She’s the dietician who doesn’t believe in diets. She’s also a breath of fresh air in a food universe full of dos and don’ts, recipes that require magic ingredients and expensive powders and potions available only from specialist food stores. Meet Malaysian-born Kiwi Nadia Lim, winner of New Zealand’s first MasterChef series, presenter of New Zealand with Nadia, a cooking show which has aired in 16 Asian countries and judge on My Kitchen Rules NZ. And all staying on track, she will soon be a household name in Australia as the creator, chief cook and dietician behind My Food Bag, a home-delivery ingredient and recipe plan based on her simple, free-range, fast-and-fresh food philosophy.
“My approach is based on what I call nude food,” she explains. “There is no secret to healthy eating beyond good food that avoids the factories by coming simply from the ground, the sea and the sky. In Australia and New Zealand we are blessed with some of the world’s best produce and if you use as soon as possible after it’s been harvested and treat it simply, you won’t need to use a calculator to work out what you put in your mouth.”
Nadia says her fate as a foodie was sealed by virtue of her DNA. “All Malaysians are obsessed with food,” she explains. “My dad came to New Zealand as an engineering student and met my mum who is from a family of cooks, so I grew up with food as an important focus in our lives. I first saw Jamie Oliver on TV when I was about 12 and I decided then and there that I wanted to be like him.”
Fresh out of school, Nadia headed to Otago University in Dunedin where she studied nutrition and dietetics for five years. She met marketing and psychology student Carlos Bagrie during orientation week and the rest as they say, is history. They were married shortly before Nadia was selected, at age 24, as a MasterChef contestant.
“The whole MasterChef thing is a bit of a blur,” she recalls. “I took leave without pay from my hospital job. The hardest part was not seeing Carlos for three months. Then when I won I went back to work and had to keep it a secret for six months until the final went to air. Only my immediate family and Carlos knew and I was in this kind of limbo of having to pretend I’d made it to the finals, but hadn’t been successful.”
This year Nadia’s My Food Bag made the leap across the ditch, with the company setting up shop in Sydney. Nowadays, Carlos and Nadia divide their time between their two HQs in Auckland and Sydney interspersed with forays to Asia, where Nadia enjoys a high profile as a TV personality as well as supporting the Cambodian Charitable Trust, which gives aid to more than 600 school students.
For Nadia Lim’s delicious recipes, click here.
This story was originally published in the October/ November 2015 issue of Australian Country. Order the issue here.
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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass