Brett McGregor was one of New Zealand's most recognisable celebrity chefs thanks to his three best-selling cookbooks, his TV show and his regular appearances on the cooking demo circuit. But in recent years, fans have noticed that the original MasterChef NZ winner disappeared from the public eye.
Two years ago, Brett decided to step away from his life as a celebrity chef to make a lasting mark on the industry he loves so much.
"When I entered MasterChef, I wanted to write books and have a TV show. And I loved writing the books, I loved the show, the travel, meeting new people, the new cultures – it was amazing," Brett says from his home in West Auckland's leafy suburb of Titirangi. "But then I realised I want to have a footprint in the industry. I want to be respected. So, I took a step back and went to work in a restaurant."
Previously a consulting chef at Auckland Airport's Strata Lounge in 2017, he stepped into the role of Executive Chef at the end of 2019, despite having never run a professional kitchen before. "Becoming a chef was a huge step," he recalls. "The learning was absolutely massive and very, very scary at the start, but I had a good team of people around me. I did make mistakes, but the good thing about making a mistake is that you don't have to make it again."
Another major factor in the 49-year-old's decision to step away from the public eye was wanting to spend more time with wife Tracey, 47, and son Jack, now 18.
The Taste of a Traveller host says in the whirlwind of chasing his dreams after winning the TV title in 2010, he never considered just how much time he would have to spend away from his family.
"I don't think we really thought it through," Brett says. "So, we had our ups and downs. There was a lot of time spent away in the beginning. I'm not complaining, it was very exciting. But, like any family unit, it's always best to be together. I'm a quiet, home-style kind of person, so it has been really nice to come back and get to spend that quality time at home with my family, see friends again and be a little bit more about me."
For Brett, the best times in those early years were during school holidays when Jack, who was only six when his dad became a household name, could accompany him on trips around the country.
"He loved it when he was able to come with me. I'd do the morning breakfast shows and sometimes he'd come on as well, and he'd have a ball. The hosts always loved him."
Jack is now a few months into his first year of study at South Seas Film School – looking forward to a career behind the camera – and Brett is convinced that first taste of the TV industry sparked his love for film.
The former intermediate school vice-principal is stepping back into the public eye this year to promote a new business he's passionate about. He serves as a recipe developer and brand ambassador for MenuAid, a meal-planning service that provides Kiwis with their weekly menu, a customisable shopping list and supermarket delivery options.
It was a natural fit for Brett, who says the business is very similar to what he gave Kiwis through his cookbooks.
"I've always set myself in that everyday family meal genre," he explains. "My recipes have always been uncomplicated and easy to prepare. MenuAid is going to bring a lot of inspiration into the kitchen. We want this to become New Zealand's cookbook."
With MasterChef NZ soon returning to our screens on Three and ThreeNow, Brett has some sage advice for the new batch of competitors.
"They need to look within New Zealand because our food is what makes us unique. We need to make sure we are celebrating what we have in a very special way."
As he reflects on his incredible career, we ask Brett if there's anything he'd change about the last decade.
"Nothing," he emphatically responds. "You've got to have the good to know the bad, the ups to have the downs. All of that defines who you are as a person. So, no matter what happens in life, you've got to pick yourself up and keep going. And I've got to admit, the last 10 years have been so sensational, why would I change it?!"
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