Aaron Brunet always seemed unflappable in the MasterChef kitchen but the response to his open invitation to the launch of his new cookbook just about floored him.
About 400 locals poured into the grounds of the Old School in Stewart Street last Saturday afternoon to celebrate the release of ‘Cook With Me’, the long-anticipated book by Raglan’s own MasterChef NZ winner.
The lavish 266-page book had gone on sale nationally only the previous day and Aaron wanted it to be “as fresh and as hot off the press” as possible for locals who had supported him all along the way.
But what he hadn’t counted on, until the RSVP emails began flooding in, was how much interest his local launch function would attract.
A rugby team-sized volunteer army had to help him prepare the promised taste treats but Aaron was nevertheless delighted at the success of the event, which saw 400-odd Raglan residents cram into the garden space behind the arts centre and the kindergarten.
“I thought (at first) maybe 30 would come to our home to celebrate the book going on sale,” he told his guests as they juggled newly purchased cookbooks with cups of carrot and caraway or Slovenian jota soup and chunks of fresh-baked sourdough bread – recipes straight out of the book.
A small stage had been set up for the occasion and Aaron spoke briefly of his journey to television celebrity status, which he said began two years ago when he became “obsessed” with making sourdough.
Auditions for the 2013 MasterChef series were on at the time, he recalled, and it took only some encouragement from “the girls” – wife Ani and their daughter Ariana – to enter the competition.
One thing led to another and he put himself into it wholeheartedly, he said, while at the same time striving throughout the series to remain “the real me” which was one of the joys of living in Raglan.
Aaron sold more than 200 copies of his book – published by Random House, as part of the MasterChef prize package – at the launch and told of how he had wanted to make it “a real slice of our life …so you feel you’re standing there and we’re cooking together”.
He remembered growing up and cooking alongside his own mother from Slovenia who was a major influence in the kitchen.
But ‘Cook With Me’ was very much a Raglan-inspired book, Aaron insisted, with seven chapters reflecting different parts of his small family’s lifestyle, whether it was a busy weekday or leisurely Saturday.
And all the finished recipes were photographed in the kitchen of their Wainui Road home, which has also become something of a yoga studio thanks to Ani who regularly teaches the discipline.
The final chapter of the book is in fact devoted to what Aaron calls yoga treats because, as he explained, yoga is “a big part of our lives”. The simple healthy recipes – along with weekend yoga retreats at home – “made all the difference to me during the challenges and pressures of the MasterChef competition”.
He revealed he would now be focusing more on yoga and food together, through those weekend retreats. “That’s a taste of what’s coming next (in my life).”
Aaron also devoted a whole chapter of ‘Cook With Me’ to his love of bread, in particular the sourdough recipe he used in turning out 54 loaves last Friday in preparation for Saturday’s book launch.
He confessed his team of family and friends helped him prepare Saturday’s fare – which included a medley of marshmallows – all last week as ever more locals emailed to let him know they’d be there.
Aaron also gave a big thank you to Raglan’s Poulter family for coming to the party with free glasses of their Makaraka Estate range of wines.