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Celebrity News

Mike Van de Elzen's patch of paradise

The famous foodie is now free range!

Celebrity chef Michael Van de Elzen started his foodie career at the tender age of 14. He’s now 43, which means the Kiwi Living co-host has spent more than two decades under the pump in high-pressure kitchens. But when Woman’s Day arrives at the Van de Elzens’ new family home, on a six-hectare plot of farmland in Muriwai, Auckland, Mike cuts a relaxed, chirpy character as he rustles up lunch – ham sammies, nuts and fresh fruit – for his two girls, Hazel, five, and Ivy, three.
“This is us for the next 10 to 15 years,” Mike smiles contentedly, gazing out at the property he and his wife Belinda purchased last October. Home to cows, chickens, fruit trees and sweeping farm views, the idyllic spot is just what the couple had in mind when they made the decision to raise their daughters away from the hustle and bustle of the city. “We lived in Mount Albert for 11 years,” tells Mike, who was raised on a chicken farm in West Auckland. “We had a lovely home, but we always wanted the kids to have space to run around in. Even though we had a big backyard and a trampoline then, it didn’t really compare to this.
“It’s about the journey of food out here too. I’ve always worked in kitchens where I’d have the best of the best delivered to my door, whereas now I have a vege patch and some animals, and we fill our freezer with our own produce. It’s about going back to the beginning and getting the best out of the land.” For three years, the couple traipsed from one end of greater Auckland to the other in the search for the perfect abode. “At one point, Bee was ringing every agent and just harassing them, ‘Have you got anything?’ In the end, we sold up in Mount Albert to put the pressure on.
“We were torn between the east and west coast, but we just let the land choose us. We got a feeling as soon as we got out here and ended up buying the place the very same day we came to view it.” However, once the buzz of finally securing their dream property wore off, the hard work started. No stranger to a bit of slog, Mike has worked in fast-paced kitchens here and abroad, but even this hardy chef found his to-do list daunting. “All I kept thinking was that we had loads of lawn and nothing to eat it,” chuckles Mike. “I don’t know why they call them lifestyle blocks – they’re more like slave-style blocks because the maintenance is ongoing. It’s still quite overwhelming.
We’ve got a lot to do before we can make it our own out here. There’s no artwork on the walls and it doesn’t have our personal touch.“But so far, it’s been a fun, rewarding learning curve and everyone’s pitching in. The girls love feeding the chickens and picking the fresh fruit, and Bee’s the green finger – she knows her stuff when it comes to the garden. It’s her job to mow the lawns.
“It’s been a really great bonding experience with my father too. As a child, some of the best times with Dad were spent painting fences, fixing things or riding on the tractor, so he’s been a massive help and it’s given us a good chance to spend some practical yet quality time together.”
Mike’s got a lot on his plate! With his own vege patch and brood of hens, not to mention his skills in the kitchen, expectations are high for schoolgirl Hazel’s packed lunches.
Out to pasture
It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Mike, who’s in the thick of filming for Kiwi Living’s return to TV One in April. But regardless of how full the cook’s plate becomes, his Sundays will always remain family days, reserved for running amok in the paddocks and making plum-flavoured ice blocks with his brood.
“The girls can’t grow up fast enough,” smiles Mike. “People keep telling us these times are the best times – they are still at an age where they love their dad! We’re fortunate as parents to have such a great bond with our girls.” It took the couple – who met when Belinda, a professional chef herself, started working at the same restaurant as Mike in 1997 – three heartbreaking rounds of IVF to conceive Hazel. Due to their difficulties in falling pregnant the first time around, the pair froze the remaining embryos from the last round of the fertility treatment.
“Technically, our girls are the same age – one’s just been frozen for longer,” chuckles Mike. “But Hazel starting school really makes me feel old. Where did the time go?” Ageing isn’t his only concern, however. With two chefs for parents, Hazel’s packed lunch is already a hot topic in the school staffroom. Mike tells, “On a tour of the school recently, the headmaster said to us, ‘Everyone’s looking forward to seeing what’s going in Hazel’s lunchbox.’ Woah, no pressure! But it’s all about variety – I won’t punish her with curried egg sandwiches five days a week, like I had as a kid!”

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