A taste of Hawke's Bay

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The top-quality seafood, produce and wine of this coastal region keep Singaporean Ling Li Teo satisfied with her Kiwi life.

A taste of Hawke's Bay (03:09)

Yeah, I wouldn't be in a place that doesn't have any nice food probably. 

I'm Ling. I'm originally from Singapore. I'm currently based in Hawke's Bay and working for Quality Auditing Specialists as a Food Safety Auditor. 

So I graduated from Massey University with a degree in Food Technology. That was when I first got in touch with what New Zealand is all about. When I went back to Singapore, just two weeks, I got a phone call for an interview. I actually decided to come over again, just to do the interview. After I finished the interview, I actually got the job.

So when I get up in the morning, I look at my schedule and my calendar, just to see what are the job schedule for me. So before going to an audit, it's not just stepping into the store itself, we need to do all the preparation work before the audit. 

So I quite enjoy driving and seeing the sceneries around Hawke's Bay. It has lots of wineries and coastlines along Marine Parade of Napier and even Cape Kidnappers out in Haumoana. I've travelled to places that's around Hawke's Bay like Havelock North and Hastings or even Napier, doing audits at the supermarkets, cafes, or even local farms. It's mostly scheduled audits, unless they are selling so that will cause people to die. 

Usually, we just go in and look at the paperwork since the last audit and then after that we will have a reality check by walking around the department, making sure they are doing and managing things well enough to comply with the Food Act 2014. 

I enjoy cooking a lot as well, so I cook Singapore dishes. We can visit Asian groceries over here. Looking for ingredients is really a breeze. 

And then I travel around and visit the cafes and restaurants and wineries around Hawke's Bay, just to satisfy my craving for New Zealand food. A favourite cafe that I've been to would be Birdwoods Cafe. They actually have a piano in the toilet. So that was something so amazing to me when I actually first visited that cafe. Ever since then, visitors or friends visiting me in Hawke's Bay, I would actually bring them to this cafe and a lot of other places around Hawke's Bay, showing them how beautiful Hawke's Bay is. 

I enjoy visiting Elephant Hill as well. To me, at least, that's the best winery that I've ever tasted. After visiting so many wineries around Hawke's Bay, they are all very good but Elephant Hill seems to be the best of them, and I've been to Elephant Hill for almost, like, more than 20 times. 

I love all the restaurants and cafes over here. Hawke's Bay is not quite well known to visitors from Asian countries I'd say. So if you are thinking of coming to New Zealand, just do it now. Yeah, just book your air tickets now and come! 

The rolling hills and plains of Hawke’s Bay are a world away from the busy streets and skyscrapers of her native Singapore, but food lover Ling Li Teo is right at home. 

Thanks to its many vineyards and orchards, Hawke’s Bay produces beautiful food, and offers many great places to eat, she says.

“I love all the restaurants and cafés here. The best winery is Elephant Hill; I have been there maybe 20 times in my two and a half years in Hawke’s Bay. Seafood is my favourite and Hawke’s Bay is famous for its seafood as well.”

Her passion is also her job. Ling Li works as a Food Safety Lead Auditor for Quality Auditing Specialists (QAS), visiting places that manufacture, distribute or sell food, such as supermarkets, food manufacturing plants, rest homes and hospitals, to ensure that they follow food-safety laws. 

Ling's work in the community

Ling helped mentor students of Woodford House, who won the Student Product Development Challenge in 2016.

Find out more here​​

“I love eating so much that I chose a degree in food technology.”

Ling Li encountered New Zealand while studying for a Bachelor of Food Technology with Honours at Massey University (Singapore campus). Students can complete the final-year project in New Zealand – at Massey’s Albany campus in Auckland, or its home campus in Palmerston North – so Ling Li chose to finish her studies in Albany.

After two years working for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (equivalent to New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries), Ling Li decided she missed New Zealand, and moved back on a working holiday visa. But she could not find a job and moved back home, only to be offered a job interview in New Zealand two weeks later.

Finally, in 2014, Ling Li returned to New Zealand to work at meat processor AFFCO's Rangiuru plant in the Bay of Plenty. Later, she moved south to Hawke’s Bay for a job at food manufacturer Greenmount Foods. However, that job did not provide the opportunities she had hoped for.  Ling mentioned this to her former lecturer Marie Wong, who encouraged her to apply for a job advertised at QAS. Marie provided support to Ling by writing referral letters for the jobs that Ling had applied for in NZ as well.

“This has been my favourite job of all. I get so much exposure; I meet different people and look at different establishments and different processes.”

Ling Li has made the most of opportunities for professional development. She is a professional committee member of the Hawke’s Bay branch of the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology (NZIFST), and is on the organising committee for NZIFST’s annual conference. She also volunteers as a mentor at local private girls’ secondary school Woodford House, helping students to develop food products for a national competition.

“The first year I mentored them with my then-supervisor, the girls won first prize together with another college in Wellington. I was so happy for the girls.”

Outside work, making friends – particularly those her age – can be challenging, Ling Li says. “Hawke’s Bay is a little like a retirement village.”

Most of her friends in New Zealand live scattered around the country, but Ling Li does get to see them as she often travels for work and at weekends. 

“I visit Palmerston North almost every weekend to meet up with friends. We sometimes have a pot-luck meal [where everyone brings food to share], then we go to the Massey University recreation centre to play sports after eating so much!”

Being so far from Singapore and family and friends can be lonely, but messaging and video calls help to bridge the distance, she says.

“Being Asian, usually we are quite close with family, and in Singapore it’s so small, so usually we live with our families until we get married,” Ling Li adds.

“I travel back to Singapore once a year for Christmas, but it is still not enough.  I travel quite a lot around different countries as well, so I will ask my family or friends to meet me at a certain country for a holiday.” 

The warm temperatures in Hawke’s Bay remind her of Singapore’s climate, but she has a word of warning for migrants about New Zealand’s changeable weather. “It might be sunny but by noon it might be raining or cloudy or even snowing.”

People usually miss out Hawke’s Bay by travelling directly from Taupō down to Wellington rather than taking the east coast. I nag them to visit me in Hawke’s Bay. I show them how beautiful it is.​

When she’s not working, Ling Li enjoys playing computer games and cooking to satisfy her cravings for Singaporean food, and loves to visit the Hastings farmers’ market to stock up on fresh, local produce. “I did not really know how to cook before I came to New Zealand. Now I can cook Singaporean dishes when I have a craving for food from home, and finding the right ingredients in Hawke’s Bay is a breeze.”

Ling Li’s friends tell her she could also add tour guide to her list of hobbies, after showing so many groups of visitors around the area.

“People usually miss out Hawke’s Bay by travelling directly from Taupō down to Wellington rather than taking the east coast. I nag them to visit me in Hawke’s Bay. I show them how beautiful it is.”

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