Those who know New Zealand well,and people wanting to visit these islands in the South Pacific at the ‘bottom of the world’, share a fascination for the country and its people. Whether seen in pictures or told in travel tales, Aotearoa or ‘the land of the long white cloud’ evokes images of green hills, open spaces, and polite ‘kiwis’ with a friendly and casual demeanor. For those who love the country and many others including tourists and immigrants it‘s an exciting destination and a land of wonder.
I left New Zealand 18 years ago as a naïve, nervous, and quietly excited adventurer to work and travel abroad. My chef qualification, the way I was brought up, and the country I was brought up in, played a huge part in how I adapted to jobchanges and travel, providing a platform for thedrive and determination to make the most of what the world could offer. I became aglobal advocate for New Zealand explaining to others what a nice spot we had ‘down-under’ not only could it be exclusive, but was secluded,largely pristine, and away from the ‘hot spot’ troubles of the world which meant it could be fun. I soon found that New Zealanders didn’t need to sell themselves or their country to the world as we had made our mark in many areas. I don’t need to go into details here because we all know the stories; the tales of heroes, those unassuming men and women who have been successfulon the international stage, and done special things using their own skills and talents to help themselves, their country and others as well.
As a chef, not an economist, I don’t know how we measure the value of New Zealanders’ capacity for developing good ideas, using common sense, showing tenacity, and working well except to say that these things seem to come naturally to a large number of us. In turn, we seem to have accumulated inter-generational adaptability skills from those who have gone before us to make do with what is available,explore how things work, copein good and bad situations, be creative, and use the resources at hand. We have it in our blood to stick with it and overcome obstacles when they’re put in front of us. When employing any staff member for my kitchen I am acutely aware of these attributes and they are always at the top of my list when choosing people for jobs. In other words, adaptability is a priceless skill.
In the last 15 years my role has been to ‘go global’ focusing on adapting restaurants for different cities, in changing social environments and cultural settingsfrom London to New York, Los Angeles, and Melbourne. Understanding what the locals wanted, what they understood was on offer, how menus should and could be written, how food needed to be cooked, sourced and treated, and working with the local staff to make sure I was getting the best out of them was important. We had to show leadership to overcome problems, adapt to changes, make systems work, refine structures and use our abilities and talents to build from the ground up when we needed to. I am not sure that anyone taught me how to accomplish these things, but I am sure that many of the traits to achieve successful outcomes were already ingrained in my ‘New Zealand’ way of thinking.
The point for New Zealand isthat we don’t need to stand on top of our sheds shouting and raving about our own backyard because that battle has already been won without trying too hard. What we already have is a “brand” a “package to go” which sells itself. The country speaks for itself and the fan club is alive and well. Likewise, we don’t need to look across the ditch and envy the economic benefits others receive from natural resources. Of course there are things we could work much harder on includingreinvigorating the clean green image that NZ put so much emphasis on at an earlier stage.
Yet, in order to adapt and continue to ‘go global’we must be in agreement on moving forward with long term goals set in place, rather than adopt shallow, short term get famous, get rich quick, schemes.Many have experienced the financial hurdles that lie in wait for anyone who dare go out and risk ‘going global’withoutrecognizing fully the importanceof opportunities and threats. In my experience, there are always hurdles in doing anything globally, but generally a way can be found over or around hurdles. In fact, confronting a hurdle and working around it often pushes oneto embrace a more creative space, and eventually results in a better, more profitable and suitable direction than the route taken in the first place.Adaptability is the pathway to any new venture.The key to this is being savvy and clever which is the stuff underdogs thrive on – there is nothing wrong with chipping away until you, your product, or your service become indispensible. Quiet achievers and noisy entrepreneurs are necessary to get the best out of competition.
It is a tough market out there, many ideas are well established, the pace is fast, times are ruthless, and the market uncompromising. Because it is not in our nature to big note, to brag, to talk things up too much, then let’s not bother to try to change this, rather, let’s leave that to others, and quietly ‘go global’ armed with the tenacious New Zealand spirit. We are seen as a young country, with fresh new ideas, and where we go from here is our choice, choice being something we have in abundance. When New Zealand is spoken about in any situation, quality, dependability, honesty, reliability, refined tasteand even elegance are words that should rapidly spring to mind.