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Nourishing the soul through food

Nourishing the soul through food

A media team from The Salvation Army recently visited the Sydney home of television celebrity Zoe Bingley-Pullin and discovered her passion for food and healthy eating also extends to her support of The Salvation Army

Stepping into Zoe Bingley-Pullin’s modern, open-plan home in North Bondi, we were immediately welcomed as invited guests. While photographing Zoe’s mouth-watering recipes, we quickly forgot we were there on professional business.

Zoe was in her element. Appearing relaxed, she simultaneously cooked and chatted about her 17-month-old daughter, Emily, and once the photos were done, she set her dining table for us to enjoy the delicious food she had just prepared. Then, she even cleaned up after us.

Hospitable and generous are two words that sum up Zoe. Her enthusiasm to take part in this photo shoot for The Salvation Army came across from the start. It’s easy to see why she loves her job. Passion oozes out of this self-confessed foodie, nutritionist and TV presenter for Channel Ten’s lifestyle cooking show, Good Chef Bad Chef.  She can’t help but be excited when she speaks about food and healthy eating, but she is also dedicated to supporting the work of The Salvation Army.

Zoe has devised healthy menus for The Salvation Army’s conference facility on Sydney’s northern beaches, The Collaroy Centre, to encourage corporations and businesses to support the work of the Salvos. In 2013, she also teamed up with the Salvos during Anti-Poverty Week for a live cooking demonstration at the Salvos’ youth refuge and accommodation centre, Sydney Streetlevel Mission.

Zoe is also particularly passionate about seeing the issue of homelessness eradicated. Emotion stirred in her voice when sharing how heartbroken she would be if she was unable to feed her own daughter. “I think it’s incredible that there is someone like the Salvos out there doing that hard work.”

Zoe was introduced to food preparation at an early age and has fond memories of cooking in the kitchen with her mother. While Zoe says she has always enjoyed experimenting with recipes, her passion for healthy eating did not come until adulthood. When she was young, Zoe says she didn’t have a healthy relationship with food. Like many teenagers, she was conscious of body image and she describes herself as a “skinny, dangly girl” in her adolescence. Suffering from dyslexia, she also often struggled academically at school. Zoe admits she knows too well the battle with self-identity. 

When Zoe finished high school, her father gave her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study at the prestigious Cordon De Bleu cooking school in London. While an enjoyable experience, Zoe put on an extra 10kg during this time. She says she often over-ate because she worried she couldn’t afford a meal the next day. “That’s where food became a real enemy to me because it was something I couldn't control,” she says. “But I knew it wasn’t healthy and that I wasn’t at my optimal weight.”

Zoe’s battle with her own identity came to the fore. Her time at Cordon De Blue had taught her the technical part of cooking but it wasn’t until she worked with a chef in the south of France that she really fell in love with food. “For me, falling in love with food is about falling in love with yourself,” she says. “This [in France] is where I developed the love side of food. That sensory side of food – the picking, touching and feeling. And the socialisation of celebrating food around friends and family.”

Zoe quickly realised working as a full-time chef in a kitchen wasn’t her calling. She delved into studying a diploma of nutrition and made the difficult journey towards a healthy eating lifestyle. While losing weight was important, Zoe says her main goal was to achieve an ongoing healthy lifestyle. This 37-year-old has definitely achieved that.

In September, Zoe finished filming her fourth season of Good Chef Bad Chef, which will air in early 2016. Working alongside “bad chef” Adrian Richardson, Zoe plays the role of the “good chef” on the show. While their tongue-in-cheek banter is entertaining, Zoe says their cooking styles do rub off on each other. She sincerely hopes viewers go away from the show equipped with tools to prepare healthy meals. “I really believe, hand on heart, good healthy eating starts by having more time in the kitchen and just cooking more and having a better relationship with food. So I hope that we’re sending a message of fun and approachable ways to get in the kitchen.”

Along with the show, Zoe finds every opportunity she can to educate people about healthy eating. She runs an online program called “Falling in Love with Food” and works one-on-one with people to help them achieve their healthy lifestyle goals. “I think for a lot of the time that people want to be healthy or they hear about being healthy and often, they simply just don’t how to put the food on the plate,” she says. “If I just show people a couple of meals that are tasty and inexpensive to make but have good quality produce and nutrients, that in itself will help empower people to keep doing it themselves.”

And for Zoe, she doesn’t just teach a healthy lifestyle, she lives it. On Zoe’s Instagram page you will consistently find photos of healthy food and healthy cooking and eating advice.

In 2009, Zoe published her first book Eat Taste Nourish and is writing another book that she would like to publish next year. Zoe is also the food editor for the Fitness First magazine and writes for other mainstream magazines from time-to-time. “Deep down I still feel like that dyslexic girl at school. I’m surprised by my own achievements,” she says. “Being dyslexic, I have to look at words so much closer and numbers so much closer so I’ve created routines and patterns that work well for me. I call it the three point check. I don’t send anything out until I’ve checked it three times.”

Her battles with dyslexia and identity form a big part of Zoe's decision to educate people about healthy eating. Helping people fall in love with food the same way she did is central to Zoe's life. She says her experiences have shaped who she is today.

You can find some of Zoe’s delicious recipes here.

Words by Esther Pinn. Photos by Adam Hollingworth.

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