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Zoe Bingley-Pullin – Falling in Love With Food

By Dan Hutton on May 1, 2015 in People

Photo: Jeremy Greive

Photo: Jeremy Greive

Where are you originally from?
I was born in Perth. My parents worked in the travel industry, so we moved around a little bit. We moved to Melbourne and I was there for about three or four years, and then we came to Sydney. We moved to the North Shore when I was about six and I grew up in that area. After school I moved to London, then to France, back to Sydney, a little disillusioned, then back to France, and then I came to the Eastern Suburbs pretty soon after I moved back from Europe.

How long have you been living in Bondi for?
We’ve now had our house for six years in Bondi. Before that, I lived in Kings Cross for about four years.

What do you love about the area?
I’m a pretty relaxed person, but I need to get things done. I’ve always had my own business and I like to manage my time as well as I possibly can, so I love the fact that I can have what I love in nature, which is the beach, and also have the convenience having of amazing restaurants nearby, because we like to eat out a couple of nights a week.

Do you have to leave Bondi often?
Not really. I work from home. It’s a really nice balance now. I did have an office for 12 years in the city, which was awesome and I really enjoyed it, but it beat me down after a while.

Do you have any favourite local haunts?
Bondi’s Best, Messina, Da Orazio Pizza + Porchetta, Raw Bar; I love the Hill and Porch and Parlour too, but I just can’t handle the wait, to be quite honest. Organic Republic Bakery is my favourite coffee place. I also love the butcher, Macelleria; they do amazing burgers and meat.

What gets your goat about Bondi?
I never had any issue until I became a mum. I never would have even thought twice about this previously, but that seven-ways roundabout nobody stops up at really gets to me. I wait there so long for a car to stop to let me go through with the pram, and nine times out of ten they don’t. I’m like, ‘Chill out, we’re by the beach’.

How did you first develop your passion for food and nutrition?

My mum was an amazing cook and I was a hungry kid. I was 178 centimetres, so I’m a tall bird. I was this height at 12 years old. I was gangly, skinny and hungry, and because I had a really healthy household – there were no snack foods in my house – you had to make food if you wanted to eat it. Being hungry, I was always eating. I’ve decided the reason I wasn’t very popular in school is because no one wanted to come to my house because there was nothing to eat. You had to be resourceful. I had dyslexia as a child and I still do, so it was really hard. I was in detention and I was in trouble more than I was ever in class. School was really hard; it really got me down. I went through stages of being quite depressed at school and it was a bit of a contradiction, because I think everyone thought I was kind of quite cool and aloof, but I wasn’t. When I came home, it felt really good to be good at something. When I was making food, it felt really positive. You got to eat it and it was joyful. Dinnertimes were very sacred at our house. We always sat down as a family and we always helped mum make the food. It was a really beautiful foundation that made me have confidence.

You studied at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London; did you ever work as a chef?
No, I worked as a chef in catering when I came home from Europe, but never in a restaurant. I knew I’d never cut it, to be really honest. I did a year in London and then I got an amazing job working for a lady in the south of France. She would bring people over from America and all around the world and we’d give them a culinary experience in her villa. I just fell in love with food, and I really fell in love with the shopping, the cooking, the tidying and the talking. My French is so bad, but somehow I always used to have great conversations with these people because we were talking the same language: that universal language of food. That transcends anywhere you go in life and you can talk to anyone. I did that and then I came back to Sydney, and I was really freaking out here. My dad’s a really good, logical person and he said, “Just go back, don’t stay; you’re not ready – Sydney is not for you.” I had gotten into quite a lot of trouble in those my couple of years at school and I led myself down a really bad path. It freaked me out that I was going to fall back into that bad sort of circle again, and I didn’t have the willpower, so I did another stint in France and came back at the beginning of 1998 and felt really good. I studied nutrition and everything I did in nutrition, I got top marks for because I was there for the right reason.

Do you think the industry needs to be better regulated?
Absolutely I do, and this is the question of dietetics versus nutritionists, and it’s a question I get asked regularly. The thing is, you absolutely need to regulate an industry where information is being freely sought by people. The Dieticians Association of Australia should recognise nutritionists of a certain level of experience and a certain level of academic qualifications. I think that’s really important, because we have a slightly different perspective. We can give a different viewpoint and give more of a lifestyle viewpoint because we know what’s happening on the ground.

In the wake of the recent dramas surrounding nutrition ‘experts’ Belle Gibson, Jess Ainscough and Pete Evans, do you worry about the future of the industry?
I think any conversation is a good conversation, personally. If we’re talking about health it’s a good thing, because we do live in an age of information. We can’t be naive in any way to think that one thing alone is the best thing. You do need to make sure that you’re not overly influenced by the wrong information, though, and that’s sometimes where it can get confusing. My theory is you can eat what whatever you want, as long as you’ve got that correct foundation and you’re getting your five servings of vegetables, two serves of fruit, some lean animal or vegetable protein, a mix of complex carbohydrates and low GI foods, beneficial fats and lots of water. And that you’re not overeating, of course.

Do you think the food industry has become a bit too pretentious?
Yes, I do. What’s happening now is that there’s the perception that to be healthy you have to be wealthy. You’ve got to eat organic and you’ve got to have grass-fed beef; it’s a load of BS. My aim is to just make a person one step healthier than they currently are. If I can take you from canned to frozen, that’s a positive step. Recently I’ve been working for Only About Children Day Care, and I’m helping to develop their nutrition plan. There are parents who have a paleo viewpoint and are trying to indoctrinate that into their children. I don’t think they should do that, because already we’ve got kids with a finite view of how food should be. Food is fun; that is all. Food is not going to make you have a better sex life, it’s not going to make you richer. It’s really important that we just create a very calm, consistent message out there, because I’m hearing kids as young as seven who are commenting on their weight, and that really frightens me.

You’re the co-host of Good Chef, Bad Chef on Channel 10; what’s the premise of the show?
We choose a topic each episode; it might be Italian food, for example and Adrian [Richardson] will cook the indulgent Italian and I’ll cook the healthy version of an Italian meal. It might be specific, such as pasta, but normally it’s a little more open ended so that we can actually create something ourselves. It’s set in a kitchen environment, and it’s very relaxed and conversational. I film in Melbourne, so it’s a huge transition. I uproot my life and I go down there. I’m lucky I’ve got a great husband who is wonderfully encouraging of my career. Last year I took my daughter Emily with me, because she was just a baby. I had a full-time nanny. It was just so expensive that I’m going to have to think differently this year. I’m going to take a fly in/fly out approach to it. Crazy!

You mentioned your daughter, Emily, and you’ve spoken in the past about your struggle to have children and the fact that it took four years and six cycles of IVF to fall pregnant; what was that process like?
It was really horrendous because I thought falling pregnant was something I’d be able to do easily. I really did. I’ve always been healthy. I think stress played a huge part in it. I’m really grateful for IVF because I’m actually quite a chilled person now, but I had some really dark days. I had a miscarriage very early on in the game and that caused me not to be able to have children. We didn’t know that at the time. We kept trying but in the end I just thought I’d go and get everything checked out. They didn’t check my fallopian tubes but they checked what’s called your AMH – your Anti-Mullerian hormone – and that gives you an indication of how many eggs you’ve got. They said I had a level of two, and you need to be between 12 and 30. I was 31 years old at this stage and they said, “You’re not old, but we do recommend you go and do IVF.” It just felt like I’d failed. It felt like, “Hang on, I’m a nutritionist; I’m meant to know these things and this is not meant to happen to me.” I felt like it was just the start of a really slippery slide. I’d become so structured and I needed to shake that down. You become fanatical and it becomes so overwhelming. We tried everything and we fell pregnant. It was a success and then we lost the baby, and I fell into the deepest depression I’ve ever been in my whole life. It was so scary and I’m really grateful because the clinic I went to, which is up in Bondi Junction called Fertility East, they straight away pushed me onto a psychologist who I still see now. She was incredible. It was like starting again. I’d never been vulnerable. I had never really focused entirely on myself and I didn’t know how to, and I really learnt a lot. This woman gave me this beautiful piece of advice. She said: “If you don’t deal with these things, you’re going to take them into your mothering skills; you need to learn how to be vulnerable and you need to learn how to not be perfect and deal with failure – it’s just the way it is.” Every week I saw her for about six months and that was much needed. I then fell pregnant. I had the best pregnancy. I ate everything, the best quality food you can eat, fresh and very clean. I think that because of the struggle I’d gone through, the pregnancy was that much easier.

So you weren’t anxious?
When I was pregnant, no, not at all. The birth was the most full-on experience. It was a two day birth. I took every drug they would give me. I was like, “Bring it on; I need help here.” But I love being a mother. I feel like my life has got a purpose and Emily is just a lovely, lovely person.

Would you go through it again to have more kids?
I don’t think so, to be quite honest. None of the anatomical stuff affected me, so that wasn’t an issue. It was the rejection part of it that was the issue. Things become very clinical and that’s not a good thing, because we’re emotional beings. It was quite a struggle. The only reason I’d really go back to it is more for Emily, because I have a brother who I love dearly and it would be nice for her to have the same.

What trends are currently developing in the nutrition industry?
I think kale is out and radicchio is in. I am a big fan of probiotics and from a supplement point of view. I always recommend probiotics over everything else. Fermented foods are great too and wholefood, clean eating.

Are there any fads that you believe people should avoid?
I think anything that recommends you cut out a whole food group is unnecessary. It’s about trying to find the best quality produce in that food group. When I work with clients, it’s about empowering them, educating them and giving them the information they need so that they know how to take that information into their life. I’ve worked with a variety of people over the years, from sports people to famous people, to your mum at home, and everybody has a different lifestyle. There’s not one solution that’s going to fit all of them.

Why is your cookbook, ‘Eat, Taste, Nourish’, better than all the other cookbooks out there?
I love the book I wrote, but I don’t think it is the best, to be quite honest. I know what my market is, I’m not trying to be a Jamie Oliver or a Michelin Star chef. I’m trying to provide recipes for the majority of people out there. I want people in their Monday to Friday position to feel like they can actually look at my cookbook or my online program and say, “I can do that any day of the week.” It’s about making it accessible not exclusive, and it’s about making it really yummy and interesting.

You’re an ambassador for My Food Bag; what’s that all about?
It’s a meal and food delivery service that’s going gangbusters in New Zealand and has now come to Australia. They have a farm-to-plate approach and they’re really keen to give Aussies a convenient dinner option that doesn’t involve queuing or planning. My role as an ambassador is to work with the team of cooks and nutritionists to create healthy recipes to go in the bags. All the fresh produce is provided and measured to the specifics of the recipe, and they deliver it to your house every Sunday. There are three different food bags you can choose from, which are suited to different households. You’ve got a gourmet bag that really suits a couple; you have a family bag, which provides five meals and is really well tailored for families with younger kids; and then you have a classic bag, which is perfect for busy families with older kids. All the recipes are easy to follow and quick to cook, with balanced portions and the nutrition information included. The quality of the produce is incredible and locally sourced, which I think is really important.

Do you support any charities?
Yes I do; lots of them. I’m an ambassador for www.foodbanknsw.org.au and I support Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, the Conservation Society and the Worldwide Fund for Animals. When I had a child, I thought I’d migrate into children’s charities, but we’re yet to do it. We’re very passionate animal lovers in our household.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people interested in entering the nutrition industry?
Yes, it is a fabulous industry. Just be honourable. Don’t just get into this because you want to be skinny or you want to make money. It’s like any business; you have to work really hard, you have to stay on top of your game and stay on top of the information that’s out there. I believe it’s really important to stay current and be honourable. You have a responsibility to be giving the right information and not just your personal view on things.

Do you think we worry about what we eat too much?
I think we definitely over-complicate it. It’s a simple thing. I always say to people, “It’s not hard to lose weight and stay healthy. You’ve just got to eat healthy food and move more.” That’s basically what it is.

Do you have any projects coming up in the future?
I’m in the process of designing an online program. What I’ve really noticed, particularly with the TV show being aired all over Australia, is I’ve got a lot of people asking me to do consultations that I simply can’t do. I’m really excited about this because it’s very much what I represent. It’s all about having that relationship with food. It’s all about learning how to cook and having fun with it. You could have your wine if you want it, because this is not a diet. It is actually trying to educate people on how to be healthy. It’s called Falling In Love With Food and it should be out in June, and I’m really excited about it.

In an ideal world what does the future hold for Zoe Bingley-Pullin?
I feel really happy and content in my life. I feel really lucky. I would just love to continue with everything that I’m doing the way it is, to be quite honest.

You can follow Zoe on social media and join her weekly newsletter, which includes delicious recipes, interesting articles and food facts, by visiting www.zoebingleypullin.com.

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