Grant Allen gets a lesson from a catering master

The divine Ruth Pretty is a force to reckoned with, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. With her husband Paul, Ruth has grown the empire of Ruth Pretty Catering to an international phenomenon. Which other New Zealand caterer gets to present by invitation at the International Culinary Centre in New York? Ruth's session sold out and she had to put on a second show.

Who else manages to toast New Zealand by serving our food in Nagoya, Shanghai, Valencia and more recently being responsible for all the VIP catering at the Rugby World Cup, where the Government, the International Rugby Board and the NZ Rugby Union trusted her to host a multitude of international visitors?

Only Ruth Pretty, who still has her feet on the ground and is very much in charge of her kitchen.

The thing about Ruth and Paul's operation is that if you engage them, no detail will be overlooked. They have the experience, skills, staff and an office nerve centre (including a test kitchen) to ease a smooth passage. They can take care of everything. While this may sound advertorial, it is the truth.


I have attended Pretty-catered functions on large scale and small, and each has been seamless.

I worked for Ruth during the Rugby World Cup and can attest to the fact that she runs these fabulous events totally hands on. She is in the kitchen with the overview in her head; nothing happens unless she says so. She also has a physical check list to tick off and, as a list maker, I totally get this as a means of organisation.

I loved the opportunity to be part of this this slick operation; it's a joy of working with consummate professionals.

A recent visit to Ruth and Paul's base north of Wellington at Te Horo, Springfield, exemplified her approach . While Ruth hosted, taught and entertained her Christmas class, Paul and the team were working backstage to dispatch other functions.

The Christmas classes are very interactive. The production kitchen is converted into a teaching kitchen. Recipes are demonstrated, tasted then eaten as a slap-up lunch.

Ruth's background as a trained actress came to the fore. She is natural on stage. Later in the class a "wild goose chase" through the Springfield paddocks is led by Ruth, finishing at an outdoor country bar.

Drinks over, a barn door is raised and a Kiwi Christmas scene is revealed. We sit down to enjoy succulent lamb in a parcel, as demonstrated in class earlier, and the best icebox cake ever.

Springfield is Ruth and Paul's home, but merges into a venue. The productive home garden supplies the catering kitchen and a shop. Local growers are enlisted to provide strawberries with stems, and "fresh as" greens.

Ruth's father was a genial local grocer before retirement and I see Ruth channelling him as she fussed around her shop, tidying up displays.

I know Ruth and Paul from old Wellington days. It was such a pleasure to catch up with them. We sat around after the class, ate a simple pasta that Ruth made, drank lovely wine from Paul's cellar, and stayed in one of their gorgeous cottages.

The secret of their success? A totally client-focused approach that is warm, encompassing and hands on. Nothing is too much trouble. Theirs is a lesson to be learned by all service providers.

Ruth jokingly suggests that her empire is based on sandwiches. Mirth aside, who doesn't love a tasty samo? Here she shares some of her favourites from her new book, Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home: Chicken and rocket club sandwiches, salmon and endive club sandwiches, tomato, prosciutto and basil club sandwiches and sandwich mayonnaise.

Visit Ruth's website at