Mum-of-two Hera Te Kurapa is a queen of the kitchen – and TV bosses are tipping she'll soon be our very own "Maori Nigella Lawson"!
Hera, 36, is flattered to be compared to the famous English chef, but she says she has more of an appetite for two local culinary celebrities – MasterChef 2014 winners Kasey and Karena Bird.
"They opened up the doors for other Maori women to come out on top in this area," explains the budding culinary host. "They pulled down barriers and made it easier for me to step into this realm."
Like Kasey and Karena, Hera got her big break on a reality TV cooking contest, when she paired up with her mate Tash Whitewood on My Kitchen Rules in 2017. And just like the two sisters from Maketu, Hera is getting her own cooking show, called Easy Eats.
She says her time on MKR "crushed" her because of the restrictions placed on the contestants and she felt she couldn't put her best foot forward as a chef. She got a second chance after pushing the producers of Easy Eats to give her a shot.
"They wanted to know what was so special about me. I told them to just put a camera in front of me and I'd show them," she says, laughing. "I'm not like anybody else. What you see is what you get."
Born in Rotorua to a whanau that owns an oyster farm in the far north, Hera grew up watching her mother Patricia catering and feeding the masses at her marae.
"I come from a great line of cooks and was lucky to be born with a rich palate," Hera tells.
"I'm the youngest of five children and we all know how to cook. We grew up with our parents telling us that if we can't cook, then we starve, and to always cook with love."
But the downside of her love of food was that Hera piled on the weight, becoming morbidly obese.
"I took my love of kai to the extreme," she admits. "I used that passion as an excuse to be constantly eating."
Three years ago, she tipped the scales at 122kg and was warned by her doctor to lose weight for health reasons. She was also determined to set an example for her kids, son Whakaruru, 16, and daughter Ria-Maieke, 14.
"My children were following in my bad habits," she says. "I had to make changes in my life because of my babies."
Now weighing 68kg after losing a whopping 54kg, Hera says keeping the weight off is a constant battle.
"I love my kai! It's about making the right decisions. I never tell myself that I'm on a diet. I hate that word. It's about eating smaller portions."
Just like their mother, Hera's children are also good cooks, and quality time is normally spent whipping up their favourite dishes together.
This year, the whanau achieved a milestone outside the kitchen. Swapping an apron for a piupiu, Hera, her husband Christy, 41, and their kids performed for the first time as a family at Te Matatini, the Olympics of kapa haka.
Hera was the female leader for her group Muriwhenua and performed with her children, while hubby Christy took the stage with five-time champions Te Waka Huia.
"To perform with my babies and to share our stories on stage is a memory that I will always cherish," she enthuses.
Hera plans to create more precious memories by presenting Easy Eats, which has just started airing on Maori TV, for which she will be cooking restaurant-quality food with ingredients that can be found in all regular Kiwi households.
"This is a dream come true," says Hera. "Being able to cook and then having it captured on television takes it to another level. How fortunate am I that in 60 years' time, my mokopuna will be able to watch a documentation of what I love to do?"
Now living in Hamilton, Hera says every successful chef needs a wingman in the kitchen. For Hera, her rock is her husband.
A keen hunter and diver, Christy often provides the meat and fresh seafood for his wife to cook. He also gives her the support she needs on this new journey as a TV chef.
"He keeps me grounded, he's my voice of reason," Hera concludes. "When I get a fat head, he brings me down to earth and reminds me to be real."
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