’re cook­ing up an­other ma­jor project. The de­tails are closely un­der wraps, but there’s no doubt it’ll be aimed at mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

“That’s the main driver for us now,” says Michael. “There’s so much more to be done.”

Try this at home! Lisa and Michael are proud of their first cook­book, Food­forGood.

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