Kelli Brett gathers some stories that matter. Ideas, ambitions and dreams are important and can play a role in shaping a better community for all of us. In the March 2023 issue of Cuisine we unveiled our Top 50 Women in Food & Drink Aotearoa New Zealand and celebrated with a spectacular lunch on International Women’s Day at SOUL in Auckland. Now, as we proudly become the official media partner for a national collective at, our commitment to you is to develop a regular space to showcase the wonderful women who drive the evolution of our food-and-drink culture. At the very heart of this initiative is the hope that we can inspire and motivate more young women to consider building a career within one of a multitude of industries that contribute to our important food-and-drink story. Here we shine a spotlight on some far-sighted women who are doing this in more ways than one.

Agriculture / Community / Sustainability
Aimee Blake and Catherine van der Meulen,
Girls who Grow

Aimee Blake and Catherine van der Meulen are dedicated to bringing young women back to explore our landscapes and become part of the climate solution in agricultural industries. Aiming to transform the way we think about food and fibre systems, the two co-founded Girls who Grow to help build a future where people and nature, urban and rural are united as one. Catherine – who found herself surrounded by generations of farming families when she moved to the Awatere Valley in 2019 – is founder of Entrepreneurial Women with Purpose, and Aimee is a rural professional, social researcher and systems thinker. It is clear that both women have a passion for reconnecting people back to our food systems and developing a space where our next generation of wāhine changemakers, leaders and environmental guardians will have a safe place to grow. With women only making up 32% of the workforce in our primary industries, with nearly 60% of young people feeling very worried about climate change yet not grasping how agriculture can be part of the climate solution, and the Ministry for Primary Industries indicating that we need more than 25,000 new skilled workers in the industry by 2025, it feels like the time is ripe for creating a gender-equal agricultural sector. The seeds have already been sown by these two influential and inspiring women, so why not take up their invitation to grow with them?

Tourism / Events / Hospitality
Jessica Wiggins,
Hawke’s Bay Tourism

Jessica Wiggins is serious about telling the rich and detailed Hawke’s Bay food-and-wine story. With a wine industry that is the oldest in the country and a food offering delivered by passionate artisans and chefs who have carved out a true legacy for the region and the cuisine of Aotearoa, she has a lot of material to work with. Jessica, the Media and PR Manager at Hawke’s Bay Tourism, works alongside her team unearthing the unique and delicious Hawke’s Bay stories that have put the region firmly on the map as New Zealand’s Food & Wine Country. Just some of the fruits of their passionate work to support their community include: the establishment of the F.A.W.C! Legends programme, which sits within the spectacular F.A.W.C! Festival, to acknowledge those leaders who established Hawke’s Bay as the fantastic foodie playground that it is today; and Hawke’s Bay receiving the accolade of being named a Great Wine Capital of the World, which sees the region join the likes of Bordeaux and the Napa Valley in an elite global network. As a part of the Great Wine Capitals programme, next year will see the Best of Wine Tourism Awards presented in Hawke’s Bay. There are seven categories that local operators can enter and local winners will go up against the best worldwide at the international awards – a fantastic opportunity to share further the noteworthy achievements of local operators, who have quietly punched well above their weight for a long time now. And, in fact, Jessica herself has been punching well above her weight: you won’t find a woman more committed to the development of meaningful and valuable relationships and partnerships that truly demonstrate the importance that the food-and-drink story can play on so many levels.

Aquaculture / Product Development / Community
Maegen Blom,
Mills Bay Mussels

Take care as you approach Maegen Blom: she’s like a snowball rolling down a snow-covered hill that will scoop you up and whisk you along the road to great-big mussel-love. She’s also an example of how small actions from one individual can cause ever-bigger effects, resulting in huge impact. Co-founder of Young Fish Aotearoa NZ – encouraging young professionals in the seafood industry – and Operations Manager at Mills Bay Mussels, Maegen’s enthusiasm for the promotion of New Zealand mussels as a delicious, sustainable and healthy food is contagious and is inspiring so many to explore the incredible culinary potential of the iconic Greenshell™. A finalist in the emerging leaders category of the Seafood Sustainability Awards 2020, she conceptualised and opened the tasting room and eatery at the front of the Mills Bay packhouse and is now heading the charge as the bright spark and leader of the Raw Shuck Revolution.

Politics / Health / Sustainability
Emily King,

Emily King’s vision is to lead change in Aotearoa’s food systems and sow seeds for businesses and organisations to do the same. She believes that knowledge is power and is in no doubt that we are living within a troubled food network. Her brilliant book Re-food, published in June 2023, reminds us why and how our food choices matter and it is a must-read for all of us. A former environmental lawyer who is deeply driven by climate change and wanting to do more to advocate for positive action, Emily is the founder of Spira, a company dedicated to shaping the future of our food by helping organisations to build sustainability and food resilience while meeting commercial ambitions and contributing to a system that better enables healthy people and a healthy planet. She leads an engaging conversation that addresses the many challenges we face with soils, waterways, climate change, food waste, packaging, unhealthy diets and a lack of access to food, taking into account the full paths and processes from the farm to the family table. Here are ideas and inspiration to find solutions from a woman who truly understands how food can connect us all.

Education / Hospitality / Career Development
Jasbir Kaur,
Ignite Colleges

Having cooked in some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Barcelona’s Michelin-starred Disfrutar, Jasbir Kaur is now on a mission to inspire young people who are considering a career as a chef, while taking the New Zealand food story to the global stage to celebrate culinary excellence and cultural fusion. Jasbir recently brought together 29 talented competitors from across the region to compete in the 5th Australasian Tapas Competition. Jasbir is pictured here (above right) with chef Edna Tunc of Cordis Hotel who topped that competition, winning the opportunity to represent Australasia at the world tapas competition in Spain. Edna’s tapa ‘Baklava for All’ fused Turkish and New Zealand culinary traditions, realising her vision to demonstrate the power of food to unite diverse backgrounds. The dish featured layers of baklava with king salmon mousse, a zesty lemon horopito syrup, kawakawa green oil and sea grapes. We look forward to following both Jasbir and Edna as they take the New Zealand food story to the world.

Are you driving a project for change or do you want to shine a light on inspiring women who work within our diverse food-and-drink landscape? Are you interested in joining and building a community to connect all women in food and drink across the country? Head to and
become a member of a group that will help us to network, educate and support each other as we share ideas and knowledge.