It’s been a busy 12 months for Nagi Maehashi. Not only has the powerhouse behind the wildly successful RecipeTin Eats recipe blog produced her first cookbook, her new not-for-profit venture also hit its stride.
The venture, RecipeTin Meals, is now donating thousands of healthy, delicious meals to One Meal Northern Beaches as well as its city counterparts, ensuring vulnerable people in our community are well fed.
An effort that last week also earned the local a Northern Beaches Council’s Outstanding Community Service Award.
But what is RecipeTin Meals all about? We had a chat to the popular recipe-creator to find out.
When COVID first hit it severely affected food availability and volunteer food provision. The Northern Beaches’ regular food charity services, namely One Meal, simply couldn’t meet community needs and most others were forced to temporarily close. Meanwhile, vulnerable community members were particularly affected by lockdown, and the need for food relief became more acute.
The pandemic was hitting commercial organisations just as hard: Sydney chef Stephen Fixter’s catering business had ground to a halt in a matter of weeks.
Nagi, having built a profitable business through her food blog, saw a perfect win-win solution. Nagi stepped in to employ Stephen Fixter and keep his commercial kitchen running as the brand new not-for-profit RecipeTin Meals. The team had a kitchen and two employees, all funded by Nagi’s blog, and was ready to cook – all that was missing was a distribution partner.
“I was clear from the outset that I wanted to focus on what I know best – making great food – and find an organisation I could trust to get it out to the most vulnerable,” says Nagi. So she reached out to coordinator of local food charity One Meal Northern Beaches, Kim Williams, and a new partnership was born.
“It’s a perfect arrangement,” says Kim. “It’s important to Nagi that her meals go to those with the greatest need in the community, whether they’re people who have suffered domestic violence or mental health issues or kids going to school without any food. She doesn’t have the exposure to the community to know where to direct her support, so we are her conduit to the community. She now donates 2000 meals a week without any fuss or fanfare. We just couldn’t meet our community’s needs without her.”
“We value One Meal so much,” agrees Nagi. “I don’t have the team or skills or background to be able to identify who needs help and nurture. That’s the part that Kim is so good at.
He does the people side of things and we concentrate on the food side – so together we are really good!”
The RTM team has a “from scratch” philosophy, with nothing store bought and absolutely everything, down to the stock and curry paste, made in-house. “If we are going to do it, let’s do it right,” says Nagi. “These meals are going to vulnerable people and we don’t want to pump them full of preservatives and artificial food. Nutrition and deliciousness are very important to us – everybody deserves to eat well.”
Delivering to One Meal has become a huge commitment to Nagi’s entire team. “From day one,” says Kim, “Nagi said: we know the level of commitment you’ve made out there in the community and we will never let you down. If we have an oven failure or an electricity outage, we will shift into our own homes. We will always find a way.”
“If one of the guys is sick,” says Nagi, “anyone available has to drop what they are doing and step in all. My team have all had training, any of them can step in and help. We have never missed a day. Oh actually I lie! One day we literally could not get to One Meal because of the flood so we had to miss that day but we sent double meals the next day!”
We wanted to dig deeper. It’s great to give, but why so much?
“Ever since I left school, I’ve sort of been involved in volunteering and other not for profits,” Nagi told Manly Observer.
“Once I was in a position to, I knew I would start something not for profit. During lock down number three there was increased food insecurity in our community and that sort of gave me a kick up the bum to get started and actually do it. So I did it!”
“I was not going to start a food bank without knowing how I was going to distribute the meals. My expertise is not in providing support to like actual direct contact with those in need. I knew that my skills were going to be in actually making the meals so I needed a partner to distribute them to know who it needed to go to and to be able to manage the flow of the meals etc.
“So I actually searched quite hard for quite a long time to find the right partner and One Meal were actually the perfect fit because they are the ones in touch with the community. And yeah, they have a lot of respect for the food that we provide as well. So you know, they made sure nothing goes to waste and it all gets distributed fairly and that’s exactly what I was looking for. So it’s great. It’s perfect. They work to their strengths and I work to my strengths.”
Nagi is at pains to point out that while their work is highly valued and a great contribution, the community volunteer work and community-provided meals, the work One Meal has been doing for years, is still doing the heavy lifting. “We just provide a bit of consistency, a bit of volume,” she said.
The need is still there, perhaps increasingly so, for volunteers to help with a variety of roles to ensure our most vulnerable have their basic food and nutrition needs met. Or for the time poor, donations are always well received.
Get involved: One Meal is always looking for volunteers to help deliver Nagi’s delicious meals as well as help out in the One Meal kitchen with cooking and managing food donations.
One Meal also provides a food service in Manly in Sundays at Gilbert Park where cooked meals and servers are always needed.
More information at https://www.onemeal.org.au/