Chelsea announced on the weekend that she and her husband Mike have split. Here, she looks back on a year of big change and shares her hopes and dreams for the future.
It's been a transformative year for Chelsea Winter, one of New Zealand's best-selling cookbook authors and self-confessed 'purveyor of deliciousness and everyday gangly blonde Kiwi'.
Following the success of her cookbooks, the 34-year-old had begun to question what that all meant in the wider scheme of her everyday life. But was she truly content?
"Success isn't measured by how busy you are; success is measured by how fulfilled you are – and there is a huge difference," she reflects.
"And I have learnt that actually, I can be fulfilled with just simple things, and a simple lifestyle. That's been a huge lesson for me."
So, in March, Chelsea decided to leave the busyness of Auckland and put down roots in Mount Maunganui; putting her Point Chevalier home on the market and, in "almost divine synchronicity", sold it in four days and found a new place almost the same day she started looking.
"I needed a rest. I knew that if I kept pushing myself, I would burn out," explains Chelsea, who also felt that, after achieving a certain level of success, she deserved a break.
"All of a sudden, I realised that I wasn't really happy living in Auckland any more. On paper everything was great – it was a nice house in a nice area – but I wasn't feeling fulfilled."
Sharing the move on Instagram, Chelsea wrote that "my dream has come true, good and proper". The city-to-beach move has proven especially therapeutic, having come out of one of the busiest times of her life.
She had put out five cookbooks in five years – classic cookbooks that most Kiwis will have in their kitchens – a huge investment of time and energy given the work she puts in personally: writing, testing and cooking all the recipes in her kitchen, without a test kitchen or others helping write recipes.
Eat was particularly successful: the best-selling New Zealand cookbook of 2017, and the best-selling book.
"When I first came out of MasterChef, I didn't necessarily know who I was in the fabric of life. I was a gameshow winner – I didn't know my identity and was confused, I didn't really feel like I could claim anything. But after five cookbooks, I finally realised that people trusted me and my recipes. My place is inspiring people in the kitchen and this is what I do. This is my purpose in life right now.
"All of a sudden, that [confidence] gave me a bit of courage to go, 'Okay, what else? What else can be this amazing?'"
The move has also helped Chelsea learn how to say no and put herself, and her wellbeing first – an important lesson for someone who admits she found it difficult following her reality TV win in 2012.
"It's hard to say no, especially in a society where unless you're feeling busy and stressed, and you've got heaps on, you're 'not contributing'. But I've realised that's all just a sham, and taking time for yourself, for self-care and reflecting, and creating quiet space, to actually get a better understanding of where you are in life, is so important."
Her decision to move came, in part, from Chelsea's realisation that she didn't necessarily need to be based in Auckland for work. Moving to the Mount, where her dad and stepmum, brother and sister live, also appealed to her low-key approach to life.
"I'm a nature child – I grew up in the countryside. I've always had a big connection to the beach too, so I was like, 'Why am I in the city?'" says Chelsea, who grew up in Hamilton and Kumeu.
"Maybe when you're 25, climbing up the corporate ladder, working in marketing, of course that's the place you want » to be. But, it was like a big epiphany: I can create a lifestyle that actually suits what I want now."
It's a dream for many Kiwis families, who see the appeal in downsizing and leaving the city. Chelsea's advice for those thinking of making the move is to listen to your gut and heart.
"It's about being brave, if you're thinking of making a big change; whether it be that you're not happy with your job or you're not happy where you're living. It's scary, because we've kind of got it ingrained that we need to make things work, but actually, if it's not working, then it's not working. You can actually change your life and it will be okay. You are an artist and your life should be your masterpiece."
Chatting on the phone, Chelsea's standing on the deck of her parents' Mount Maunganui home, looking out at the sea with her UGG boots on and enjoying a quiet day at home, "drinking my tea, playing my guitar".
It's that down-to-earth spirit that appeals to Chelsea's fans and online audience. Her 60.7k followers on Instagram and 389k on Facebook love her unpretentious approach to cooking, and life. She's been sharing plenty of snaps of her carefree new lifestyle: sunsets, rambles up the Mount and beach walks with dog Sprite.
"I feel so blessed to live here. I've got this bike that I ride around on – and it's not a cool one, just a cruiser. I'll need to get bananas for baking, and I'm literally on my bike and down at the organic shop in five seconds."
Professionally, Chelsea has been keeping busy. In July she launched a range of non-stick bakeware into Countdown stores ("Everyday Kiwis deserve better!" she wrote on Instagram announcing its release, which her fans unsurprisingly went nuts for), and published Eat and Homemade Happiness in German.
She promises that she's been working away on new recipes; many inspired by some of her recent travels (she hosts tours with Trafalgar Travel). This year Chelsea's visited Fiji, France, Italy and Croatia, which she describes as "next level amazingness… I wasn't quite sure what to expect but everything was good – the oil, the wine, the food, the scenery."
This summer she'll be staying closer to home, spending Christmas with her family on Great Barrier Island or at home in the Mount.
Surprisingly, the Christmas Day cooking doesn't automatically fall to her; her family are proud of their cooking (her Mum Annemieke taught her to cook), she says, and "I'm happy to sit there and be lazy!" Family signatures include the classic Christmas ham and an iced lemon parfait her stepmum Heather has been making "for as long as I can remember".
Like her approach to cooking, Chelsea prefers her summers to be simple; for her, it's all about love – family, the beach, carols, sunshine and gratitude.
"Sometimes, just a nice glass of champagne with a strawberry in it is the great way to celebrate the day," she says. "Nothing flashy, just good food, some swims and a whole lot of big old belly laughs."
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