Caterer's 15-year career morphs into in-home cooking classes supplemented by her luscious garden – Stuff

JAKE KENNY

Fiona van der Pol’s home and garden in Fendalton, Christchurch is the main selling point of her cooking classes.
Fiona van der Pol​ has always loved hosting her family and friends for dinner.
The natural hostess has morphed her career as a commercial caterer for over 15 years into offering cooking classes from her Fendalton home in Christchurch, supplemented by fresh produce from her luscious garden.
The classes are intended to provide a high-end, easy, outdoor event in a private venue where groups can enjoy a special occasion or function, and learn from a pro. Sit back, relax, and let van der Pol take care of the rest.
The 62-year-old’s career in cooking has seen her cook for former Prime Minister John Key twice at corporate events – a post-quake event and a school opening – and he was said to be a fan of her lemon slice.
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“He came and introduced himself to me and my kids afterwards, it was great,” van der Pol said.
While entertaining people came naturally, marketing was where the classes struggled a touch.
In a pandemic-ridden world where social media was king, creating word-of-mouth had been tough.
Van der Pol’s career as a caterer has seen her cook for former Prime Minister John Key twice. He was said to be a fan of her lemon slice.
“There is a word-of-mouth reliance… Work has gone belly-up the past two years or so.”
The classes were best suited to a minimum of eight people and did not follow a set method. They could be customised and tailored to suit dietary requirements or personal preference.
“I run them as you want,” she said.
The interactive classes provide kitchen tips and tricks around a large table as van der Pol works her magic. They begin with a serving of nibbles and plenty of mingle time, then it’s down to business.
The Fendalton home is an ideal summer hosting space.
Guests enjoy two nibbles, two mains, a salad and dessert, all prepped by the woman herself. By the end of the night, a humble feast is spread out across the table, guests picking away as they desire.
“The business is me. It’s my personality. You have to have confidence and back yourself. It’s not just cooking, it’s a package – there’s lots to it…
“… I seldom say no to things.”
Van der Pol still offers catering to large groups such as schools and work functions, for those who simply wish to enjoy the food without the classes. Again, orders can be custom and tailored to suit.
Fresh produce is grown in the same garden where guests are hosted for dinner.
The home and garden combo was the unique selling point for van der Pol’s classes, she said. The ability for guests to see exactly where the food came from, often directly behind them as they dined in her garden, combined with her own private venue, allowed groups to relax and enjoy.
Business was steady during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2019, but a second alert level four setting in 2020, followed by a move to the traffic light system, had significantly hampered business.
The combination of the house and garden was included in the cooking class package at the beginning of last year, and van der Pol said reaction had been overwhelmingly positive from those who have attended so far.
She doesn’t have any staff, and instead wrangled friends and family to help out if she can’t manage things herself.
The motto was consistent – keep things simple, but effective.
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 – Stuff
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