A toast to dish: 20 years of food, friendship and flair

Every now and then, Sarah Tuck finds herself answering calls for recipe advice from readers of magazine dish.

“They’ll call up and ask questions about whatever it is they’re making – ‘I’m just at this part of the recipe, what should I do next?’” says Tuck, the magazine’s Editor and CEO.

Sometimes, she gets stopped by fellow shoppers in the supermarket who point to dish on the shelves and tell her just how much they love it.

On Facebook, Tuck regularly chats with the 5,500 members of the dish community page, who share pictures of their creations and even their fails.

The only angry feedback the magazine ever receives is when a subscriber calls to complain that their latest issue hasn’t arrived yet, Tuck says with a laugh.

This is just one of her favourite aspects about running the beloved foodie magazine, which this month celebrates its 20th birthday with a collector’s issue due out on July 15.

Achieving a level of intimacy where readers feel comfortable to discuss dish recipes with Tuck – or Food Editor Claire Aldous – is an impressive feat, and integral to what the magazine is all about, Tuck says.

“Reading dish should feel like a conversation with your best friend or your mum.”

As well as celebrating the last two decades in print, the team is holding a special Dine with dish birthday dinner on July 16 at Esther restaurant in Auckland.

It will be hosted by Tuck, Esther head chef Sean Connolly and Nautilus Estate winemaker Clive Jones and attendees will enjoy a truffle-based menu as well as a birthday gift they can take home.

The whole dish team will be there and Tuck is excited to celebrate the last 20 years with them and their community.

dish is a flagship title of parent company SCG Media. Joint managing director David Atkins is incredibly proud of what the magazine has achieved.

“I’m grateful for the amazing work the team put in issue after issue to create such a great product as well as to all of the wonderful contributors we’ve had over the years.”

He adds he’s impressed by how the magazine continues to grow from strength to strength, despite the last few years creating unique challenges for media in New Zealand.

This includes Covid-19, where the team hustled to ensure dish made it to the shelves before magazines were deemed non-essential in March 2020, says Tuck.

“It was the international issue and we reconfigured the whole magazine – once we knew what was happening – to being about nurturing and being at home instead,” she adds.

With no access to restaurants and Uber Eats during lockdown, Kiwis found themselves cooking more than ever and so dish became a vaulable resource.

dish upped the frequency of its communications, from two email newsletters a week to three, fostering connection by using special signoffs and sending them shortly after the daily 1pm Covid stand-ups, which were a source of stress for many people.

Prior to dish, Tuck worked as freelance food writer and photographer, so she shot much of the July 2020 issue, Eyes on the pies, at home just in time for magazine printing to be deemed essential again.

dish Editor and CEO Sarah Tuck

“We were lucky, but I’m also proud of the the job our team did, that’s why we were able to hold on. We worked our asses off during lockdown.”

In the last 20 years, the magazine has had one constant: Food Editor Claire Aldous, who has been there since the very first issue.

“She is just bloody phenomenal,” says Tuck, “who keeps everything staying relevant and modern.”

Tuck says the dish team – which includes Digital Editor Caitlin Whiteman, Designer Chrisanne Terblanche and Commercial Manager Bel Bonnor – is “small but mighty” and everyone cares deeply about the work they are doing.

“Buying dish is an investment – you’re not just buying dish, you’re buying the ingredients and then cooking for friends and family. It’s huge and if we don’t care, we end up disappointing people.”

This also means having a finger on the pulse and keeping up with what is relevant for Kiwis when they put together each issue of dish.

“I don’t believe in doing a Spring issue, because it’s New Zealand and the weather is always bad – it’ll probably be snowing in the South Island. We always make that the ‘sick of winter’ issue instead,” she laughs.

dish Food Editor Claire Aldous

This year’s September issue will have a special focus on budget-conscious but delicious meals, a reflection of the current mood of financial strain.

This is something that never would have happened in the old days, when the mag was focused on fancy dinner party recipes, says Tuck.

But, she adds, this switch has been an important part of dish’s evolution to focus on weeknight dinners and shared gatherings to better match changing culture in Aotearoa.

Even using different language – switching from sauté pan to frying pan – to encourage more people to give dish recipes a try.

She’s a firm believer that cooking doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated to be a spectacle and this is what she wants to show Kiwis with dish.

“It’s about finding out what New Zealanders want, what will make their lives easier and make them look like a rockstar in the kitchen,” says Tuck.

When it comes to the sought-after Christmas issue, this is even more crucial, she adds. The focus is on providing readers with fresh takes on traditional recipes, with plenty of options for relatives and guests who have different dietary requirements, like vegetarian or gluten-free.

Tuck, who creates several dish recipes herself and styles a lot of the magazine, admits that foody’s block – a variation of writer’s block – sometimes strikes.

But it doesn’t last long. Inspiration is usually easy to come by in the form of new seasonal produce, domestic or international travel, and eating out at new spots.

“Not only is cooking fun, but you create amazing food, which you then get to share with people – it’s so multifaceted.”

The next 20 years will see dish continue to evolve as social media and the website, including an online shop, become increasingly important. Next year, the team releases its fifth cook book – and Tuck says she will continue to look for opportunities to expand the dish world.

Most of all, she feels grateful. To her team, to the advertisers but most of all to the readers for the way they share dish’s passion for creating and sharing delicious food.

If you’d like to Dine with dish next week and say cheers to 20 years of the magazine, make sure you get your tickets to the event at Esther restaurant.

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