Chefs’ hats are one thing. But Kasey and Karena Bird have had to don many different and unexpected hats in the year since their extraordinary MasterChef New Zealand win. As they count down the days until their debut cookbook For the Love Of... is released on April 10, the vivacious sisters from Maketu reveal they have had to be businesswomen, public personalities, publicists and accountants – as well as cooks and authors.
It’s overwhelming, the girls admit to the Weekly on a rare morning off, but it’s just the reality of their lives as New Zealand’s favourite new foodies. “Cooking is the easy part – it’s the part I miss!” admits Karena (26). “Life is so crazy at the moment,“adds Kasey (24). “We’re thinking we might have to get someone to help us. How weird is that? Having to hire staff!”
Between appearing at events and writing recipes for their cookbook and newspaper column, the sisters are exhausted – but it’s an exhilarated and happy kind of exhausted. They’re also well aware of the risk they’ve taken with the book, but then again, that’s something else they’re familiar with.
Entering MasterChef in the first place meant giving up their old jobs and their nice, normal lives, and when they won the competition, they threw caution to the wind to pursue their new culinary careers.
But it’s how they are publishing their book that’s shocked even themselves. The pair turned down the offer of a lucrative book deal, presented to all winners of MasterChef, in favour of self-publishing For the Love Of... And while it’s meant they’re utterly spent after putting together the book themselves, the delightfully stubborn sisters say it was a necessary step to take if they wanted to produce the cookbook of their dreams.
“We don’t like compromise and we don’t do things by halves!” laughs Karena. “Global publishers know what they’re doing, obviously, but working with them can be quite restrictive. We wanted to do something that was really us. It had to be personal, because for us, cooking isn’t just a few words on a page. It’s our heart and soul.”
It’s definitely a bold move, the pair agree. “It’s terrifying!” Karena confides. “If people don’t like it, there’s no-one to blame.”
“I was really uneasy about it, at first,” adds Kasey. “I don’t like conflict. But now, I’m so glad we’ve done it.” With dozens of pictures of Maketu and many family recipes included, the book is deeply personal. But when you take a look at the credits page – where you’d normally see lists of editors and writers – it reads more like a who’s who of their extended family. “Five aunties, Mum and Dad, and about 20 other amateurs!” counts Kasey, adding that there were a few professionals involved as well.
Ironically, it was the girls’ father Kerry who first suggested self-publishing. It’s a big turnaround from the man who originally wasn’t keen on his daughters entering the reality cooking competition. “He’s the person who told us we could do it ourselves,” Kasey says with a smile.
“We had so many people telling us that we were silly to give up the deal. But things aren’t as difficult as people make them out to be.” The girls turned to “The Bank of Dad” to fund the book, with the promise that their first paycheck would go straight back to Kerry.
They often talk about family and how much it means to them – and the fact that nothing’s changed when it comes to their whanau is a saving grace for the girls, especially when they get back to Maketu after a hectic week in Auckland. “The other day, I had to run down to the shops and I was wearing baggy shorts and an oversized basketball singlet. And it was cold, so I threw on the first thing I could find – a fur jacket. Couldn’t do that in Auckland!” Karena laughs.
The sisters are getting excited about their 30-day, 34-town tour to support their cookbook. In true Kasey & Karena style, they’re making sure they will visit as many small towns as possible. “Gore’s super-excited, apparently,” laughs Kasey. “That’s the part I think we’re most looking forward to. We still can’t believe we’ve done this. We hope that New Zealand will love it as much as we do.”
For the Love Of... by Karena & Kasey Bird, RRP$59.99.
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