Ruth Pretty is one of New Zealand’s best-known food personalities. Her interests extend beyond the highly successful catering company she runs in partnership with her husband Paul, into a diverse range of culinary activities including a popular cooking school, kitchen shop, a branded range of preserves cookbooks and a weekly column in Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper.

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 is a market gardening area specialising in fresh fruit and vegetables, and supplies most of the produce for Ruth’s catering. This supports Ruth’s passion for "local seasonal fresh” foods. The home of Ruth and Paul Pretty, Springfield is also used as a venue for special events, parties and (especially) relaxed summer weddings.

Accomplished Chef and Caterer

Ruth 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 and functions,” 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 have been appointed to provide 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 36 permanent, 12 part-time and 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 has been asked again in 2015 to provide catering for the WOW VIP tables.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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 2015 underway.
  • 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. 

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.”