There’s something particularly fabulous about Beth Brash. It could be the art adorning the walls of her inner city apartment, the plants that “are thriving through sheer negligence”, or the dirty martini she offers me on arrival.
Somewhat of an oracle in Wellington’s foodie scene, Beth was originally drawn to food because of her mother’s curious disposition, she says. Her parents lived in a kibbutz in Israel at one point, and when the family lived in a small town in Otago they’d host elaborate Lebanese dinners, for example.
Studying theatre and film at Victoria University, she found herself watching more Anthony Bourdain travel documentaries than studying. After university, she ventured to Melbourne, Japan, and then London. The small Japanese village she’d lived in was internationally famous for its ramen.
“I was shocked in a negative sense. I couldn’t understand why the ramen was so bad and then I had the sad realisation that I never knew what I had until I was gone.”
Once Beth came back to New Zealand, she and her sister launched a food blog, Eat and Greet, as a side-hustle in 2012. The interview-style platform became very popular, very quickly, garnering around 1000 views per post. It was a sweet spot at a time that predated Instagram and influencer culture, she says. In fact, just a year earlier, the New York Times boasted that Wellington had more bars, cafes, and restaurants per capita than New York City.
“I didn’t feel qualified to review restaurants but I just wanted to walk into [local eateries] and be treated like a regular. By asking ‘why do you do what you do?’, the blog put the power back in the hands of the chef. I truly believe that food tastes better when you know the story behind it.”
When she put the blog to bed in 2015, having cultivated many relationships in the process, a managerial role with Beervana – New Zealand’s annual beer festival – came up around the same time. Thanks to white-knuckled hard work, Beth delivered the festival in 10 weeks. The year prior, Beervana saw 7000 patrons through Wellington’s Sky Stadium. Three years later, there were 14,000.
What was it like to be one of just a few women in a male-dominated industry? It was regularly having to justify herself, and her expertise, which was tedious at times, she says.
“I remember I was having dinner with people high up in the industry and one was perplexed, saying ‘wow, you really know your beer’. Well, duh. It’s my job.”
But it’s the element of surprise, proving people wrong, and exceeding expectations that tickles her. The real issue was having to find a hobby outside of going to the pub, she says.
“There’s an enormous pursuit of knowledge but I’m the type of person that wants to get to a point where I can say, ‘yeah, I can do that’. I’ll make a decent sourdough or a bowl out of clay but I don’t care about the temperature of my starter or making my own glazes,” she says.
That’s the key to Beth’s success – she loves fixing things and working things out and once systems are in place the quality is there – it’s time to bring in fresh blood. This was the case in 2018 when she joined Wellington On A Plate.
The festival started in 2008, when co-founder and director Sarah Meikle was tasked with bringing the city to life in August – traditionally one of the slowest months in hospitality. Twelve years later, it’s the busiest time of the year for the capital, second only to Christmas, Beth says.
At the heart of Beth’s role as programme manager for the festival, hosting more than 120 events, 200 burgers, 70 cocktails, and 60 dishes, is crisis management. Having ADHD means her problem-solving skills and “blue-sky” strategic thinking are ideally suited for the fast-paced festival.
“People say to me, ‘how can you be so calm right now?’ But it’s in the chaos where I thrive. And people can’t believe that I have ADHD because I can be organised. I’ve always had a hyperactive, restless brain but there are so many misconceptions about ADHD. I’m not a ‘details’ person and it’s liberating to admit that. If it’s strategy and big-picture stuff, that’s what I’m good at, but I’m not necessarily going to pick up spelling mistakes.”
With cooking shows saturating the market and Covid forcing people to stay at home, you have to question whether the food revolution is dead. “Absolutely not! Sure, I can buy a coffee machine and order food online but the true essence of hospitality and connection will always exist.”
Beth remembers venturing to Newtown’s Mason restaurant after one of the lockdowns. “It was like I was travelling to a different city at a different time. It was so exciting to have someone choosing wines for you and telling you about the story behind the food. Food almost breaks down barriers and you connect with people on so many levels. It’s hard to define but it really feels like magic to me. Good hospitality is like paying for the privilege to hang out with people behind the food. It gives me life.”
Would Beth ever go on a diet? “Once I had to do an elimination diet. I was so miserable and sad. It made me realise how much joy food and [alcohol] brings to my life.”
Bites with Beth
Last meal: “I’ve been perfecting my roast chicken the last few years. There’s something about simple things done well that excites me.”
Guilty pleasure: “A McDonald’s Big Mac. You can eat them without teeth.”
Favourite cocktail: “Vodka dirty martini, obviously.”
How do you take your coffee: “Flat white with ‘normal’ milk – it feels retro now.”
Sweet or savoury: “Savoury all the way. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. There’s a world of opportunity with savoury.”
Pet peeve: “People saying they don’t like to eat something when they haven’t tried it.”
Thoughts on coriander and parsley: “I don’t understand how they can be polarising. It’s not a meal without them or any fresh herbs.”
No-goes: “I struggle with soggy bread dishes – bread and butter pudding, French toast,
panzanella. It’s been thrilling to realise as I tend to eat anything.”
Wellington On A Plate runs for the entire month of August. Visit visawoap.com for more information.