Inside Story: Jennifer Zea and Thomas Dietz

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The couple in their kitchen. The triptych near the kitchen is by Venezuelan artist Ana Alenso.

The couple in their kitchen. The triptych near the kitchen is by Venezuelan artist Ana Alenso. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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The painting above the chair is by Florence Ichter-Simon.

The painting above the chair is by Florence Ichter-Simon. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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The colour palette of Dietz and Zea’s home is warm with red accents.

The colour palette of Dietz and Zea’s home is warm with red accents. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Jennifer Zea and Thomas Dietz in their home.

Jennifer Zea and Thomas Dietz in their home. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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The couple surround themselves with plenty of art and books for creative inspiration.

The couple surround themselves with plenty of art and books for creative inspiration. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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A palaver chair from Senegal is a feature in the living room.

A palaver chair from Senegal is a feature in the living room. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Collage by Gerardo Rojas. The artist who made this introduced the couple to each other. It depicts a famous building in Caracas. “It conveys colourfulness and social and political issues." says Zea.

Collage by Gerardo Rojas. The artist who made this introduced the couple to each other. It depicts a famous building in Caracas. “It conveys colourfulness and social and political issues.” says Zea. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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<em>Dinner in Caracas</em>. Zea found this in a store in San Francisco. “Venezuela had a moment that combined folk music with jazz."

Dinner in Caracas. Zea found this in a store in San Francisco. “Venezuela had a moment that combined folk music with jazz.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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<em>La Voie du Tarot</em> by Alejandro Jodorowsky. This is a book about tarot by artist, film director, playwright and poet Alejandro Jodorowsky.

La Voie du Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky. This is a book about tarot by artist, film director, playwright and poet Alejandro Jodorowsky. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Ottolenghi mixes the traditions of French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Greek cuisines. Zea says: “What we really like is that this style of cooking is really Mediterranean.”

Ottolenghi mixes the traditions of French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Greek cuisines. Zea says: “What we really like is that this style of cooking is really Mediterranean.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Lamb bone holder. This utensil was owned by Dietz’ grandmother. “She came from a very traditional family where you don’t touch the lamb leg; you hold it with this when you carve it.”

Lamb bone holder. This utensil was owned by Dietz’ grandmother. “She came from a very traditional family where you don’t touch the lamb leg; you hold it with this when you carve it.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Crosson Clarke Carnachan book. Architect Ken Crosson is a friend of the couple’s. Before they met him they both fell in love with a bach he designed.

Crosson Clarke Carnachan book. Architect Ken Crosson is a friend of the couple’s. Before they met him they both fell in love with a bach he designed. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Chassuer pan. A heavy, French frying pan that is over 30 years old. These pans are designed to be wiped clean, but never washed.

Chassuer pan. A heavy, French frying pan that is over 30 years old. These pans are designed to be wiped clean, but never washed. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Cabasse speakers. These speakers are the first item that the couple unpacks whenever they move house. They both share a love of music and have similar taste.

Cabasse speakers. These speakers are the first item that the couple unpacks whenever they move house. They both share a love of music and have similar taste. Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Yellow sneakers. Dietz loves cheerful, colourful shoes, especially red or yellow: “I think life is colourful, and these shoes are happy.”

Yellow sneakers. Dietz loves cheerful, colourful shoes, especially red or yellow: “I think life is colourful, and these shoes are happy.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Custom-made kite surfboard by Luke Short.
Kite surfing on the west coast is one of Dietz’ passions: “We go to Muriwai when the wind is really crazy. It can be super intense.”

Custom-made kite surfboard by Luke Short. Kite surfing on the west coast is one of Dietz’ passions: “We go to Muriwai when the wind is really crazy. It can be super intense.” Image: Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

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Musician Jennifer Zea and food entrepreneur Thomas Dietz’ story proves the truism that the best place to meet a soulmate is in the kitchen at a house party.

The painting above the chair is by Florence Ichter-Simon.  Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

“That is always the coolest place,” says Dietz, remembering one such event in Zea’s home country of Venezuela where they met each other against the backdrop of the political upheavals of the early 2000s. “I saw this beautiful, black, young Venezuelan and I was just hooked.”

They stayed in touch over the years and Zea eventually moved to Paris, where she learnt French at the Sorbonne, while he continued to travel globally as part of his marketing job for a large French company. They got married just outside Paris, Zea remembers: “It started classic French and then it turned Latino. We had Venezuelan cocktails at 6pm and then danced till 6 in the morning.”

In 2008, they were looking for a base to start their married life. According to Dietz: “I told my bosses [that relocating to within] a 12 hours flight from Europe was fine; Asia, South America, North America. So they sent us to Auckland.”

Zea recalls having seen the movie The Piano and having immediately thought: “That’s such a mystical place, I want to be there one day. Suddenly we were here, and it was ideal. The city of Auckland, surrounded by bays and boats, and the way the landscapes are so perfect. We travelled around the country and it was mind blowing, like being in another planet.”

Crosson Clarke Carnachan book. Architect Ken Crosson is a friend of the couple’s. Before they met him they both fell in love with a bach he designed.  Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Living in New Zealand has allowed both Dietz and Zea the time and space to reinvent themselves and launch new ventures.

Dietz, sitting across the kitchen bar at the bright, colourful Kohimarama home they share with their ten-year-old daughter Obaya, says: “For me going from a huge corporate work situation where people are fighting all the time to climb the ladder to starting a new business… it really is a huge change. I found New Zealand is a really good place to do business. Also, being so remote, you can see the craziness of the rest of the world.”

Zea’s background in music, writing and aesthetics have informed her business The Creative Workshops, which helps people rediscover their creativity.

Dietz: “One of the exercises is during one week you try not to read anything apart from work, so no books, no internet, you don’t watch TV. That’s quite fascinating because you are at home at night and you are like ‘wow, what do I do now?’”

Zea also sings with her band Latinaotearoa, which mixes Latin, funk, soul and hip hop, and has performed extensively both locally and overseas.

The couple surround themselves with plenty of art and books for creative inspiration. Image:  Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Dietz started food parcel delivery service WOOP around two years ago and now employs over 25 staff. According to Dietz, their point of difference is that all their food is prepared and ready to be cooked. The meat is marinated, the vegetables chopped.

“What we do is make slow food fast. Slow food is the opposite of fast food, so it’s quality produce, hand-made. I noticed that everyone here wants to eat healthy and tasty, but people are quite time poor.”

All the meals are designed to be cooked in less than 15 minutes; the recipes are a mixture of cuisines from around the globe. WOOP stands for World On Our Plate; Zea and Dietz are a living example of bringing together different cultural ideas.

As he says: “Our family is a melting pot; New Zealand is a melting pot.”


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