Cookbook author Jo Seagar says she wasn't considered thin enough to host her own TV show. The Hospice ambassador talks about having her kitchen trashed by Leigh Hart and being beaten in a fishing contest by Paula Bennett.
1 What's your new cookbook Better Than A Bought One about?
How to stage family celebrations. There's a funeral in it because, like it or not, you'll probably be faced with catering a funeral at some stage. It also has gorgeous celebrations for welcoming babies, 21st parties, Matariki and Christmas in a caravan, boat or bach. You often hear of young couples who can't afford to get married but you can have a fabulous wedding with a chicken sandwich and glass of bubbles at the beach.
2 Do you still subscribe to your catchphrase 'Easy Peasy'?
I said that once and the next thing I've got the license plates ESY PSY. My husband Ross bought them. Someone saw them and asked if I have epilepsy. I like food that's achievable. You don't need a degree in gastro-nuclear physics to make it. I love getting people together. I'll invite them first and then think what to have. I love shortcuts; four or five ingredients, give it a whisk and she'll be right mate. People don't go home and say, 'She didn't make her own mayonnaise and the glasses weren't Royal Doulton'. They do remember the warmth and the fact you were present — not out the back flambaying and crying in the kitchen.
3 Do you think our relationship with food has changed in recent times?
I've got grandchildren and it's kind of uncool but 'Shut up and eat it' seems to have gone out of the vocabulary. I've had women at my cooking schools making three different meals a night because the 6-year-old's gone vegetarian and the 10-year-old's only eating things in breadcrumbs. I mean, who's the boss? Where the hell's that gone?
4 Are we better informed about nutrition these days?
I do think people are becoming conscious of eating healthier. Ross and I eat mainly vegetable-based meals now; mostly because of the price of meat. My mother wouldn't think of serving a meal without meat whereas I might do a ravioli with spinach and feta. My neighbour is a fabulous vege gardener so we've got an arrangement where if he grows it, I'll cook it.
5 Why did you decide to relocate to Canterbury from your Clevedon farmlet a few years ago?
Friends thought we were mad but now everyone's getting out of Auckland; we were just slightly ahead of the rush. We love the South Island. You really experience the seasons. Auckland will be muggy but down there it'll be hot and dry, or cold and crisp. We live in Oxford, a village in the foothills of the Southern Alps. Ross commutes to Christchurch where he works as an accountant for the Church Property Trust. They lost about 50 churches in the earthquakes.
6 How did the earthquakes affect your café and cooking school business?
Trade dried up for lots of tourist businesses like ours. Two million tourists a year weren't coming to Canterbury. The roads were all munted. The infrastructure's just getting sorted now. It's exciting seeing the new urban culture developing, but we're a damaged people. A whole generation has been shaken and a bit bruised. There's scarring.
7 Did you ever contemplate coming back to Auckland?
No, it never occurred to me but I'd never blame anyone for getting out; especially parents with little kids. The awful thing was; when a child wakes up to thunder and lightning you can say, 'It's okay, the storm will pass' but with an earthquake you can't guarantee things will be okay. People were actually getting hurt and killed. It's a powerless feeling.
8 Will you try to restart your business now Canterbury is on the mend?
No, I loved it but tourism's seven days a week. Without that tie, I'm able to host more foodie tours overseas. I take small groups of interested Kiwis to places like Umbria to sample fabulous wines and truffles. We'll visit olive orchards, make cheese and pasta. I do a few of those each year. I write a monthly column for the Australian Women's Weekly. I'm also a hands-on granny; we have our grandsons a couple of nights a week.
9 You made your TV debut 20 years ago with Real Food For Real People. Was it hard to get your own show?
TVNZ loved the idea but it took me a long time to convince them to let me present it. They kept saying, 'We've got this 22-year-old aerobics instructor in mind'. I was kind of Aunty Doreen. I could have got quite upset about it but I thought, 'No, it's actually about real people'. When it eventually got on TV it was the highest rated thing they'd done so it was, 'Take that!'
10 You guest-starred in an episode of Speed Cooking in which Leigh Hart trashed your kitchen. Did you know he was going to do that?
I had no idea. I knew him as 'That Guy' on TV with Speedo Cops. He said, 'Just work with me. I'll get commercial cleaners'. We had no script, no prep. By the end he was cutting up furniture with a chainsaw and smoke was coming out of the waste master. Oh my god, it was funny. I sometimes get teenage boys come up to me saying, 'I loved Speed Cooking. Was that real?' The only bit we planned was that I'd end up falling into his arms but that was real too because there were three dozen eggs and two kilos of butter on the floor and I actually slipped. Months later you'd go to change a lightbulb and you'd find gunge up there. It was such fun. He's a lovely man.
11 What do you do in your spare time?
I love watching Turkish TV series on Netflix — Dizzies, they call them. I'm passionate about vintage planes. I got my pilot's licence when I was 21. I love fly fishing and game fishing; we tag and release. I was narrowly beaten by Paula Bennett in the Bay of Islands Reel Women Competition last year. I caught a 140kg marlin but she beat my time by 20 minutes.
12 You've been a Hospice ambassador for 20 years. Why this charity?
Most people don't know about hospice until you need them and that was the same with my family. South Auckland Hospice cared for my father at home through the last part of his life journey. I'd just got famous on telly for being able to whisk and hold a conversation simultaneously so I approached Hospice New Zealand and said, 'I want to be a champion for your organisation'. It's come full circle; during my nursing days I brought a lot of babies into the world. Now I'm helping with the other big transition.
• Kiwis can support Hospice by purchasing the Christmas glass bauble at their local Farmers store, with 100 per cent of the price going to support hospice services in local communities.