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Great Kiwi Bake Off winner Alby Hailes 'From burnout to living my best life'

The reality TV champion reveals how a breakdown changed everything for the better

By Leena Tailor
Some might consider burnout more of a burden than a blessing, but that's not the case for Alby Hailes.
After winning The Great Kiwi Bake Off in 2021, the 28-year-old doctor got caught up writing his new cookbook Good Vibes while still working full-time and continuing his psychiatry training, inevitably leading to him suffering from exhaustion and needing to take time off.
But the silver lining was that the break ultimately sparked a reset, which saw Alby and his partner Alex quit their jobs, sell their Whangārei home and embark on a rejuvenating four-month adventure abroad.
"I came back with a new-found perspective," Alby tells Woman's Day from Dunedin, where he and Alex have started a new life with their greyhound Beau. "If it wasn't for having been forced to sit back and reflect, we might not have sold the house or gone travelling. There have been dramatic changes in our lives over the last year, but for the better."
Part of Alby's life shake-up has been prioritising his passion for food, something he was reminded of during GKBO. "It was like an alternate reality where you're removed from the world and intensely focused on the kitchen environment – I loved and thrived off it," says Alby, who learned to cook from his mum Sarah. "When I returned to reality, I realised how much I missed being around food."
Landing a cookbook deal with HarperCollins, Alby got to work on Good Vibes, but soon realised he was juggling too much. "I'd done six years of medical school and four years of doctoring without stepping back, then I was writing the book, so I was pushing things.
"Often we carry on with our lives and the stress builds up, then reaches boiling point. My body was saying, 'You need to tone things down!' I went to the doctor for the first time in years and ended up taking two weeks off."
Re-evaluating his priorities, it wasn't long afterwards that he and Alex, 32, gave up their home and jobs to venture to destinations including Mexico, Switzerland, Morocco and Singapore.
Since returning and starting afresh in Dunedin, Alby has paused his psychiatry training and reduced his hours working as a psychiatry registrar so he can focus more on food, including his new business Beau – Cakes by Alby.
Conscious that selling cakes might seem frivolous in comparison to helping people as a doctor – "although spreading deliciousness is important!" – Alby has incorporated a philanthropic element into the company, which donates one cake to charity for every order.
"I dropped one to Women's Refuge recently and they were so excited because they weren't expecting it," he grins. "It's so rewarding."
He's also thrilled to release Good Vibes, which he began working on before GKBO. Featuring mouth-watering recipes such as sumac yoghurt chicken and beetroot blush lasagne, the dishes aim to make readers feel good mentally by helping "energise, connect, excite, comfort and delight" them.
The connection between food and mental health is something Alby's passionate about as a doctor, and he credits cooking for helping him through challenging times. "When doctoring's stressful, cooking helps me be creative and unwind."
Although working on the book was stressful, with Alby cooking and styling the dishes for photo shoots at home, he says Alex has enabled him to follow his dreams.
Happy family! Alby, Alex and their pooch Beau have started a new life in Dunedin.
"He's been amazingly supportive. He's constantly encouraging me to do what I want to do, whether that's working within the health or food worlds, as long as I'm passionate about it."
The two have been together nine years and are passionate about all things culinary. Alex is training in public health medicine, but Alby says he's an "amazing" cook too. "He makes a better curry than me! He's got spices down to an art. He's also made me birthday cakes."
Alex also influenced the recipes Alby chose for Good Vibes, like the gochujang beef and shiitake pizza. "It's a fusion of bibimbap and pizza – two of Alex's favourite foods. There's also a recipe for lamb shanks, which I made on one of our first dates. I took him on this mystery trip and had been preparing food all day."
Since those early dates, the couple has sampled cuisines around the globe. When they're not enjoying travel and food, they can be found taking Beau for runs around Dunedin's Tomahawk Beach, at a
pub quiz with pals or doing bushwalks. "We love enjoying New Zealand's nature. We also try to be active in sports and recently started a curling team!"
While Alby doesn't rule out marriage and children, for now, he's grateful to have found a "complementary" partner.
"I can be chaotic and all over the place, whereas Alex is grounded and keeps me balanced. Hopefully, I bring more energy into his life and push him to do new things. We just love each other, communicate well and share common values, so that's why we work so well."
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