Celebrity News

Nadia’s family are finally reunited: ‘I savour every micro moment’

As her family rallies around, the celebrity chef talks to writer Emma Clifton about her biggest challenge yet, being on the brink of burnout and the life lessons that tragedy has taught her.
Photos: Emily Chalk

Nadia Lim is worried about the approaching winter. Unusually so. As co-boss of the sprawling 485-hectare Royalburn Station, which has 32 staff, 4000 lambs, almost 8000 chickens and literally millions of bees, there is always a degree of apprehension about the dramatic dip in temperatures.

But this season has brought with it some more new arrivals – her mother Julie and her sister Jasmin have just moved from Auckland to their new house in Otago, which they’ll share with Jasmin’s husband Roman and their two young children. And that first South Island winter, Nadia says, is “a real shock to the system”.

This big move down south had been just a whisper of a dream plan for all three women over many years. But in the end, the ball started rolling very quickly in late 2023. Now, after almost five years of living apart from her mum and sister, Nadia is just 15 minutes away from them.

The anticipation for their first Mother’s Day together in Arrowtown brims with excitement for their new journey. Even if Nadia, 38, has put the fear of God into them about what to expect from a southern winter.

“I’ve tried to warn them. I’ve probably scared them a bit, actually,” laughs Nadia, sitting in the cosy kitchen of her picturesque rural property. “But it’s best to under-promise and hopefully overdeliver!”

However, imminent frigid temperatures aside, the family move down south has come at a great time. Nadia’s husband Carlos Bagrie has just been awarded a once-in-a-lifetime Nuffield Farming Scholarship. It’s a true testament to his agricultural skills and what the pair have created at Royalburn.

With sons Bodhi (left) and River.

But it also requires months of overseas travel. That’s the tricky part considering there’s the farm to take care of, plus his and Nadia’s three young sons, Bodhi, seven, River, five, and Arlo, one.

Of course, the couple are no strangers to big professional challenges. But, their days as co-founders of My Food Bag have paled in comparison to the sheer scale of taking on the relentless work of running such a large farm. And this year is another level of complexity.

Fortunately, the reinforcements are here! And if you’re blessed with a mother like Julie Lim, you can see why Nadia is counting her lucky stars that help is now just a short drive away.

The village arrives

For a very long time, the MasterChef New Zealand champion has been flying the flag for her family to move down to Arrowtown. Her little sister Jasmin, 32, laughs, “Every time we visited, Nadia’s always been like, ‘Oh, I think you’d love it down here. You have all the luxuries that you have in Auckland down here,’ but I never really believed her.”

Yet every visit, Jasmin started to change her mind more and more. There’s an ever-growing number of nice cafés and restaurants, good playgrounds for their kids, plus the straight-out-of-a-movie scenery.

After years of thinking about it, the family started taking the idea of moving more seriously. Just before Julie’s visit last November, the discussions intensified. Nadia recalls, “They kicked into action very fast. It was within a matter of weeks… They found a house and flew down to look at it, then the next thing you know, their own homes were on the market.”

From left: Mum Julie, late dad Ken, Nadia, husband Carlos, brother Jason and sister Jasmin.

For Jasmin, her husband and their two children, Ziggy, three, and Lenny, two, a bit of fortuitous timing saw them selling their house to the couple who had missed out on buying it last time. They then moved in with Julie, 65, to help her sell the family home, before all shifting down permanently this April.

“I started downsizing almost immediately,” Julie says. This is no small feat – she’d been in the family house for 35 years. But she’s remarkably calm about the whirlwind the past few months have been.

When she and her late husband Ken were a young couple with three very small children – Nadia, Jasmin and their brother Jason – they sold everything and moved to Ken’s native Malaysia for seven years. So upping sticks to a new community at 65 is nothing to get too stressed about.

Ken inspired Nadia’s love of fresh ingredients and cooking.

This preternatural calm is a trait she shares with her eldest daughter. Nadia says, “Mum and I are very similar in that we’re both up for new adventures. We’re both adaptable and flexible. My dad probably wanted to find a bit more control in everything, whereas Mum is very go-with-the-flow.”

When asked what she was most excited about with the move to Arrowtown, Julie doesn’t hesitate with her answer: “Helping out.” She’s an incredibly hands-on grandmother to all her grandkids. It was a role she always wanted to have, Julie says.

Back when she herself had three young children and was working full-time, Julie had her own mother, Kathleen Chadwick, around to help out. But Kathleen was elderly and as devoted a grandmother as she was, she wasn’t able to be as reliable as she would’ve liked. “I said to myself back then that I would really want to be able to help out my children when they had their own kids,” Julie says.

Since then, she has consistently fulfilled that commitment, typically caring for at least one grandchild daily. “It’s almost like being a parent again,” Julie laughs. “Only I can retreat when I want to. I can just disappear.”

It was always the plan that Julie and Jasmin would buy a house together in Arrowtown. A testament to just how close-knit this family is. “I don’t know how I would survive without her,” Jasmin says. “I think my sister is really looking forward to having Mum so close as well. We are so incredibly lucky to have Mum.”

Embracing chaos

The move also ensures that the young cousins now get to grow up together – Jasmin’s two sons joining Nadia’s three. A clear indication of what life with this rough-and-tumble group of young boys is like is that Jasmin and Nadia both use the word “chaos” to describe the tribe.

“Nadia seems to thrive on chaos, but I can’t quite do it to that level,” Jasmin laughs. “I often say to people, ‘I don’t know how Nadia does it.’ She does so much and gives so much to people. She’s just nonstop. I’ll call her and she’ll put me on FaceTime. I’ll ask, ‘What are you doing?’ and Nadia will be like, ‘Oh, just making 300 caramel slices for tomorrow.’ I can’t do that. I need sleep!”

Nadia is somewhat resigned to life being permanently full-on. “I like to be organised, but I’m definitely not a perfectionist,” she insists. “I need to have a rough plan, but I’m very flexible and adaptable.” Besides, she’s realistic about the path she’s taken. “It’s always going to be chaos.”

There are two things that have somewhat prepared Nadia for the get-stuck-in life of parenting and farming. Winning MasterChef in 2011 catapulted them to sudden fame, accompanied by a steep learning curve.

Nadia Lim with mum Julie and sister Jasmin
On the same path with Julie and sister Jasmin, who have both moved to Arrowtown.

“As you get older, you realise there is no point in getting stressed,” she says. “If no one’s dying, chances are the thing you’re stressing about is not actually as big as you think it is. You have to train yourself to think that way, though, and I’ve been trained pretty well from suddenly being thrown into a lot of situations that were out of my comfort zone since my MasterChef days. I had to learn to actively put myself into the calm zone.”

There’s a reason that comparison has come up because 10 years ago, someone was dying. Julie’s husband Ken, the beloved father of Jasmin, Nadia and Jason, died of cancer in 2014. It brought the tight-knit family even closer. “We really make sure that we look after each other,” Nadia says.

It also set a new bar for what really counts as stress. She explains, “It was a reminder that life is short and your time is finite. You’ve got to put a smile on and get things done because you don’t want to fall into a trap of being a victim. As soon as everything is too hard, it can be a slippery slope.”

But far from wanting to push some impenetrable superwoman persona, Nadia is very frank about just how full-on this phase of life can be. She is currently “in survival mode”, she says. With three young children and a multi-faceted farming enterprise that is basically a small village, that ever-elusive work-life balance seems more impossible than ever.

Royalburn Station runs big events, and has its own abattoir, butchery and shop. It supplies produce to 100 local cafés and restaurants from its 1.6-hectare organic market garden, and produces 1000 tonnes of grain and seed.

Oh, and there’s also the filming of the successful series Nadia’s Farm, the second season of which is now screening on Three, that also fills up the schedule. Nadia sums it up simply, “At the moment, there is no time for anything that isn’t family or work, which is not very healthy long-term, but that’s just the phase I’m in at the moment.

Nadia Lim holding up baby Arlo
Dream baby Arlo had his besotted mum thinking about a fourth child… briefly!

“When you have kids, you really understand that phrase, ‘Everything is a phase.’ It gives you a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. You just get through it by knowing that it won’t last forever.”

This is also the reality of having a third child. “You have less time and you’re more stretched, but mentally, you’re far calmer about it. You’re that bit more mentally prepared.”

Nadia took six months off work when Arlo was born in 2023 – as much as you can actually take time off when you’re self-employed on a working farm – and she reveals that “honeymoon period” was so strong that she and Carlos, 38, genuinely considered trying for a fourth child.

“I had my hormone-tinted glasses on,” she admits, adding that she was 95 per cent sure she wanted another baby, but that figure started dwindling as soon as she went back to work. Now? “We’re definitely done!”

Breaking point

Nadia’s very excited by the new reality of having more family around them – both for the young cousins to spend time together, and having her mum and sister so close. Having all hands on deck is a necessary one because the current situation requires a tremendous juggling act to make it work.

“Carlos going on this trip has been amazing timing for him,” Nadia says. “Both of us have been working so hard, and the farm is a huge, huge undertaking with the number of projects we’ve taken on and the number of staff we have. He was definitely stressed – and risking getting to breaking point – so the trip was amazing timing… for him.”

To realise their future agricultural dreams, Carlos is travelling the globe for knowledge.

The flipside of that, Nadia admits, is that it’s hard to be the one left at home. “I was also very close to burnout, so it’s not great timing for me. But we decided that it was still better timing overall. If both of us were here getting close to burnout, then something would crack, so it’s good that at least one of us can get away.”

The scholarship means three long stints of being away from the family for Carlos. The second period, which is the longest one, will hit just as winter arrives. But there has been an unexpected glimmer of a silver lining to this time apart.

Carlos is spending time across Brazil, Europe and Africa, while Nadia is parenting three boisterous boys. Due to the incompatibility of the different schedules and time zones, their best form of communication has been email. And months of good old-fashioned letter writing has meant there has been more time spent communicating as a couple than they were used to in the full-time chaos (there’s that word again!) of raising three children while running a huge farm.

“As I said to him in one email, what a dumb strategy it has been on both of our parts to not prioritise our time together and our relationship,” says Nadia. “Because everything and everyone – the farm, our business, our dreams, our goals, our families, our children and our staff – relies on the strength of us. Sure, there are all these other things to do that seem like a priority. But in the long game, all of those things will fall over and crumble if we’re not strong together.

“Your relationship can be at risk of being shaky because it’s slowly simmering away in the background, coming up to a boil. But it’s so hard when you don’t have time for yourself, let alone time to spend
with your partner.”

Separated for too long, they yearn for each other, prompting plans for more date nights upon Carlos’s return. “I really realise that we have to make a concerted effort to book in that time,” she says.

Facing the future

Next year, Nadia and Carlos both turn 40. They’ve set a big goal for themselves to be the fittest they’ve ever been as they head into their fifth decade. Meanwhile, we anticipate surviving in this mode for a while longer. For instance, Nadia jokes that the reason there’s no new cookbook on the way is because her current cooking strategy is to “get the food on the table now so the kids don’t lose it”.

In the long-term, she and Carlos have ambitious dreams for agriculture in Aotearoa. A hope that we might become the destination of choice for people who care about food and farming, in the same way that people travel to Italy for the culture and cuisine.

Nadia Lim and husband Carlos
Date nights are back on! Being apart has given the couple new clarity. “Everything relies on the strength of us.”

In 2024, managing a farm involves monitoring weather changes and adapting to climate-related regulations. It’s a big part of what Carlos is currently learning while on his scholarship.

But in the short-term, there’s the recent arrival of family to help add a childcare buffer to the current system. And Nadia’s dreams are much, much simpler. She smiles, “If Mum can come here after the boys are asleep and watch a movie while Carlos and I go for a walk… What a luxury that will be!”

It’s a small, achievable luxury – the kind you aim for when time is your scarcest resource. Nadia literally has no time to entertain the self-care tips typically offered to busy individuals like herself.

“Take 30 minutes a day to meditate? I wish! Like no fricken way is that going to be possible at the moment.” But pausing throughout the day to notice the good surrounding her fosters a similar outcome.

Nadia Lim leaning on fence beside her black dog

“It’s key to observe and take in those micro moments,” Nadia reflects. “It might only be two minutes, but when I’m doing the dishes, I might look outside. I’ll think, ‘Gosh, this is beautiful, isn’t it?’ Those tiny little observations and moments throughout the day, they all add up.”

Her sister and mother nearby, and many date nights ahead, those moments may grow less fleeting this year.

Nadia’s Farm is on Wednesdays at 7pm on Three and available on ThreeNow.

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