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Inventive chef's vegan rainbow pies are the stuff of dreams

Amy Ridout (Stuff) 05:00, Dec 29 2021

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

Tereza Zembova and Pato Bonilla of Rainbow Kitchen with their hand-made vegan pies, which are shaped in their custom-made pie press.


The inspiration behind Pato Bonilla’s rainbow pies came from a dream. One morning, Bonilla’s wife Tereza Zembova told him she’d had a vision of him in a rainbow food cart. Bonilla was tickled by the image, he said.

“Rainbow food... I thought, wow that is such a good idea. Why don’t we put colour in pies?” Using spirulina, turmeric, activated charcoal and beetroot, Bonilla crafted a range of colourful vegan organic pies with a crisp, gluten-free pastry, and Rainbow Kitchen was born.

A familiar face at Nelson markets, Rainbow Kitchen pies gained vegan fame last year when his “curry lover’s pie” took the top spot in the gluten-free category at the New Zealand Vegan Pie Awards. This year, the same pie won the runner-up category.

Martin De Ruyter/Stuff

To avoid using stickers, the couple hand-cut labels, which they tie onto the pie packaging.


The fillings are as inventive as the pastry, with flavours like Peruvian chilli lime pepper, smoky mushroom and creamy jackfruit. The one sweet pie on the menu, the choco dream, has a cashew and cacao filling wrapped in a carrot and rice flour pastry.

Bonilla, from Chile, began cooking as a boy, watching his mother and godmother in a kitchen always bustling with activity.

“There was always someone cooking. I was happy just looking or taking something from the pots.”

When he was banished from the kitchen, he’d smuggle food into his bedroom and try to create dishes.

“Food has always been about play.”

He and Zembova met in Chile, where each was running a vegetarian eatery. Early in the relationship, Bonilla told her he planned to go to New Zealand on a working holiday, Zembova said.

Eight years later, the working holiday has become something more permanent, and the couple have two children and a thriving business, run from a small kitchen beside their tiny home in the Riverside Community.

Bonilla spends about 40 hours a week cooking, churning out up to 600 pies a week. Wrapped in home compostable packaging, with hand-cut labels tied on with string, the pies have found their way into organic shops around the country, and sell briskly at markets.

Only a small share of his customer base is vegan, Bonilla said. But more people are interested in vegan food now.

“[But] it’s beautiful to see people who say, ‘I haven’t eaten a pie for nine years,


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