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Feeling safe

27 January 2022
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Foodie Aliesha McGilligan at an event

Aliesha McGilligan speaks poetically, her sentences full of metaphors. One of the latest cohort of Eat NZ kaitaki, this ability to tell compelling stories in a unique way makes her one to watch on the local food scene. Words Anna Wallace Photo Erica Austin, Peanut Productions Photography.

Currently a baker at Bellbird Bakery in The Tannery, Aliesha has spent most of her career as a chef in Christchurch restaurants. Post-quake, her cooking has focused on health, community and sustainability.

“Food is an amazing connector,” says the family-oriented Cantabrian. “When you’re eating I believe there’s a feeling of safety, security and love.”

Looking for a deeper connection with her industry, she joined the first Eat New Zealand Food Hui.

“Tears rolled down our faces – my friend and I had finally found our people. There’s not a lot of comradery in the restaurant industry; we’re often pitted against each other and it’s a survival exercise at times, so being amongst supportive industry people was touching.”

Food and wine writer Lauraine Jacobs made an impression on Aliesha on that day.

“She stood up and asked, ‘Why isn’t New Zealand food famous?’ In one sentence, she carved out a new direction for us all, a new river of consciousness.”

While she believes Lauraine had a point, for Aliesha our nation’s food story is not about making us famous abroad – it’s about “looking after our own. I want our country to prioritise feeding its people. We can make each other stronger by supporting each other.”

A chiropractor Aliesha knows works her back in exchange for a baking creation or two. That’s taking the meaning of a local economy to a new level – and these are just the conversations Eat New Zealand wants its kaitaki to be having with folks.

“I want people to feel empowered to connect. Our food feels so far away at times,” she says.

While now a baker, Aliesha’s been a head chef and has run her own ice cream and pizza vans at farmers’ markets – about which she is quick to shoot down any romantic notions: “Working there once a week means it’s hard to get into a rhythm, and the weather can be terrible!”

She learnt the importance of storytelling at these markets. “When the other holders told you about the produce, it came alive. You could taste the difference.”

There’s “hope and bravery” in people growing their own produce, she feels. “You need to get a fork, plant a seed and watch something grow – it’s invigorating.”

Bellbird Bakery cares about the whole circle of where ingredients come from, Aliesha says. “That’s something I’m really down with.”

Aliesha may move into video storytelling this year, as she likes the idea of having a guide behind the camera – though with her stellar way with words, she doesn’t need any direction.

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