Culinary tour host Peta Mathias celebrates love in her latest book but declares she'd never live with a man again. The gastro-nomad believes food and fashion are best enjoyed with quality rather than quantity.
1 Why did you decide to write about love in your new book Eat Your Heart Out?
My publisher felt that a book about love was timely, with everything that's going on in the world right now. I love dramatic love stories where it's violent and everybody dies or people eat their lover's heart by mistake, so I decided to search for unusual love stories from different cultures and times. Some are very sweet and they live happily ever after, but most are intense and tragic because those are the stories we remember.
2 As well as running a cooking school in your home in France, you also host culinary tours. Do you ever get tired of hosting people?
Everyone always asks me; "How can you be nice for 10 whole days?" Sometimes I'll slip, people push me too far, but mostly I manage it because I'm so passionate about the destinations and the food. It is very intense because they're all on holiday and you're not. Your brain's going the whole time, making sure that everything runs smoothly and everyone's happy. But New Zealanders, by and large, are easy people to travel with. They know how to muck in and get along.
3 Why do you have a tattoo of a rose on your shoulder?
I was writing a book about transformation called Beat 'till Stiff. One of the stories was about why people have tattoos and I thought I should get one so I'd know what it's like. It has La Vie en rose written around it - my favorite song. It means that you see life through rose tinted glasses, which I do, because it's not the content of your life that really matters, it's the context in which you hold it – negative or positive. To a certain extent, we're born with our temperament, but we can change that.
4 Were you always a positive person?
No, I wasn't. I wasn't a very happy child. I wasn't very popular. I was bullied, for being outspoken, for being different. When I was about 10, I thought, "This can't go on. I've got to do something to make people like me," so I looked at what the popular girls did. I couldn't see myself as one of the beautiful or brainy girls but thought I might have a shot at being a funny girl. I had an innate sense of humour inherited from my father, so I loosened up which has stood me in very good stead.
5 Did it take time to cultivate a glass half full attitude?
I went through periods in my life where I lost it and became very cynical. I had a crisis in my early 30s when I was feeling disappointed that my life hadn't worked out the way I'd expected. I thought, "Stop it. You're going down a path and it's not going to be a happy one." My parents both lived to their 90s. I thought, "You've got a lot more years to go, you can't spend the rest of them bitter." So I made myself stop thinking like that. I left my job as a counsellor, moved to Paris and became a chef.
6 You've now written 17 books. Are you planning any more?
Yes, my next one's about fashion. I did a series of Facebook posts last year called Shed Couture. I have a collection of beautiful, designer clothes from when I was doing television. I'd put on some weight but couldn't bear to get rid of them, so I put them all in boxes in my shed, hoping one day I'd lose the weight. Twenty years later that day came, so I posted photos to show how good quality, well cut clothes never go out of fashion. I'm hoping to inspire others to buy less but buy quality.
7 What happened with your weight?
When menopause hit, I put on a kilo a year until I was 15 kilos over my normal weight. Then when menopause ended, I wasn't as voraciously hungry anymore. I also started going to India where I didn't feel like spicy food three times a day so I began intermittent fasting. I don't eat between dinner and lunch. It's not as sanctimonious as it sounds because you're unconscious for a lot of it. Overeating is a habit to a large extent. We don't actually need all that food.
8 Do you still spend a lot of time thinking about food?
I do, but I go for quality over quantity. I learnt a lot living in France for 10 years. The portions we serve here are far too big. You go to a café and the muffins are ridiculous. The French eat small portions and they don't eat between meals. They have a love of food and a love of quality. Going there as a young Kiwi girl and hearing how ordinary people took it so seriously they'd spend an hour talking about tomatoes was like dying and going to heaven. The Italians are the same.
9 Growing up in Epsom, what were your parents' expectations of you?
Extremely high. My mother was a painter, so I had an artistic upbringing with singing and speech lessons and theatre and dancing, but she was also very strict and as the first child I was expected to achieve great things. I rejected all of that as soon as I left school and became a nurse. It wasn't till I was about 35 that I started doing what I should have been doing all along.
10 How did you work it out?
I drew a circle on a piece of paper with lots of little doors and labelled all the doors with things I wanted to do like write the story of my life in Paris, host a TV food show, run culinary tours. I always knew that if one of those doors flipped open, all the others would too - and that's exactly what happened. The first thing I did was the book, then a TVNZ producer read a review and called me about a show, which gave me the profile to run the tours. My only regret is not doing it years earlier.
11 Has it been hard to fit relationships around your career?
It has, because I travel a lot. In fact my traveling has been, to a large extent, either because I was running to a man or from a man. There were lots of relationships when I was younger until I just decided I had more interesting things to do with my life. I have a big family and lots of friends, so I have a lot of love in my life. I could be happy with a man again, but I would never live with one because you have to look after them. Men are more dependent than women.
12 Did your Catholic parents struggle with your single status?
God, yes. It took a long time for my mother to let go but we got along well in the end, thank God. It's important to move on from that childhood relationship. Forgive them, let them forgive you – it's got to go both ways - and then you have this nice relationship that's not based on resentment from the past. My mother and I did it when I was middle-aged and it transformed our relationship.
• Eat Your Heart Out: Love Stories from around the World, Penguin Random House, RRP $35