What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than to showcase three women whose contribution to the New Zealand food-and-drink landscape is unsurpassed.

More than 240 enthusiastic supporters gathered on 8 March at Soul Bar & Bistro to celebrate the achievements of the Top 50 Most Inspiring & Influential Women In Food and Drink.

The event also marked the formation of Women In Food & Drink Aotearoa New Zealand, an exciting networking group that will offer women across the country the opportunity to connect and share knowledge and ideas.

Kelli Brett, CEO of Women In Food & Drink Aotearoa New Zealand and editor of Cuisine magazine said, “The formation of this group has been a personal dream for more than four years and I’m thrilled to see it finally become a reality. With so many talented and passionate women working within the diverse layers of our food-and-drink story, together we can build a powerful and unique network. The celebration of our top 50 women and the resulting awards to these three very special individuals marks the beginning of what I hope will be an inspiring and valuable conversation for all of us.”     


The awards went to:

SUPREME WOMAN IN FOOD & DRINK 2023 Rachel Taulelei, whose multiple achievements across so many facets of our food-and-drink story – from trade and tourism to sustainable fisheries and winemaking – give her a unique reach to inspire so many people across so many sectors. “This is a collection of incredible, inspiring, achieving women who have all elected to be in an industry that isn’t easy. I love being surrounded by such positivity and motivation,” Rachel said.

Having spent more than 24 years promoting Aotearoa as a world-class producer of food and beverages, Rachel’s list of accomplishments is magnificently long. Eight years as US Trade Commissioner honed her skills and passion for selling New Zealand to the world, then she returned home in 2006 to open Yellow Brick Road, a sustainable fishing company in Wellington. In 2015 she became the CEO of Kono – a Māori-owned food-and-drinks company – and in 2016 she was honoured as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the food-and-hospitality industry. A member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council from 2018 to 2020, Rachel was named Māori Woman Business Leader for 2018 at the University of Auckland Aotearoa Māori Business Leaders Awards and in 2019 she was appointed to represent New Zealand on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC). Alongside managing her current role as co-founder of business design and brand strategy firm Oho, Rachel currently chairs the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust (Sky Stadium) and Moana New Zealand, and serves on the boards of the Warehouse Group (chair of the Environmental Social Sustainability subcommittee), ANZCO Foods, Sealord, the Young Enterprise Trust and Queen Margaret College.

EVOLVING WOMAN IN FOOD & DRINK 2023 Plabita Florence, who launched her business on a philosophy of low-to-no-waste vegan or vegetarian food at her restaurant Forest, and who is showing the way of how sustainability can shine in hospitality. Plabita cited the support of like-minded individuals as the strength of such a group. “In my experience, we women aren’t so good at blowing our own trumpets and taking praise. When we are in numbers, the praise means more.”

From her Auckland-based restaurant Forest, outstanding chef and restaurateur Plabita is quietly fighting the war on waste and our disconnection with where our food comes from. Her low-to-no-waste philosophy and practice of only presenting two set menus offering vegan or vegetarian options first gained traction as a pop-up dinner series held at organic community farm Kelmarna Gardens and grew into a fully-fledged restaurant in 2019. Plabita’s food and her innovative menu earned her a prestigious hat at the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2021/2022. It is her relationships with growers at organisations such as Kelmarna and OMG (Organic Market Garden) that allow her to deliver food that is completely plant-based while knowing where absolutely every ingredient comes from. Her inspirational approach to the humble vegetables that so often play a supporting role results in an experience that takes the diner far beyond the fact that it is plant-based. More importantly, it is outrageously delicious.


HALL OF FAME 2023Lois Daish, a pillar of the New Zealand food scene recognised for her much-loved food column in The Listener for 25 years and a pioneer for female restaurateurs who showed us the glory of simple, seasonal, local food at a time when French haute cuisine was seen as the pinnacle of achievement. 

Although Lois wasn’t able to attend in person, her award was accepted on her behalf by Sarah Meikle, CEO of the Wellington Culinary Events Trust. Sarah said, “Lois has done so many wonderful things for our industry – she is a doyenne – and it has got me thinking about the future of women in food and drink in New Zealand and what we can become as a force together. Great things come from small beginnings.”

Lois led the way as a female restaurateur at a time when Wellington was emerging as one of New Zealand’s key food destinations. In the 80s her first restaurant was Number 9 in Bowen Street, then Mt Cook Café and Brooklyn Café and Grill and she was ground-breaking in serving simple seasonal food. Lois is the author of several food books and has influenced generations of amateur and professional cooks. A founding member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers – now known as Food Writers New Zealand – Lois has contributed much to the evolving New Zealand food story. In 1997, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Find all of the the nominees for the Hall Of Fame Award 2023 here

Attendees at the lunch sipped on Mumm RSRV Champagne and devoured a three-course lunch. With the full Cuisine team of experts in the room the heat was on for chef Gavin Doyle as a spectacular menu unfolded: an entrée of tuna, tomato and eggplant with XO sauce; bluenose served alongside a cashew milk, soy caramel and a touch of makrut lime; chicken breast with zucchini, pickled ginger and a miso beurre blanc; finishing with a pop of sunshine-coloured mango ‘marvellous’ cake.

The room was filled to capacity with some of the most influential women within the food-and-drink industry. Thanks to Olivia Carter, Geeling Ching, chef Gavin Doyle, Jodie Campbell and the phenomenal team at SOUL for delivering such a memorable event, made all the more special by the great skill and professionalism that demonstrates the art of true hospitality.

is the proud media partner for the Women In Food & Drink Aotearoa New Zealand Awards 2023.