Putting the ring around the second of Rotorua's multi-talented Whitewood sisters
Want to meet a truly inspirational young local woman? A standing ovation, please, for Natasha Whitewood.
Not only does she deserve it, she completes the circle of creative talent Our People began to draw when we profiled her slightly younger sister, Adrienne Whitewood (April 29, 2017). Don't ask why it's taken so long to play catch up, we can't answer that, but we admit putting that ring around the two of them has been too long coming.
It encompasses them equally, both high achievers in their own right and driven by sheer determination to fulfil their divergent ambitions.
While Adrienne's creativity lies in the fashion arena, a love of food is Natasha's catalyst, along with a seemingly unrelated add-on, business management (she double majored in it and tourism).
This Whitewood's culinary skills hit the big time in 2017 when she and on-screen partner, Hera Te Kurapa, were hot My Kitchen Rules (MKR) favourites.
Natasha acknowledges not winning was a disappointment but she's skilled at turning negatives into positives.
"What MKR represented for me was a lock to which I had the key, it showed me if I could have a place on a cooking show then I could do anything I wanted, it was a significant part of my life's journey so far."
"So far" is a scant 33 years in which, like her sister, she's achieved a heap more than many, much older people manage in entire lifetimes.
With only 11 months separating them the Whitewood sisters are a super-glued duo, their rocket-fuel-fired personalities are twin-like. Natasha's the giggly one; "I love to laugh." She does - a lot.
Natasha is Adrienne's business manager for her Ahu label, a job she fuses with cooking-catering gigs and writing.
Last week she launched her first book, Beautiful Ashes at Hospice. It's a work she defines as "showing beautiful women can be birthed in spaces of brokenness".
"The kaupapa [purpose] of this book was providing the faces of women who've worked through significant issues and come out of them as beautiful people prepared to use their scars to tell their stories from their perspective and through their belief as Christians."
Subject matter ranges from suicide, rape and abuse to broken relationships, her own of eight years included.
The book's self-published, a hard slog even for someone of Natasha's business acumen.
"I was naïve thinking I could just write and self-publish this, it's turned into the biggest thing I've done, I had to sell my car to fund it, I've only achieved it with the help of people who have believed in me, supported me. As iron sharpens iron so people around me have sharpened me."
Wise words come naturally.
There's heartfelt acknowledgement for graphic artist Jonelle Marsters. "She's amazing, has brought my words to life."
Natasha's written "the end" on two further books, and an established publishing house has shown interest. "Here's hoping." One, Haratete, The Voyager, is for children, the other's entitled The Harakeke Hat. "It's about why women go through the things they do, using flax as the analogy."
The culinary part of her life's equation was far easier to achieve than becoming an established author.
She's cooked since she was 7 but her love for creating food came much earlier.
"I'd make mud pies and talk to the fence, it was my audience for an imaginary TV show, the fuel behind my passion for what was to come."
Her late Nan, Lucy Whitewood, taught her to cook just as she taught Adrienne to sew.
"My mother [Michelle Brown] became sick with rheumatoid arthritis, Nan said I had to learn to cook for my family, it was something I fell in love with, the birth of a dream."
Her father, Darren Brown, was her taste tester.
"I vividly remember making this sauce out of soy and thyme, reducing it so much it looked like Marmite, Dad was very encouraging but looking back I realise it must have been like tasting tar."
She's absorbed her parents' work ethic.
"They've always been hard working, if we needed money for things like school camps they'd have us doing a sausage sizzle, only when we'd refunded them the costs could we keep the profit for what we needed."
By her Rotorua Girls' High years Natasha's business brain had begun to germinate.
"I remember the day Adrienne and I were walking from school to volleyball developing this dream where we'd go into business together, she would design and I'd become her manager. From then on I aligned my school subjects with business and that dream's the reality we're living now."
In line with her parents' self-sufficiency ethos she supported herself through university.
"Market research, hospitality, retail, cleaning ... I have to admit I got a little bit distracted from my studies by my university social life."
Regardless, she secured that double major, retuning home for an unpaid internship with Destination Rotorua.
Her first job was at Te Wananga o Aotearoa's Hamilton campus as PA to regional manager, Brad Totorewa.
"He was an influential man who propelled me forward for the next seven years, making the wananga a huge stepping stone on my life's journey while teaching me the importance of who I am as a Māori, I only left when food re-entered my life with MKR.
"Our host restaurant segment was filmed at Rotoiti, I was so proud to show off our region, our foods and herbs."
Next achievement was that schoolgirl dream of becoming her sister's business manager, a reality she's paired with her own projects.
Brand Natasha, was launched with her book. "It pulls my passions into one space, business, consulting, writing, kai, working with the community."
Her community kete's manu (overflowing).
Last year she danced in Hospice's Dancing with the Stars, partnering this newspaper's sports writer, David Beck. "That was quite some journey, it taught me about stepping out, taking risks."
She regularly holds foodie demonstrations, becoming a Seafood Festival regular. She and Hera are guest chefs for the annual Ronald McDonald Retreat's Supper Club fundraiser. "It's huge fun," she says, "we cook at the retreat."
She's competed in the Auckland Waiters' Charity Run and in demand as a guest speaker, "developing goals and aspirations for rangatihi [youth] in our schools".
With Hera, her next major foodie gig's a biggie, catering for the hundreds attending the opening of TRENZ, the country's international tourism showcase.
Her deep Christian faith's her motivating pivot.
"It's the lens I look through to see who I am as a Māori, a woman, it's definitely my inspiration for every single thing I do."
Born: Rotorua, 1986
Education: Malfroy Primary, Rotorua Intermediate, Girls' High, Waikato University
Family: Parents Darren and Michelle Brown (daughters took their kuia's (grandmother's) surname. Sister Adrienne, new-born niece Harete Mical Mitai-Ngatai Iwi affiliations: Rongowhakata, Kahagnunu (paternal side); Ngaphihi, Ngaitai (maternal side)
Interests: Whanau, cooking, business, writing (travel blogs included) community involvement, travel, has Holy Land tour planned for year's end. "My faith, attending the Living Well church."
Favourite cook, dish, restaurant: "My Nan and her kitchen any day. Nobody will ever serve anything to me better then the crispy bits of potato left on her roast tray."
On Rotorua: "A boil-up pot of fusion and flavours."
On her life: "Too blessed to be stressed."
Personal philosophy: "Making a difference using my God-given gifts and abilities."