Fi Greig specialises in raw, vegan and vegetarian dishes at her Sunday Cantina cafes on the Kapiti Coast. She'll show you how to make winter warming broths, breads, risottos and pimped-up salads at her sell-out cooking classes, where you get to eat what you make.
Greig's ethos is fresh and whole, and her philosophy of food has earned her many local disciples locally, who both enjoy eating her meals and attempting to replicate them.
“The name comes from my nana who used to cook Sunday roasts every Sunday, which I think really instilled my love for food and Cantina is after my favourite restaurant in Auckland’s K Rd called Coco’s Cantina," she tells Kathryn Ryan.
"They do heaps of work for the community, they have a really good ethos and their food is just super simple and delicious, which is how I really like to eat food.”
Her journey into professional cooking wasn't without its challenges. Greig had two children by the time she was 21 and she says it was her mum who encouraged her to follow her interest and establish a career. Being fiercely independent, a career as her own boss naturally beckoned, she says.
“I decided that I wanted to do cooking as I had worked in a café in my teenage life, so it came quiet naturally to me. "That’s when I decided to do the chef’s training, which I did when I was 23. And then I ended up getting a really awesome role at The Front Room, a local restaurant here on the Kapiti Coast… I worked there for six years, until I had the courage and thought I knew enough to go into business.”
It was when one of her old school friends approached her to help turn around their wood-fire pizza place that she got her opportunity as her own boss.
“Going into business wasn’t hard at that time because they had already set it up and I was just going in and doing what I love, which is food, and that was quite easy. The biggest struggle was learning how to be in business. When you decide to go into business because you love cooking, you don’t actually realise that there’s a million other things that business includes.”
She helped run Marine Parade Eatery for five years before starting her Sunday Cantina as well.
“I ended up taking over the lease of the building – Bon Appetit café was what it was called when I was a teenager – where I worked in between both of my children, and that’s the café I ended up taking over and calling Sunday Cantina.”
A gap in the market for simple, rustic, fresh food, with big, bold flavours was apparent and she set about filling the niche.
“There were a few things that I saw a really big gap in the market on the coast for that kind of eating. Another thing we do is raw, sweet stuff. So, it’s all unrefined sugar-free, dairy-free and gluten-free. There was nothing on the coast offering these kinds of things and the same with the salads.”
The popular cooking classes are the latest project - an organic idea that sprang up from a local demand.
“The lady who helps me with my marketing just said to me ‘I really want to get a group of ladies together and learn how to make your salads… So, I did one class with her and some friends and the feedback was just so awesome… Again, there was nothing like that on the Coast.”
Her cold, raw food focuses not just on taste but on pleasant and interesting textures, she says.
“I believe food is a lot more than what it tastes like, it’s about the texture and what it does in your mouth. We create different textures and we do that by using different veggies, nuts and seeds. Anything in its whole form is better. We use a lot of cumin and coriander and a lot of nuts, which we always roast because we get a better flavour in our salads.
The use of herbs is what most distinguishes many dishes and their use has been one of the keys to her success.
“I think one thing that takes things to the next level is using fresh herbs. They’re just so amazing, we have such a huge variety of them and they can take something that’s quite ordinary and plain to another level.”
The secret to making good flavoursome winter broths and bases for warm food is again, using whole, fresh foods and allowing the ingredients time to simmer and merge.
“Fresh ginger, fresh garlic, fresh turmeric… not just going and buying a lot of powders… it’s always going to bring a better depth of flavour,” she says.