Career

Girl you need to know: Zia Mandviwalla, the female Kiwi director behind Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’

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Scenes from Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ season 6 out February 22, 2019.

Find out how this female with a fierce future landed the dream gig of directing an episode of ‘Chef’s Table’ and a career working alongside some of the best and brightest talents in the world of cinema.

Situated somewhere between Berlin and Los Angeles, female Kiwi director Zia Mandviwalla is breaking records and crushing it in the film industry. Her latest success? Being the first New Zealander – and the second female ever – to direct an episode on the critically-acclaimed Netflix series Chef’s Table

Ahead of the episode’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival’s Culinary section on February 13 2019, we were eager to pick Mandviwalla’s brain on her story so far and dish it up (pun intended) right in time for the episode’s release on Netflix in New Zealand on February 22.

The new series of Chef’s Table explores four new groundbreaking stories of resilience, culture and culinary excellence. Now find out who’s behind it with our exclusive Q&A with director Zia Mandviwalla below:

Behind the scenes with Zia Mandviwalla during the filming of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

What’s your story?

How did you get to where you are today? 
I was born in India, grew up in Dubai in the Middle East and I moved to New Zealand with my family in 1996 – and have called it home ever since. I went to Auckland University and studied English literature and history. I’ve been a filmmaker pretty much ever since I left university. I began life working as a writer and an editor – I’ve made short films, commercials, documentary and am developing feature film ideas both fictional and documentary.

When did you know you wanted to work in writing and film?
I have always been interested in writing. While doing scriptwriting for a film paper at university, I met some people who were really into making films. One of them was Roseanne Liang who kindly lent me her G3 Apple Mac and a 3 CCD camera (so vintage!) so I could make a small film in my back garden with my flatmates. The film screened at the Wellington Fringe Film Festival where a few people said some nice things about it. That was enough. I thought, this is something I can do and I’m still doing it.

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Scenes from Netflix’s Chef’s Table season 6.

Who do you admire most in the industry and why?
There is no one person – there is a large collection of talented people I admire and all for different reasons – both here in New Zealand and overseas.

Your work has covered some pretty diverse and important topics including an IVF birth and working alongside a breast cancer survivor; how do you best approach these areas?
I try to approach all my subjects and the work I create with delicacy, sensitivity and respect. I do my best to honour people’s stories with grace and humility. Its always such a privilege to be given access into someone else’s world, that I feel a duty to portray their truth as best I can.

You are the first Kiwi director and only second female director in the highly successful Netflix series Chef’s Table; how does it feel to represent New Zealand on the international stage?
It’s so great – I feel very honoured to be a representative of New Zealand, but also to have been entrusted with the story of a strong female chef who has arrived where she is now because she always stayed true to herself and to her passion.

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Scenes from Netflix’s Chef’s Table season 6.

What was the best/most surreal/craziest moment while directing your episode of Chef’s Table?
One of the craziest moments was shooting in the Nizamudeen Durgah which is an Islamic shrine in the middle of Delhi. It is such a beautiful ancient place filled with people worshipping, but at the same time, there is a very charged, electric crazy atmosphere as musicians play Sufi music while crowds of people pass through and of course the presence of our camera crew added to this madness. After we finished shooting the Iman honoured us with these gold and green scarves – it was a very special experience – unlike one I’ve ever had.

“For me, being able to make choices is fundamental to any sense of empowerment. Being able to make decisions about your own life is everything.”

How important is female empowerment to you and why?
I feel very lucky to have led a life where I have always been able to make my own choices and follow my heart. For me, being able to make choices is fundamental to any sense of empowerment. Being able to make decisions about your own life is everything.

Do you have any advice for Miss FQ readers who want to get into a career like yours?
Always take risks and don’t fear to fail. You have to fail to learn and you have to fail to succeed. Also, don’t be afraid to be pushy and vocal – be pushy and vocal about the things you need, about what kind of work you want to do and how you want to do it. Be true to yourself and firm with your vision and then also be fully ready to relinquish it all and come up with a new plan. Be nimble, be adaptable and be nice to the people you work with!

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Scenes from Netflix’s Chef’s Table season 6.

How do you define success?
Being able to wake up every morning and do what you really love doing and be able to make a living out that feels like success to me!

What are some challenges you’ve faced or had to overcome?
There have been many! And every project brings a new set of challenges and that never stops!

What motivates you?
Coffee and the idea of slipping into someone else’s skin in order to try and tell their story.

Do you have a favourite quote or mantra to live by?
Just keep going.

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Behind the scenes with Zia Mandviwalla during the filming of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

What’s your favourite go-to outfit or piece when you need to feel confident?
My poker face.

When did you last act fearlessly?
Over the summer I jumped from some high rocks into the pool along the Kaituna river. It took some balls.

You’ve already achieved so much, what’s next for you?
Hopefully just more of everything! I have some long-form projects and ideas I am keen to get off the ground, alongside evolving my commercials career and exploring doing more documentaries.

Watch the trailer for Chef’s Table: Season 6

Photos: Supplied

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