Dr Tracy Berno

Associate Professor - Culinary Arts

Dr Tracy Berno

Canadian-born Dr Tracy Berno, of Italian and Finnish descent, came to New Zealand on her OE in the mid-1980s and loved it so much she decided to stay.

Tracy began her career as a clinical psychologist and has now become an Associate Professor with the School of Hospitality & Tourism. She says she has had "a bit of a journey from where I started."

Tracy's PhD in Psychology (1995) from the University of Canterbury looked at the impact of different cultures coming together in the context of tourism. She undertook her field work for 12 months in the Cook Islands, and since developed an interest in community-based tourism.

From her doctorate research, Tracy discovered the power of food.

"I truly believe food is a common denominator for everyone. It's something that can bring everyone together, get them talking and feeling good."

Intangible heritage

Tracy's main area of research looks at the importance of food in the Pacific.

“I'm interested in what we call 'intangible heritage' and how cuisine fits in as a cultural product,” she says. "I look at traditional food in the Pacific and the role and function it plays within Pacific culture. I want to find out how to rejuvinate an interest in traditional foods to advance peoples well-being."

Tracy says she has an absolute passion for the Pacific.

"I've lived in Fiji and the Cook Islands and I just have a great passion for the islands, the people, and of course, the food.

"The agricultural products and fresh food that is available is some of the best in the world. My favourite would have to be the seafood. I absolutely love it: raw, cooked, just in any shape or form.

"I believe good food contributes to good health and well-being."

Creating tools to share

Tracy says her biggest achievement so far in her career has been to give back to the communities she has worked with. To achieve this, she has worked closely with New Zealand chef, author and television presenter, Robert Oliver.

"We needed a tool so that local people could create and cook food to offer in the tourism industry and also a means of communicating the value of Pacific food - so we created a cook book."

Me'a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific (2010) has won multiple international awards.

Based on the success of the cookbook the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi, approached the pair to create a cook book of solely Samoan food: Mea'ai Samoa (2013).

A new book about the food and culture of Fiji is now in the works.

Based on the cookbooks, TVNZ produced two shows, Real Pasifik, which Tracy completed all background work on.

“It has been an immense privilege to help give voice to the food heroes of the Pacific: every person who shared their story, their food and their cherished recipes. I'm proud we have created a tool that Pacific communities can benefit from.”