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Allyson Gofton's IVF miracles

'Food in a Minute made me a mum!'

By Wendyl Nissen
It was the potato pom poms on a cottage pie that did it. It was 1996 and a new face on the telly, Allyson Gofton, was performing the somewhat miraculous task of producing a meal for dinner in the minute before the six o'clock news.
Food in a Minute would take New Zealand by storm and 25 years later, it remains a big presence in our lives through its website and social media channels.
Talking to the Weekly during level 4 lockdown from her home in the Waikato, Allyson, 61, has not lost any of the fun and vibrancy which made her so appealing on the TV every night.
She has her two children, Jean-Luc, 18, and Olive-Rose, 14, in lockdown with her and her husband, Warwick Kiely, as well as three more teenagers who are friends of her eldest.
"We're having so much fun!" she exclaims before detailing the kitchen she is trying to have built to her specifications ("think eclectic!") and the house nicknamed "the drug baron's mansion" she and Warwick are attempting to renovate.
"The house is pavlova cream, but will become ochre, with library red window ledges and turquoise shutters before Christmas – Covid pending."
Both children attend school in Cambridge and so the couple have moved closer for just such an occasion as lockdown. They wanted to be there for them and most importantly cook meals, some of which are Food in a Minute classics.
"I still cook the Butter Chicken because it's so damned good and easy. I make it all the time."
Allyson credits its success to a very talented woman who worked for Wattie's and created cans of flavoured tomatoes. This recipe uses the Indian tomatoes.
Allyson's involvement in Food in a Minute was more than someone turning up to present a cooking show on TV. She was there at the very beginning of its creation and in fact it was originally called Allyson's Minutes.
Her friend Mike O'Sullivan, who was a prominent man in advertising in the '90s, approached her to work on the proposal because as well as being NEXT magazine's Food Editor and a cookbook author, she had been working in advertising and knew what New Zealand women wanted to cook, and she knew how to create and write up a recipe.
"One of my jobs in advertising was to go out and interview people about what they bought and how they bought it," she explains.
"I would go into women's homes and they would tell me what margarine was on special and when, and that their luxury buy was three-ply toilet paper.
"They would give me their menus for a whole week and tell me how much it was going to cost. In those days, 92% of the food on the shopping list was bought by women. It gave me a picture of what it was like to live on a tight budget."
She and Mike joined forces, with her taking responsibility for the food component.
Allyson and Warwick with kids Jean-Luc and Olive-Rose
"There was some research back then which said that at 4.30pm, 63% of New Zealand women had no idea what they were going to put on the table for dinner that night. And we knew from our work in advertising that most people had to see an advertisement something like three times before they would engage with it. So, we knew we had to repeat the same recipe for a few nights every night."
Wattie's took them on and agreed to underwrite the show for six months.
"I was working full-time in another job, so I would spend a whole weekend cooking and writing up the recipes," she recalls. "Then the following Monday week or thereabouts, we would film 10 shows in a week – two a day in an old bunker where often the lights would blow or there would be leaks.
"If I needed running water on set for a recipe, there would be someone with a bucket and someone else with a hose. This went on like that for a long time. It really was created with the number 8 wire philosophy."
Part of the reason it worked so well in those days was the popularity of Wattie's, Allyson says.
"It was an iconic brand that everyone loved. We all knew it, we bought their products and my job was really just to create some new ideas on how to use them."
But her recipes were not always met with appreciation. The week she featured tinned spaghetti on a pizza was not a great week for her.
"I was so resistant to doing that particular creation, but over in England they were selling frozen pizzas with spaghetti on them and Wattie's wanted to see how it would go down here. I was so upset I had to do that."
Jean-Luc with pup Mathilda
She took a phone call from respected food and wine writer Lauraine Jacobs, who told her never to do that again.
"She said she had come down the stairs and found her son cooking it, and she was horrified!"
That recipe is still on the Food in a Minute website if you want to try it, and there is now also a spaghetti loaf, spaghetti tostadas and spaghetti hot dogs.
Allyson knew all about the finer side of cooking because she had spent four years in her early 20s working with the popular cooking personality Graham Kerr, touring the world and helping him with his TV shows. She had also worked for the notoriously picky and strict food editor of this magazine, Tui Flower.
"It took a long time for my colleagues to accept the show was okay. We all try to write recipes which will lift up, inspire and inform people, but I understood the Kiwi consumer.
"These women were tired, a lot of women were in full- time work and still having to cook the dinner at the end of the day. I was just like them. So it was down to what is in your pantry and how we can make a basic meal with a twist. It wasn't all about pesto."

These were the days when most people ate Weet-Bix for breakfast, a pie or sandwich for lunch and dinner was not gourmet, she says.
There were also failures with her recipes, including the mayonnaise chocolate cake.
"I created it for people who were on holiday. What could be easier than making a cake with mayonnaise, which is eggs and oil? The problem was that people were using Thousand Island Dressing
or Blue Cheese mayonnaise.
It was a complete failure," she laughs.
Allyson left the show after 12 years presenting a different recipe every week – about 624 recipes in all – having written a series of best-selling cookbooks and touring the country cooking up meals
in shearing sheds and country halls.
"I don't want to sound cheesy, but I just love what I did there," she enthuses. "I absolutely loved encouraging people to cook a family meal. It was a dream come true."
Her decision to leave was a hard one, but one that had to be made. She had been through five years of pretty much non-stop IVF to get her son Jean-Luc and her second IVF baby Olive-Rose was two years old.
"I could not have done this without a good income, which gratefully I earned from Food in a Minute," tells Allyson.
"One of the wisest things you can teach yourself in life is to know when to go. I had postnatal depression after Olive-Rose was born and I was 46. She was so wanted, but then she screamed and screamed and screamed for 18 months."
Olive-Rose and horse Max
And on top of that, the wheels were wobbling on her relationship with Warwick. They had spent a lot of time trying to have children and now they had them, she wanted to enjoy her family and she could because Warwick had set up a family business that was doing well and still is today.
"I'm a great believer that running two careers in a house is really difficult for family life. One career and one job or two jobs, but not two careers that have you both working more than 40 hours a week."
Allyson also left the other job she loved, writing food for NEXT magazine at the same time. She admits that she found not working hard and she still does.
"I have worked all my life since I was 17 and I love a deadline even to this day. My son will tell me to sit down and I'll say, 'I can't, I haven't achieved anything today.'"
Since then, she had her own brand with The Warehouse for a number of years, she and her family spent time living in France, she has written three more books and now volunteers occasionally for the local community house creating recipes to feed three people for five nights for $65.
A few years ago, the man who created her show, Mike O'Sullivan, died of cancer.
"My final words to him were, 'Thank you so much for my children,'" says Allyson. "Without him, I wouldn't have had Food in a Minute and the income to afford all the IVF. I wouldn't have my family
and I can't take away how important that was to me.
"In the end, I left to be a mum."
  • undefined: Wendyl Nissen

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