This summer, Nestlé released two new flavours of Kiwi Onion Dip. Hayden Donnell, our nation’s leading Kiwi onion dip researcher, delivers the company an angry rebuke.
In 2012, 81-year-old Cecilia Giménez started painting over a fresco of a scourged Christ in the Spanish city of Borja. In her mind, the creation by artist García Martínez was looking tired. She wanted to freshen it up. The result was an obscenity known across the world as “Monkey Christ”.
This year, the multinational corporation Nestlé did something similar. It released a range of alternative Kiwi onion dip flavours. Like Giménez clumsily smudging Jesus’s immaculately composed cheekbones, it took Kiwi onion dip and augmented it, creating new versions infused with cheddar and sweet chilli. In doing so, it sloppily messed on the flavour artfully created by Kiwi onion dip inventor Rosemary Dempsey. Nestlé created its own culinary Monkey Christ.
There’s not much to say about Nestlé’s new flavours, except that they are abominations. The sweet chilli has an aftertaste that’s less a flavour than the sensation of someone switching on a gas heater in your throat. The cheddar dip tastes like it was pre-digested. I wouldn’t recommend buying either if you’re into things like eating edible food or enjoying life.
So what? Nestlé has every right to debase its own products. Maybe some people will enjoy this opportunity to defoul their insides. That’s their prerogative. But on the other hand, this isn’t adding new flavours to Nesquik. It’s not “Oriental” two-minute noodles. This is Kiwi onion dip.
I’m a new father. There’s no feeling as good as seeing your child enter the world, blinking at the awaiting miracles of life, but eating Kiwi onion dip comes close. It should be subject to authenticity rules like champagne, or German beer. Strict restrictions should be placed on its use. We should hold it in high regard, protect it in ways befitting its status as a culinary treasure.
Instead, we’ve allowed weirdos to pour what tastes like a culture from a bathroom wall into a soup packet and hock it off as an equally valid variant. Kiwi onion dip deserves more respect.
More than that, its creator deserves more respect. Rosemary Dempsey doesn’t own Kiwi onion dip – she was working for Nestlé when she created its recipe – but she’s never asked for anything much from the company that’s made countless millions off her invention. When I talked to her this week, Dempsey was even magnanimous about the new dips. While she didn’t love them, Nestlé has a right to innovate, she said. “You need to open your mind,” she told me.
Maybe she’s right. But again, it’s galling to see a multinational company messing with her invention to make its billionth quick buck. The cheddar and sweet chilli dips aren’t Kiwi onion dip. They’re nothing like it. Nestlé is trading on its most beloved brand’s cachet to hawk new flavours with a profile so different they couldn’t even be described as knockoffs.
That’s its right, but it just doesn’t feel right. Nestlé has never given much to Dempsey. The closest she ever got to payment was after she called to complain that they’d used her name without permission in a 2005 promotion. The company offered to send her a gift basket of “fine Nestlé products” as recompense. She declined.
Dempsey should also be treated better by the company that’s enriched itself off her creative work for decades. Does the University of Manchester get all the credit for Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom? Is Cardinal Jean de Bilhères the true mastermind behind Michelangelo’s Pietà? Nestlé should hold her in similar regard. Instead, it’s traipsing its way up to her greatest work like Giménez with her paintbrush, smearing its sweet chilli, sprinkling its horrible cheese.
Dempsey isn’t rich. All she’d ever ask in return for her contribution to New Zealand life is a few trips to Vermont to visit her daughter. Is it too much to ask that some of the profit Nestlé makes from these horrors goes toward a plane ticket for its most valuable former employee?
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.