People still do a “double take” in the supermarket – downtown in Raglan, or at Countdown in Hamilton and Auckland – when MasterChef winner Aaron Brunet’s out shopping.
He’s even had strangers ask upfront if, for instance, silverbeet might work in a recipe when kale can’t be found in-store. And while that kind of thing is a bit of fun, says Aaron, it was “quite weird” at first when he won instant celebrity status along with the MasterChef New Zealand title last June.
“I’m certainly getting used to being recognised (now),” he told the Chronicle this week, admitting it had taken a while to adjust.
Winning MasterChef 2013 has definitely opened doors for the one-time IT consultant who used to work from home on Wainui Road, not far past the Ngarunui beach turnoff.
Coming up this weekend, he’s busy with the Waikato Food & Wine Festival at Claudelands Arena, and that’s to be followed by a quick trip to Auckland on Monday where he’ll be filmed from 8am doing two recipes – each a seven-minute segment for TV One’s Good Morning show.
He says a lot of “logistical planning” goes into his TVNZ shows, which he’s done half a dozen times now.
And it’s only going to get busier from next week when he has a regular Good Morning slot like that of baby whisperer Sharlene Poole who also commutes frequently from Raglan to the TV studios.
Food festivals, too, take time management skills and careful planning of new recipes to be a success, Aaron adds. While it’s just days before the Waikato event, he’s already tackled food festivals in Auckland last August and Christchurch in September.
At one point he was also tied up for a month cooking at Euro on Auckland’s Viaduct, for celebrity chef and MasterChef judge Simon Gault. While the experience provided “a lot of excitement and satisfaction” for Aaron, it was never going to fit in with family life back in Raglan.
“It’s about as far as you could go from being a home cook.”
But Aaron’s had a good stint at home cooking too up until last month, working on an exclusive cookbook deal which along with a Skoda was part of his $100,000 prize package.
Due to be launched around the country in April, the book is about food you might cook every day with a few “MasterChef-y” things thrown in for good measure, Aaron explains. His $20,000 supply of Countdown vouchers from the win have been put to good use, he adds, buying all the ingredients needed for the recipes and his own grocery bill.
Developing 120 recipes, narrowing that down to 80 and then writing them up was a time-consuming project, he admits. Two years would have been “ideal” but he had just six months to pull it all together.
However he’s “chuffed” with the result. “My book is about not trying to be too fancy.”
Meantime Aaron’s enjoying being on the other side of the fence while watching the new series of MasterChef now screening.
“You watch it knowing how the timing of things happens, the sequence of how it all works,” he says.
He’s also intrigued at seeing how much the judges appear to help the contestants. “When you’re there you wonder if they really are helping you.”
So where to next for the 43-year-old who had Raglan captivated by his unflappability in the MasterChef kitchen this time last year? Aaron’s happy for now to stay in Raglan and to stay in food “but who knows what the future holds”.
Teenage daughter Ariana – a budding actress also with a television series, This Is Not My Life, behind her – is at NCEA stage at school in Hamilton, so that’s a big reason to stay put. So too is the fact wife Ani teaches yoga from their home. Half the house has become a yoga studio, says Aaron, which is “a nice part of our life”.
Meanwhile both yoga and swimming – in the estuary under the footbridge – are big things in Aaron’s leisure time. He’s also squeezed in recently a week’s break with family in the Bay of Islands.
One way or another, Raglan’s MasterChef winner sure has plenty on his plate.