From mince'n'cheese in Otara to world's best - Māori chef takes out top award

By Taroi Black

A Māori chef raised in Otara, who was once told she would end up being a waitress, has won the Best Breakfast Cookbook award at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards.

Bridget Davis (Ngāpuhi), 44, secured the prestigious award which was announced in China at the World International Book Fair this week.

“[An] unbelievable achievement for this girl from Otara, I'm still buzzing from the win,” says Davis, who currently resides in Sydney.

Breakfast Around the World  (Courtesy: Bridget Davis).

The cookbook, titled Breakfast Around the World, was inspired by her grandmother, Nanny Mere, who would cook every morning before she woke up.

Growing up in South Auckland, Davis knew that there was more to cuisine than eating mince and cheese pies in the morning.  At 14, she left school with no formal qualifications to pursue a career as a chef. 

“When I was a teenager I was told 'girls don't become chefs, I should be a waitress'. When I was a chef I was told that 'girls don't become head chefs and I should become a pastry chef'. When I was a head chef I was told that 'chefs don’t make good food writers'...”

Breakfast Around the World is a reflection of her life as a traveller, meeting people influenced by the recipes from their own grandmother’s kitchen. The book contains 50 recipes from 50 different countries across the globe. 

Davis says the book was inspired by her “wanderlust for travel and my interest in diverse culinary and family traditions and cuisines". 

"As this book was already named by UNESCO as one of the most influential books of the last the years, to be honoured with the best in the world [award] is a dream come true,” she says.

Davis was head-hunted by Australian celebrity chef Bill Granger to become head chef at his flagship, Bill's Café, in Sydney.  From there, her interest for breakfast foods and rituals behind first meal of the day grew.

“I did not initially take an interest in breakfast foods as a chef, because chefs don’t eat a lot breakfast.  We tend to eat between lunch and dinner service hunched over a bench or sitting on an upturned milk crate at the back of the restaurant ... a double espresso was my main source of breakfast sustenance.”

She has previously cooked for celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Sam Neil.  Last year she cooked for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at her beloved Karetu Marae.

“I'm thrilled to be recognised as one of the best ... in what is the Oscars of the cookbook world," says Davis, "Being at the awards in person also meant I was able to represent New Zealand on the world stage as well my family and those who have supported my journey throughout the years.” 

The cookbook is available in stores and online.