Nadia Lim has spent the past summer with sheep on a merino farm in the Mackenzie Country, cooking on a boat in the Marlborough Sounds and exchanging cultural cuisine lessons with a family in a small village in Vietnam.
She’s back on home turf to catch her breath, but Nadia’s life is still a whirlwind of planning international food tours, photo-shoots, TV and cookbook production. Now, a year on from launching her successful grocery delivery service My Food Bag, the celebrity chef admits there are so many projects on her plate that she struggles to remember the last destination she visited.
But while the down-to-earth Aucklander is an expert at juggling the many demands of her life, there is one dimension that remains top priority – family.
In fact, Nadia’s next major milestone is most likely to be motherhood. Perched on a chair at her inner-city headquarters, the friendly cook says she and husband Carlos Bagrie would like to have their first child in the next 18 months.
“All our friends are having kids. They are really cute, but dare I say it, if I had kids now, they would be taken off me,” she laughs. “I wouldn’t have time to look after them!
“But no matter how busy things get, I would never let my work overtake family. You have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is far more important for the future.’ Even if I have a deadline, but I haven’t seen my family for a week, I’ll go and see them for a catch-up – no matter what.”
With her Malaysian-Chinese-Kiwi heritage responsible for her striking natural looks, Nadia quickly became the poster-girl for nutritious cooking after winning the second series of MasterChef New Zealand in 2011. But despite her fame, she keeps life simple and dreams of one day retreating to the Southland farm her sweetheart grew up on.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve spent time on his parents’ farm in a tiny cabin Carlos built. I’d love to stay there for months and live off the land. Carlos is a hunter and fisherman.”
Nadia’s role as head chef and dietitian for My Food Bag, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, enables her to create delicious, healthy food – and is a step towards her dream of helping people around the world to cook better.
And if the feedback so far is anything to go by, she’s already doing a great job. One of six finalists in 2014’s Gourmand Celebrity World Cookbook Awards in Beijing, Nadia’s business has had another unexpected side effect.
“We get emails all the time from wives saying My Food Bag has saved their marriage!” beams Nadia. “Men are often not good at planning or shopping for food, but with our service, the planning, prep and shopping is done for them. The guys love cooking, which gives their partners time off, and they have more time together in the evenings.”
The 28-year-old understands how important it is to maintain a strong marriage. She tied the knot with her university boyfriend Carlos (28), the marketing brains behind My Food Bag, on Karikari Peninsula two years ago.
The couple often travel together for business, and following a trip to India in 2013, visited Singapore, Malaysia and, most recently, Vietnam as part of Nadia’s role as food ambassador for Intrepid Travel.
“Carlos and I have been working together for three years. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without him. He’s very talented and intrinsic to the business,” Nadia says, adding that their strong relationship hasn’t changed under the pressures of their hectic lifestyle.
“We are exactly the same! We’ve been together for 10 years and sometimes we just feel like we’re 19-year-old kids. We still have lots of fun!”
The devoted foodie recalls one of the first discussions she had with Carlos. “I told him I wanted to have a cooking show called Food in the Nude, my own take on the Naked Chef,” she laughs.
Well on her way to living out her dreams, Nadia, who studied nutrition and dietetics at the University of Otago, is grateful for her family support.
“Mum and Dad are proud. They are always excited about what I’m doing,” she says.
Growing up, Nadia ate everything her parents Ken and Julie Lim served up. “I was easy to please but my parents never cooked things like kidneys and liver! My dad’s an adventurous eater and we were exposed to many cuisines. I’m very grateful for that experience,” says Nadia, who also describes her father’s deprived upbringing in Malaysia. “His family would eat one can of baked beans diluted into a soup between nine of them.”
With dreams to open her own casual eatery someday, Nadia – who grew up in New Zealand and Kuala Lumpur – is confident her Asian-Western style will appeal to the Asian market.
She’s just finished filming New Zealand with Nadia Lim, a TV series for 14 Asian countries at postcard-friendly New Zealand locations. The show is set to screen here later this year.
“I cooked in the middle of the Mackenzie Country on a merino station and on a boat in the middle of Lake Rotorua. I had the most basic equipment – a tiny gas cooktop,” she says.
“The Asian market wants Western influence and I can speak a bit of Malay as well as understand the culture and food.”
No matter how many continents this cuisine queen conquers, Nadia remains humbled by the continued support from other Kiwis.
“People are really friendly. We could be walking down the street or doing our shopping and people do a double take. They come up and talk, which is so nice. I meet such interesting people and have really cool conversations.”