Meet the WISE women
My dream is to have my own cafe, cooking original flavours, playing beautiful traditional music; a place to sit and relax while having a sweet and reading a book. Now I feel like I’m on the right path. When I left South America for a better lifestyle and education, it was difficult. After the pandemic in 2020 I wanted to follow my dreams in continuing my family’s passion: cuisine. WISE helped me gain my FCP to pursue this dream. I learned to cook from my aunty, mum, and grandma. Now I make authentic South American food, like empanadas and juicy hot steak, with most of the fresh ingredients sourced directly from my own garden. Back in Chile I used to practice several sports at a professional level, now I bring that same competitive spirit to my cooking, I want to be the very best. I find New Zealanders are always looking for new cuisine and flavours, so they are always very supportive when it comes to trying something new.
Before travelling to New Zealand as a refugee in 2015 I had never cooked. I practiced medicine in Afghanistan, and ran my own hospital, but all my housework was done by domestic workers. However I was unable to practice as a doctor here due to language barriers, among other things. I also had to learn to prepare meals for my family. When my children complimented my food I decided I should do something in the field, to earn money and ease some anxiety. I enrolled in courses like business, food safety, coffee-making, baking, and computer training. Then I learned about WISE Catering - where I started getting orders, and positive feedback. I am fortunate for its help and support. While a kebab with hot rice is my favourite dish to eat, my speciality, bolani - a stuffed flat bread with a thin crust, fried with a filling - is something I want more Kiwis to try.
In 2014 I came to New Zealand as a Sudanese refugee after spending some time in Malaysia. I didn't find the change difficult - the people, culture, and weather are amazing. When I wanted to get involved with WISE Catering the first person I called was my mum. I asked for her Middle Eastern recipes, and the precise ingredients and procedures. When WISE staff tried my food they were really impressed. Now, I receive a lot of help and support from WISE Catering to sell my meals. My favourites are kebabs and vegetable rice, and my speciality is a smooth, rich and creamy peanut sauce, best served with falafel. Everyone appreciates its distinctive taste. People in New Zealand enjoy trying new foods and I enjoy talking with customers and appreciate their feedback. The fact that I can cook now makes me incredibly happy. I understood cooking is in my gut. I understood that celebrating means cooking, and comfort means cooking, and love means cooking. I feel more self-assured and autonomous when I recognise a new side of myself.
When I moved to New Zealand from Palestine in 2000 with my husband and two children, I missed my old way of life; my family and friends. But cooking is what made me happy. Alone, I would
experiment with Middle Eastern sweets, maqluba, falafel, shawarma, mansaf with yoghurt dip, or chicken/lamb biryani, and I had a night stall at the markets. I didn't know English and couldn't drive, so I enrolled in courses to improve my skills. Soon I was working part-time with WISE Catering. Now I have a licensed kitchen, and hope to open a restaurant with my husband in Auckland. Maqluba has become my specialty. I guarantee Kiwi will love this - all the ingredients are carefully placed in the pot in layers, so that when the pot is inverted for serving, the dish looks like a beautiful layer cake. I feel good that I am doing something I love, and know how to do. My family and I enjoy our new life now - New Zealand is like a second home.
Coming to Invercargill in 2005 with my husband from Libya, was difficult. My husband's job as a surgeon meant we relocated from one location to another throughout the first few years, which made it difficult to settle. I did not know many people from my culture; I was a little depressed. Now, I have lots of friends here. I am a homemaker who enjoys cooking and I've always wanted to start a bakery. I used to assist my sister in her cookie business, and it was there that I began learning to cook. I can make cheese tagine with chicken, brak (silverbeet wraps with chicken or lamb), stuffed capsicums, and couscous with meat and vegetables. Resta ciscas, which is a traditional Libyan dish, is one of my favourites.
My mother taught me how to prepare food - she’s a brilliant Ethiopian cook. Although I’m originally from Ethiopia I lived in Lebanon for 10 years with my husband and daughter before we had to flee. We were settled in Aotearoa in 2017. I missed my family and it took me a long time to adjust. I used to feel quite alone. I am glad to be living here now - New Zealanders are friendly and courteous. Right now I’m considering offering my skills to WISE, selling my special dishes and building a career in cooking to become self-sufficient. I can make Sudanese, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian food. My specialty, which I want people to try, is dirawet (spicy lentils) with vegetables and injera, a nutritious flatbread. Authentic injera requires a 48 hour fermentation process similar to sourdough.
Already I’m known as the coffee lady. My coffee is unique: In front of my customers I heat it until it becomes black, so they can take pleasure from the aromas. One day I’d like to start my own coffee shop. When I arrived in New Zealand from South Arabia in 2013 with my children, I had anxiety and loneliness - but Kiwis welcomed me. In addition to taking English classes at UNITEC I completed the WISE Food Safety Course, and joined a business, catering and start-up course. When I was younger, I used to help my mother in the kitchen. My specialty is injera (flatbread) with zigni (sauce). Its texture is a little bit spongy, it has a lot of powdered chillies, and a unique spice blend, so it’s hot and spicy. The aroma is very intense. I think presentation plays a major role drawing in customers - this is one of the things I learned through WISE. I also want my food to taste exactly the same as it does in my home country, so I used to spend a lot to courier ingredients from there to New Zealand. That included dried ginger, and a particular red chilli.
I feel more connected to my Chilean roots when I’m cooking. It is not just taste but also nostalgia. For four generations, cooking has been the most significant role for women in my family. My mother, who has hands like angels, always showed us her love by cooking. I inherited those skills, just by watching how she prepared food, listening to her granny's secrets, and smelling the results. That helped me a lot to develop my sense of taste and smell and the instinct to create flavours. Now that I’m a part of WISE I have an opportunity to strengthen those skills further, with a group of powerful women who want to get ahead. When my husband, children and I immigrated here in 2016, our basic English was an obstacle, making it impossible for us to look for employment, pursue education, and build relationships. It truly made me feel deaf and disconnected that I couldn't even communicate my feelings. With the support of our local church and networks we built we were able to get ahead. Soon, I want to open a catering section in a store or enter partnerships with cafeterias. I hope working with WISE will help me achieve this dream.