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Karena and Kasey: ‘If people don’t like us, that’s fine’

Led by their taste buds, the sisters are paving their own way in search of great flavours for their new TV show.

When the Weekly catches up with former MasterChef New Zealand winners Karena and Kasey Bird, they can be excused for being a little flustered.

Having come straight from putting the finishing touches on their new TV show, Karena and Kasey’s Kitchen Diplomacy, where they travel the world discovering new ingredients and cultures, the sisters from Maketu can finally relax with a cocktail, tuck into food they didn’t make themselves and reveal just how crazy the last year has been.

From visiting 10 different countries for the show to their self-published cookbook winning a best in the world gong at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook awards and jaunts working in fine dining kitchens in France – it’s fair to say the girls have been just a wee bit busy.

“It’s been a fun year,” nods Kasey (26). “Actually, it’s been a fun couple of years. We’re just a little tired right now. But there’s so much exciting stuff going on, we don’t want to stop!”

Their new show, which debuted on TV One earlier this month, is a realisation of a dream for the sisters, who’ve always wanted to explore the world with their taste buds leading the way.

“And we get to do it for a TV show? How cool is that?” Karena (27) grins.

Karena (left) and Kasey relished the chance to be fully themselves on screen, without the trappings of a competition.

“It was the most incredible experience – we got to meet so many cool people and do awesome things. Basically, for each country there’s a cooking event, and we have the week to learn as much as we can about the food and the culture.”

Karena and Kasey were a long way from home as they hopped from country to country.

The sisters had never done much travelling before, and their eyes were well and truly opened to the wonders of the world.

They made sure to have a good time, including a lot of shopping. Well, Kasey shopped, needing an extra suitcase to bring all her new shoes back, while Karena spent all of her money on food.

“There was a lot of karaoke in Korea too,” Kasey adds with a laugh. “But I don’t want to reveal my signature song…”

“It’s Mamma Mia by Abba,” Karena quickly supplies, rolling her eyes.

Their new show takes the sisters all around the world, beginning in South Korea.

“It’s a crowd pleaser!” protests Kasey, adding, “It’s better than her one – Down with the Sickness by Disturbed. It’s this hard rock metal song, which is actually disturbing. That’s why I’ve got to bring the light-heartedness!”

And while the duo had the time of their life during filming, they both admit to a little apprehension about being back on Kiwi screens.

“It’s not being on camera, it’s the other stuff – people knowing who you are and thinking you’re famous,” Karena says.

“We’re just two girls who happen to be on TV. I just hope that during the show, people still see us the same and they still think they can come up and say hi and all that. Jennifer Aniston is famous – we’re from Maketu! You just recognise me!”

And one upside about Kitchen Diplomacy is just that – it’s all Karena and Kasey, all the time, without judges, cook-offs and mystery boxes.

“If people don’t like us, then that’s fine,” shrugs Kasey.

“Yeah, we were definitely ourselves!” Karena laughs.

Amazingly, the sisters say they got through the months of filming without any fights, though they did break up the 10 countries with frequent trips home – “otherwise we probably would have killed each other”, Karena admits.

Breaking up filming with trips home ensured the pair didn’t fight!

But with filming of the first season over, the pair have their feet firmly planted in New Zealand for the time being – and fans will be excited to hear that yes, a new cookbook is coming!

“We’re really excited about it – we’ve learned so many new things, so it’ll be a different kind of cookbook,” tells Kasey. “And we’re more confident now in what we want to do,” Karena adds.

“It’s like we have this calm feeling. Before, we wouldn’t want to say the wrong thing or sign the wrong contract and stuff like that, but now we know what we’re doing a little more so we back ourselves.”

It’s another step towards the ultimate dream, the sisters say – owning their own restaurant. But before then, more learning and travelling is on the cards for the pair.

“We’re having the time of our lives,” Karena says happily. “We’re getting paid to travel the world and learn – it’s amazing!”

Words: Kelly Bertrand

Karena and Kasey’s Kitchen Diplomacy, TV One, Sundays at 8pm.

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