A shared passion for culture and food has paid off for Trang and Pritesh Kajaria, who are finalists in this year's NZ Food Awards.
The couple's Amino Mantra patties are gluten-free, vegan and made from scratch with no processed ingredients.
Amino Mantra plant patties come in several flavours – Sundried Tomato & Basil, Black Truffle & Thyme and Caramelised Garlic & Chive, but it was their Fiji Turmeric and Cumin flavour that caught the eye of the NZ Food Awards judges this year.
It's a finalist for the Short Shelf-Life Award.
- Check out all of the NZ Food Awards finalists here.
Pritesh grew up in India and migrated to New Zealand for a better life.
He says his family has always been geared towards business.
“I have always grown up with the mantra that what makes you happy you have to do it. You have got one shot [so] put your heart and soul and energy into it.”
He and Trang spent hours planning and researching their plant patties, but it helped that Trang has a food science background and Pritesh has hospitality experience as a chef.
The pair are careful to source ethical and local producers for their ingredients and many of their regular customers are people with food allergies.
Amino Mantra started off in a tiny kitchen in Papatoetoe, South Auckland, but due to demand, they had to find a bigger base.
They now co-share a space on Auckland’s North Shore.
Trang’s family back in Vietnam were very surprised when they first heard of the couple’s business plans, she says.
“That was a first for a Vietnamese family. They were like 'what? Are you vegetarian now? What do you eat?”
Trang and Pritesh's cross-cultural love story began online.
“We were very anti-social people,” Trang says.
“I was a PhD student dating my lab and my thesis and one of my friends recommended an online dating website.”
On first impression, Trang found Pritesh ‘quite charming and funny’, she says.
For Pritesh, it was more important that his lady not only be beautiful but also intelligent.
“Trang was the perfect mix of both.”
But both agree that their 2-year-old daughter is the boss.
“Yeah, she’s the boss. She picks what she eats and when,” Pritesh jokes.
This Kajaria’s passion for food, family and community is shared by Wellington-based El Salvadorian cook Betsy Rivas of Betsita's sauces.
Betsy moved to the Capital seven years ago after meeting her Kiwi husband, Wayne, in her home country.
It was Wayne who encouraged her to turn her hot sauces into a product she could sell when she made some for friends and family.
“I learned different culinary styles from my grandma and mum,” she says.
It also helps that she studied culinary arts in El Salvador: “Sauce is very important in our family.”
Betsita's Red Chimichurri Sauce is a finalist for this year’s Cuisine Artisan Award.
“It’s very exciting and I’m super happy to be a finalist. Just being there is going to be an amazing experience.”
Both couples are looking forward to attending the NZ Food Awards gala dinner in Auckland on 23 October when the winners for each category will be announced.