Chef Damian Oehlrich decided something needed to change when he hit 147kg on the scales.

Now back to a healthy weight, he's bringing his philosophy on food and health to a new cafe in Whanganui.

Oehlrich has taken over the former Petre Dish cafe in Taupo Quay, renaming it The Greenhouse Aotearoa. The name of the business reflects its location in an eHaus building and Oehlrich's focus on encouraging people to eat lots of greens.

"My philosophy is to encourage more people to eat more plants, not necessarily become vegans, for the benefit of the whole community," Oehlrich said.


"It's about changing the health stats in New Zealand by encouraging good eating.

"I'll have a plant-based menu, with milk for a normal flat white the only animal product available. There is no gluten in any products in the building so it's a real bonus for coeliacs."

Oehlrich grew up in Blenheim but has family connections in Whanganui, spending many school holidays on farms in the district.

"My mum was born around Whanganui and went to school at Turakina. She is Ngati Tuwharetoa.

"I played lots of sports growing up. I was really into hockey, squash, cycling and triathlons. We were really an outdoors family. My dad was into diving and fishing. Mum was into the outdoors and liked tramping and nature."

In the early 2000s, having stopped playing sport to concentrate on cheffing, Oehlrich's weight reached 147kg and he knew he needed to do something about it.

"I researched how to build metabolism and it sparked an interest in healthy food. I taught myself. I dropped over 50kg in a year and am back to a healthy range of around 95kg. It wasn't starvation methods but looking at what the body responds to. I wanted to share that with people."

Oehlrich, whose career has mainly focused on fine dining, believes he is New Zealand's only yoga chef and cooks for yoga retreats. His new cafe shares the building with the Yoga Forme studio.

"I had been eyeing up Whanganui for a few years and I've had my eye on this building for about six months," Oehlrich said.

"I want to make this a place for people to come and enjoy good-tasting food that makes you feel good, that doesn't leave you bloated or feeling pain. I want to dispel the myth that vegetables are boring. Most of us are guilty of having an aunty who boiled the brussels sprouts until they were grey."

The menu will feature five savoury dishes, five sweet dishes, five juices and five smoothies and will change regularly, probably daily.

"I don't really like to make the same thing twice. I'll focus on foods that are good for you and superfoods. Everything will be fresh. It will be a rolling, evolving menu using whatever is good at the time.

"I'll only do five dishes but make them really good. I'm big on making it delicious and tasting amazing. I like to be creative with food and do things that aren't the norm."

Oehlrich is keen to set up some community initiatives through the cafe, particularly for children who are going to school hungry, and plans to offer good deals for Gold Card holders.

The cafe will open on Saturday, September 15, or earlier if work is finished in time. Oehlrich is still working through the details but plans to be open six days a week, probably closing on Mondays, and will open by 6.30am or 7am. The cafe will open during the day, allowing the space to be used for evening classes and events.

Oehlrich says there's a good food scene already in Whanganui and he believes it is an up-and-coming food destination.

"I think, as a community, we should sell it as one."