Gordon McKenzie prepares trays of chicken pasta bake ready
to be frozen and dispatched to customers. Photo by Stephen
Running a catering business in Dunedin may be a far cry
from being executive chef in a swanky hotel in the Maldives,
but Gordon McKenzie could not be happier.
Not only was he busy catering for everything from weddings to
corporate events, but he recently diversified into the frozen
He believed the delivery of ''good honest food'' to
customers' doors had nationwide - and even possibly export -
After 23 years working in hotels overseas, including having
70 staff working under him, Mr McKenzie (54) returned to New
Zealand in 2010 with his wife Fia and young son Qwenton (now
8) and settled in Dunedin.
Originally from the small rural settlement of Dipton in
Southland, he took an apprenticeship at the Kelvin Hotel in
Invercargill in 1977 and also did courses at Otago
Polytechnic, later returning to the hotel as head chef.
By 1987, Mr McKenzie realised he needed to ''get out into the
big world'' and he headed overseas, working in Australia,
Malaysia, Vanuatu, the Maldives and American Samoa,
encountering two tsunamis along the way.
He became the first New Zealander or Australian to be
executive chef of a Sheraton Hotel in Australia, which was in
After more than two decades overseas, and the need for
schooling for Qwenton, the decision was made to return to New
He believed the couple ''just got lucky'' when the
opportunity arose to buy bbcatering, in partnership with
another couple, Tim Mackie and Tara Namana, from Bede
He preferred catering to working in restaurants and the
business specialised in ''going anywhere'' for catering jobs.
It was not unusual to cater for three weddings in a weekend
during the wedding season - or occasionally even four - which
was managed by having good casual staff, he said.
They decided they needed to diversify, giving them something
to do in the off-season, and that was where the idea of
frozen meals stemmed from.
Mrs McKenzie initially thought about tertiary students - with
so many in the city, they pondered what they could do for
them that was not expensive.
They trialled frozen meals with students, and others
''cottoned on'' to it, particularly older people, and he
realised there was potential, not just in Dunedin but
throughout the South Island and even nationwide.
The North Island market was something that they would tackle
''later on'' and, long-term, there was even the possibility
of export, he said.
He described the meals as ''good honest food'' with the menu
comprising the likes of chicken pasta bake, roast beef with
roast vegetables, which was very popular, corn beef with
mustard sauce, and shepherd's pie.
They could make anything, depending on requests. At the
moment, they were selling between 160 and 200 meals a week.
While they ''haven't quite cracked'' the student market, they
were optimistic about the future.
The meals were delivered to the door, by themselves in the
city and by courier further afield, and they kept frozen, he
Mr McKenzie enjoyed a challenge and also building up towards
a target. While the frozen meal side was a good challenge,
nothing was sacrificed in the business and catering for the
likes of weddings remained a very important part.
''I like to keep busy. At this stage in my life, I couldn't
be happier. I don't think about retirement, I'll still be
doing this when I'm 90,'' he said.
Ms Namana looked after the service and administration side of
the business, while Mr and Mrs McKenzie were in the kitchen
of their Hocken St premises.
They had the flexibility of working around their personal
life and, if he wanted to duck out to attend assembly at his
son's school, he was able to, something he would not have
been able to do when working in the big overseas hotels, he