The base for Ruth Pretty Catering operations is the beautiful 27 acre rural property Springfield in Te Horo, on the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. About an hour’s drive from Wellington, Te Horo once was a market gardening area specialising in fresh fruit and vegetables but is now a rural lifestyle area. The home of Ruth and Paul Pretty Springfield, is also used as a venue for special events, parties and (especially) relaxed weddings.
Accomplished Chef and CatererRuth Pretty’s involvement with New Zealand’s hospitality scene stretches back to the late 1970s when she ran a ground-breaking restaurant, Marbles, in the Wellington suburb of Kelburn. After 10 busy years, Ruth decided she needed a break. Relaxing at her property in Te Horo, Ruth Pretty envisaged the potential of developing some kind of rural tourism activity combining her flair for entertaining and hospitality.
"Just as I started to miss the drama and creative challenge of working with food, my former restaurant clients were asking me to cater for dinner parties, events and weddings,” she says.
Ruth Pretty Catering was launched in 1988. Successful catering is as much about good organisation as it is about good food, and husband Paul Pretty’s organisational skills - from running his own transport company - were soon added to the rapidly-growing catering business.
An early client was the New Zealand Food & Beverage Exporters Council, which commissioned Ruth and Paul to manage a small restaurant on the New Zealand Pavilion at ANUGA, the world’s largest food industry trade fair.
"I was given a list of all the products to be promoted on the Pavilion, and asked to create a different menu for each of the five days of the fair. The small restaurant seated about 30, and was available for participating food and beverage companies to host their clients for anything from morning tea, lunch or late afternoon drinks.
"The concept worked so well that we have since worked regularly with the New Zealand food export sector, and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise,” Ruth recalled.
This linkage with promoting New Zealand’s fine foods and wines continues. In 2005, Ruth Pretty Catering was responsible for the VIP hospitality lounge attached to the New Zealand Pavilion at the World Expo in Aichi, Japan. Ruth and the team provided catering in 2010 at the World Expo in Shanghai, China. In 2006 and 2007, Ruth and her team managed a larger scale service for VIP guests at the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup campaign, in Valencia, Spain.
As with Aichi, a team of Ruth Pretty Catering staff were based in Valencia for several months, serving New Zealand foods and beverages with the trademark Ruth Pretty Catering flair. Ruth created the menus, and was on site personally for special events and to make sure everything was managed smoothly. Feedback from guests was outstanding, including comments like "Ruth’s excellent food and her young team made me proud to be a New Zealander, and our international guests were very impressed”.
Corporate hospitality ranging from executive lunches or dinners, through to promotional events and cocktail parties provide the core clientele of Ruth Pretty’s catering trade. While most of the company’s catering functions are delivered in Wellington, she does functions for clients as far afield as Auckland.
As business demands grew, so too did the staff and facilities, with a separate commercial kitchen and office block built in 1993. Ruth Pretty Catering is now a substantial entity, employing 15 permanent, 5 part-time and more than 100 casual staff. The company operates a fleet of vans - personalised under such plates as Buffet, Lunch, Dinner, Brunch, Feast, Nibble, Supper, Entree and Grill. Meanwhile, Ruth Pretty’s branded range of jams, jellies and chutneys is now sold in selected specialist stores in New Zealand.
Ruth has catered for many large functions and prestigious guests, with some recent highlights including:
The World of Wearable Arts event in Wellington since 2005 where Ruth catered elegant tasting plates and stylish dinner for 200-300 fortunate guests at corporate tables nightly and additional tasty lunch-box style finger food treats for the WOW Star packages. Ruth and the team are enjoying to catering for the WOW VIP tables and Starbags in 2016.
Guest chef at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore (2007), where Ruth created menus and supervised a successful promotion for New Zealand foods over two weeks in the hotel.
- The glittering black-tie awards dinner for the 2006 Air New Zealand Wine Awards in Hawkes Bay, which followed up the 2005 Awards dinner in Wellington, for 750 guests, including Air New Zealand’s international consultant chefs who had each designed a course. In 2008 and 2012 Ruth was again asked to cater this awards dinner in Wellington
- In 2011 for Rugby World Cup Ruth and the team travelled regularly to Eden Park in Auckland to take care of 250 very VIP guests hosted for every Auckland game in a special area in the stadium.
- Catering Director for the Pinot Noir conferences since 2001 for 600 delegates, including co-ordinating and catering culinary events over the three days and catering for the prestigious Gala Dinner. Preparations underway now for Pinot 2017 and it promises to be bigger and better than the six previous events.
- Creating and cooking a ‘Taste of New Zealand’ gourmet dinner held at French Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (2000), and being named a "Friend of the Widow” .. the champagne house’s highest honour
- The World Premiere party for the ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ movie for 2500 guests (2003), which was a lovely follow-up to catering the trilogy movie’s wrap party for 2500 guests (2000)
- The Australasian premiere for the ‘King Kong’ movie, for 900 guests (December 2005)
- Toast Martinborough food wine and music festival, in association with Ata Rangi Wines since 1996, with planning for 2016 underway which is the 25th anniversary of this special event.
- Catering a garden party for 1500 at Government House, Wellington, in honour of HRH Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh
- Frequently catering for official government functions for the Prime Minister, hosting overseas dignitaries. Most recently catering in 2014 for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
- Hosting Whittaker's cooking class with Nigella Lawson 2014.
She adds that large-scale events, such as gala dinners for up to 1000 guests or overseas promotions for New Zealand foods and beverages are both an enjoyable challenge and a distinctive part of her business. "Obviously we pull out all the stops to make sure these are fabulous for everyone, because we are very proud of the fine foods and wines New Zealand produces and it is a joy to promote them.
"We do still love our original reason for starting the business - catering cocktail parties and dinners for corporate clients, private parties and weddings. Being involved with important events in people’s lives is very rewarding and we love helping create wonderful memories for our clients. We have worked with some clients for 20 years.”
Recognition by her peers
Ruth Pretty was highly honoured in 2005 by the New Zealand Restaurant Association, with its most prestigious award: induction into the Hall of Fame. She joins an illustrious line-up of New Zealand’s top chefs, and the selection committee noted "her devotion to serving and promoting high quality food – not only in New Zealand, but internationally".
The award commendation states that "she has worked tirelessly to promote the delivery of exceptional culinary experiences, whether on an intimate scale for a few people through to catering for over 1000 guests. The disciplines encompassing the various aspects of Ruth’s catering empire reflect her professionalism and business acumen.”
Other food and cooking activities
Ruth opened the Ruth Pretty Cooking School at Springfield in 1993. Since then, an astounding number of participants – nearly 27,000 - have enjoyed the weekend classes, with Ruth or a guest chef tutoring. Going to one of Ruth’s classes is widely regarded as a "great day out”, for men and women alike. On a smaller scale, Ruth Pretty uses her own homestead kitchen for special ‘hands-on’ classes for groups of up to 20 people.
Her Te Horo home is regularly used as a wedding venue, with beautiful gardens and sweeping lawns perfect for a marquee and drinks on the lawn. The Springfield homestead has its own pear orchard, while the large garden surrounding the house and commercial kitchen provide fresh herbs and vegetables.
Ruth Pretty also has a media profile – featuring often on radio and television, and appearing on American, Australian and Japanese visiting TV chef programmes featuring the best of New Zealand food. From 1999 to 2016 Ruth wrote a weekly column for Wellington’s Dominion Post Saturday newspaper.
Ruth regularly presents popular cooking demonstrations for charity events and at the Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland food shows. After five top-selling cook books, her sixth book Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home was published in 2013.
Recognised for her deep knowledge of and passion for great hospitality, Ruth was appointed to the Board of the Hospitality Standards Institute in 2007. One of her staff was the first graduate in the modern apprenticeship programme in 2002, and since then six more staff have achieved the Level 4 Modern Apprenticeship in Cooking qualification.
Ruth was a Board member of Positively Wellington Tourism, the regional tourism organisation promoting the greater Wellington region, including her home Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa regions.
Ruth for several years now has been the chairperson of the Advisory Board for Hospitality at Weltec.