It's nudging four years since we last broke bread with Kasey and Karena Bird.

Actually it was pizzas we shared as they reeled from the triumph of being crowned the country's newest TV MasterChef winners (Our People special, July 12, 2015).

Then the obvious question remained. Where to from here for the Maketu sisters whose Te Arawa whakapapa (genealogy) is deeply rooted in Rotorua.?

Today we have the answer. With barely a second to catch their collective breaths post MasterChef, they've self-published two cook books, the first For The Love of Food was named the best in the world in its category at the 2016 Gourmand Cook Book Awards in China's Yantai, heading off celebrity chef Rick Stein.


By the girls' reckoning Yantai's "the Mount Maunganui of China".

If this serving of Our People was a menu listing, the sisters' compounding successes since MasterChef with the books was the entrée.

Since their publication these 20-somethings have become international culinary stars via the television series Kasey and Karena's Kitchen Diplomacy, the second instalment's recently screened, a third's on simmer.

Now it's their newly-launched The Creation Dinner that has the accolades pouring in.

It's a seven course epicurean experience paired with Māoridom's legend of the parting of sky father Ranginui and earth mother Papatuanuku to create this land of ours.

It's a fitting plot for the Birds to weave their creative degustation fine dining feast around, experts are already touting it as a Michelin star contender. The duo make a point of feasting in Michelin ranked restaurants on their quest to learn from the finest in the food business.

It was a given that Ohinemutu's Te Ao Marama was The Creation Dinner's launch pad, to the girls it "feels like home". The entranceway's stained glass is dedicated to their great grandparents, Maurice and Mattie Bird, instrumental in establishing the St Faith's parish hall.

In unison the girls confirm it was the natural place to unveil their 'restaurant will travel' enterprise.


"Being portable is exactly what this is all about, the [audio visual] story told throughout the meal is on a USB stick, the themed lighting, music, table decorations [their spiritual mountains, river and waka]. The menu's in our heads, our imagination. Deciding where we go next is the hard part, Rotorua was our prototype now we'll pack up and move around the country, the world."

 Karena Bird (left) and Kasey Bird. Photo/File
Karena Bird (left) and Kasey Bird. Photo/File

The pair have become passionate travellers. Since our last meeting they've notched up more than 20 countries for the Diplomacy series, a further seven or eight have been visited independently.

Kasey giggles about being gutted when her passport became so chocker with border stamps she had to start afresh.

When Karena had to renew hers the pressure was on this young woman well used to pressure.

"We only get two weeks between filming trips, my new one [passport] didn't arrive until the day before we were to fly out. "

Spare time's a rarity for the closely bonded sisters. Their second book Hungry was compiled between the Diplomacy series.

Smoke-filled bell jars are lifted to showcase Marlborough Wild Venison, slow cooked pork belly, smoked mash and berry jus.
Smoke-filled bell jars are lifted to showcase Marlborough Wild Venison, slow cooked pork belly, smoked mash and berry jus.

For each they went for the self-publishing route rather than accept, as part of their MasterChef prize package, a publisher doing the hard yards. It was a trade-off that gave production company Imagination first rights on a televised spin-off series.

"People told us self-publishing would be really hard. To be honest we didn't know what we were doing but it was really empowering, you can learn anything off the internet these days."

That was Kasey talking; now it's Karena's turn. "Once we started making the book we found we were building new skills, stretching ourselves against a deadline but when you're under pressure magic happens."

Moving to Kitchen Diplomacy we garner an insight into this Maketu-centric duo who freely admit they had no idea what to expect the world would offer them.

"Chile was our first country. We dressed formally to meet the ambassador, Jacqui Caine. She opened the door in jandals with Katchafire playing in the background. We kicked off our high heels, had a barbecue just like anyone would have in New Zealand."

In both series every move's been plotted for them, from market visits, home and restaurant cooked meals to cooking for host countries' top connoisseurs.


Next time round they want it to be more of a DIY affair. It's not that they are control freaks but they do want to make the series "more genuinely ours".

Out of so many countries, with such varying cuisines surely there must be one that tops their favourite list?

That's a hard one but force their hand and it's Ireland that's hard to beat. It wasn't food that formed that opinion, it was rugby.

"When the Lions were here last year we'd gone to the first test with Dad at Eden Park, we missed the second, by the third we were in this little seaside Irish place where a pub was screening it.

"We appeared with the crew in our All Black jerseys and someone yelled out "who let the Kiwis in?" That contribution's from Karena.

Kasey continues: "A local gave me a pound and said 'you have to give this back if you guys win'. After the first try he left the bar, too nervous to watch. When the match was a draw we found him outside, I gave him 50 pence so we could half share his pound. He raced off, coming back to our bus with two bottles of champagne. I think that's why we're so connected to the Irish, they share that type of Kiwi humour plus we whakapapa back to them."


Dig a bit and we discover neither's a big fan of watching themselves on TV, choosing to do so separately and away from family.

Kasey claims watching herself's "a bit confronting, after it's over we message each other for a post mortem".

The final words we share revolve around The Creation Dinner. It's set to become hot property with its international twists on the best of Kiwi kai.

"We can't help but let our international experiences shape the way we cook, the fabulous techniques we've learnt to use. We are really passionate about the sort of food that pushes our cooking abilities."

Our People would be the bones in a Kasey and Karena five star boil-up if we failed to record their insistence that their achievements are a team effort.

From the outset whānau support's never waivered.


It's still family that's let them stick to the "fun part" creating and conceiving The Creation Dinner concept.

Meet and greet hostess duties are the province of younger sister Michaela, cousin Billie-Jill Bird's responsible for the audio visuals, voiced by Te Arawa's Scotty Morrison. Toni Paul, "another cuzzie", runs front of house.

It's Ngapuhi Aunty Ngani's dough that's produced the off–the-scale fry bread tuile, and rawena rolls.

The shortbread in the take-home goodie bags is straight from Aunty Wai Morrison's kitchen.

Course wine matches come from Maori producers "to let the light shine on them".

Then there's close friend Lyn Preston (Our People, July 26 2014).


"She works with Dad [at first Sovereign Trust]. She's the person instrumental in making everything we do reality, we keep trying to poach her."

The sisters emotionally acknowledge their parents' unwavering belief in them. "Seeing their happy faces after the last dish was served confirmed their amazing vote of confidence in what we're doing."

Born: Tauranga; Karena 1988, Kasey 1990.
Education: Te Puke Primary and High
Family: Parents Kerry and Atarangi (Ata) Bird, sister Michaela Bird, partners: Karina: Ray Young, Kasey: Patuara Biel.
Interests: Both: Family, food, travel, fashion.
On their increased fame: "We still feel the same, what was important to us before winning MasterChef is important to us now. We've just got more tools in our tool kit."
Personal philosophies: Karena: "Do things right." Kasey: "Now or never."