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Raglan’s own MasterChef finds celebrity status unreal

Aaron Brunet had to pinch himself this week to check that the celebrity whirl he’s been caught up in since his MasterChef win — finally revealed in a two-hour cliffhanger on TV One last Sunday night — is for real.

The IT consultant turned king of the kitchen had a big day of radio, TV and photo-shoots lined up when the Chronicle called him in Auckland on Tuesday morning, and hadn’t had the remotest chance of making it home to Raglan to see the huge congratulatory signs in the main street.

“I have to say it’s been amazing, exciting, pretty cool … and fun!” he said of his newfound celebrity status. “You have to pinch yourself.”

But there was one thing he was sure of. “It’s a massive relief to finally be able to talk,” he said, after six months of enforced silence on how he’d fared in the highly rating television series.

Neither his nor wife Ani’s parents, who were watching the grand finale in Auckland with them and their teenage daughter Ariana on Sunday night, knew the outcome of the national pressure-cooker competition — now in its fourth season — until the rest of us did.

And that included a crowd who’d gathered downtown at the Harbour View Hotel to watch the excitement on the big screen.

Aaron admitted it was really tough to stick by the confidentiality clause of his contract for the six months since filming of the programme was completed in Auckland’s MasterChef house overlooking Rangitoto Island. He felt particularly bad not telling his mum, he said, who is from northern Italy and from whom he learnt to cook as a child.

People had been doing their best to weasel information out of him, he added, right down to the jokes about when the Skoda he’s won as the country’s top amateur chef would turn up in his Wainui Road driveway. Now he was looking forward to the luxury Octavia model arriving, which he said would be “absolutely incredible”.

And, yes, the Fisher & Paykel appliances — all part of the $100,000-plus prize package — would be useful too. “Our kitchen could do with an update,” Aaron mused, mentioning their broken dishwasher.

Aaron reckoned he’d be in the kitchen now for the rest of the year, compiling about 80 recipes for the cookbook he’s already got on the go with Random House as part of the winner’s deal. “It’s an enormous amount of work,” he admitted, “but great fun.”
All the recipes will be tested by friends and family.

Aaron’s received lots of messages and support throughout his very public MasterChef journey, the outcome of which will now see food taking a bigger slice of his life than working from home as an IT consultant.

As viewers saw on Sunday night, he’s already had an offer of a job in one of George Calombaris’ restaurants after the Australian celebrity chef enthused over his deconstructed chicken. “Yeah, well the girls are keen to move to Australia,” Aaron responded.

But in talking to the Chronicle this week Aaron made it clear he was still tossing around his options. “I’m definitely heading towards food … but it’s hard (at this stage) to know in what way,” he said.

But he did credit living in Raglan for the past four-and-a-half years as giving him the right environment to indulge a lifelong passion and, at 43, take a step towards working in the food industry.

Aaron said another really positive discovery during the months of “nerve-racking” challenges dished up was that he had more resilience than he realised.

But did he ever imagine he’d end up on the last show? “I tried to keep a flame burning inside,” he explained. “I had a little bubble of self-belief and I tried to imagine standing there in front of the judges.

“Sometimes I doubted but I kept the flame, the belief, alive.”

And that unflappable approach on screen — where did it come from? Wife Ani is a yoga teacher and Aaron himself did yoga every day in the MasterChef house, and before the challenges, to keep his mind focused and relaxed. “It’s hard to cook great food when you’re freaking out.”

Aaron praised his rival in the grand finale, Paula Saengthian-ngam, for such a strong showing. “We both deserved to win, we both had our own mountains to climb,” he told the Chronicle. “Luckily for me it (the winner) was me.”

Edith Symes

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