Aaron Brunet never acquired a taste for what he calls the “fancy schmancy” restaurant lifestyle – and now the former MasterChef has quite different things on his plate.

“The whole MasterChef NZ experience made me rethink my attitude to food,” the former Raglander told the Chronicle from his Morningside home just west of Auckland city.

And not only food.

While Aaron’s now into a totally plant-based and vegan diet, he’s also enjoying a pared-down urban lifestyle which sees him pushbiking to a new job in recycling and upcycling. It’s a way of life where he feels he can do his bit to reduce both waste and consumption of resources, foodwise and in terms of his own carbon footprint.

Aaron admits he found the high-end restaurant thing “not so satisfying” after his 2013 win in the reality television cooking show thrust him into the celebrity limelight. He’d always strived to be “real”, he said back then, and doing the likes of a stint at downtown Auckland’s award-winning Euro Restaurant & Bar just didn’t cut it for him.

In contrast his life has become “very holistic” now, he says.  The 45-year-old former IT consultant is committed to working with whole, unrefined foods both for himself and the wider community through his fornightly ‘Bite’ column in The NZ Herald, and at the same time he’s helping reduce waste through his new fulltime job both upcycling and recycling at Waitakere Transfer Station.

The recycle shop he’s involved in is run by the McLaren Park & Henderson South Community Trust.

Aaron likens the Auckland recycle and refuse depot – where he’s been its upcycle/retail assistant since January – to Xtreme Zero Waste’s in Raglan. “I help run a shop which is like Kaahu’s Nest (at Xtreme) and I’m also involved in creating upcycled products, design items … like making lamps out of unwanted glass bottles.”

Recycling’s good in that bottles for instance are reduced to raw material to be made into a different product, he explains, but upcycling means those bottles are instead modified and used in other ways – adding to their value, but not to the carbon footprint.

It may seem a remarkable lifestyle choice for a MasterChef winner, but Aaron points out he was working as IT support for Xtreme Waste throughout his six years living in Raglan.  His post-MasterChef book ‘Cook With Me’ also bucked many expectations with its focus on simple and healthy recipes for “enjoying every day”.

“Raglan rubbed off on me,” Aaron says, pointing to his growing anti-consumerism and his move towards a more real lifestyle in every way. He’s passionate about not wasting so much food, so many resources. “It’s a heartfelt, genuine thing.”

Aaron wants to live this way a while himself before becoming too public about it.  Nevertheless he’s convinced there’s a healthier, less refined, less commercial long-term lifestyle change happening globally and cites the 2014 documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ which explored the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

“If everyone went plant-based (as opposed to meat-eating) it would make a massive difference to global warming for instance,” he says.

He reckons daughter Ariana, now 16 and in her last year at nearby Western Springs College, is a “greenie” who’s leading him in this direction rather than the other way round. The pair returned to town recently for the Soundsplash music festival, where Aaron helped out as an Xtreme Zero Waste volunteer.

“Raglan is very special (to us),” he adds nostalgically of the visit.

But Aaron knows Auckland too from living there previously, and says he can find the best spots to go – like to Herne Bay and Pt Chevalier beaches for a swim at high tide.

And although he’s “stepped back from the stress and unreality of the MasterChef way of life”, Aaron’s still very much a foodie – experimenting with healthy delights such as nut, seed and dried fruit “breakfast crumb” which popped up in both his ‘Bite’ column and on his Facebook page fairly recently.   

He’s also gone dairy free and has begun making his own oat milk rather than buy a substitute in a non-recyclable tetra pack.  “It’s quite easy and very delicious and very affordable, and there’s no waste.”

The soaked, drained, blended and sieved “steel-cut” oats – as opposed to rolled oats – produce a creamy milk that Aaron says goes especially well with his breakfast creations and in nutritious smoothies.

Nothing pretentious or fancy-schmancy about that.

Edith Symes