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NZ Hottest home baker: Winner Sarah Asher’s recipe for success

Taking the hottest home baker title inspired Sarah Asher to follow her dreams.

Last week, Sarah Asher was crowned Chelsea New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker. And this week, the mother of three starts the first chapter of her new life.

The 31-year-old has decided to quit her high-pressure job as managing director at a consultancy firm, to open her own cake and sweet shop in Taupo, her hometown.

The life-changing move puts an end to Sarah’s 60- to 70-hour weeks, where she was working from home on Treaty of Waitangi claims for the Ngãti Tuwharetoa iwi – while also caring for her three children, Ali’tasi (7), Te Waiariki (2) and 14-year-old stepdaughter Cheyenne.

Sarah never imagined she would win the top spot (pictured with judges Dean and Julia Cronshaw).

“I feel such a sense of relief,” says Sarah, who had become accustomed to reading policies and government documents with her baby girl balanced on her lap.

“I have had depression – on and off – all my life, and a big part of working through it is  realising that it’s what makes you happy, and not what makes other people happy, that’s important.”

“When I came back from the show, I thought, ‘Does my work make me as happy as baking does?’ – and it didn’t. It will be wonderful to focus on something I really love to do.”

Changing her career marks a lifestyle overhaul for Sarah. Four years ago, the top baker says she became a “hermit” after separating from her first husband.

With the support of friends, Sarah started internet dating and met the love of her life in cyberspace, Nick.

At the time, he was living in Auckland and was, in Sarah’s mind, off limits – but after a couple of months of chatting, the pair met up while she was visiting the City of Sails.

They went bungee jumping on their first date, and also decided to take the leap into a relationship.

“I wasn’t nervous about meeting him – I was more nervous about the bungee jump,” jokes Sarah.

“At first, I started internet dating because I just wanted to talk to someone. I was  happily chatting away, but then we decided to make a proper go of it.”

The mother of three missed her children – Ali’tasi, Te Waiariki and Cheyenne – during the show’s filming in Auckland.

Thanks to the encouragement of her partner and whanau,  Sarah decided to enter the reality contest. Able to whip up a croquembouche or batch of caramel nougatine éclairs in a flash, she had become a favourite on her marae for her fantastic sweet treats.

She tried out for the third season of the TV3 show last year, but failed to make it past the application process. Sarah didn’t hold high hopes of getting through this time, yet her dreams came true and she was accepted for the competition.

However, major sacrifices were required. Still breastfeeding Te Waiariki, she had to wean her baby in, two weeks before the show started filming in Auckland, where she would be based in an apartment, along with other out-of-town contestants.

“She just didn’t want to, so that was really hard,” says Sarah.

“Every night after the show I went home and would have a bit of a cry.”

The trip north was also the first time away from her kids.

“Before I left, I said to them, ‘We’ll Skype every day,’ but I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t bring myself to see their faces, so I had to just give them a call instead,” she says.

In the penultimate episode of Home Baker, Sarah worked alongside Nick in a cupcake making challenge. After being away from home, seeing him was an emotional experience.

“The [contestants] that lived in Auckland got to go home to their kids and their husbands every day, but by the end of it, Kiriana [Marshall] and I were just dying to spend time with our partners,” Sarah says.

“When I saw Nick, I ran forward and just about mauled him. And in the final, it was great having him there.”

Sarah and Nick are building their own home together in Taupo, which will feature a new kitchen and the appliances she won as part of her Home Baker prize (which also included a trip to Singapore to bake with one of the show’s judges, Global Baker Dean Brettschneider). But the biggest prize is the lesson she’s been able to teach her little ones.

“I want them to know that if there’s something you really want to do, just go and do it. There are always ways to make it work,” says Sarah.

Currently scouting locations for her new store, she adds that the last thing she could ever want as a mother is for her kids to be “miserable in their life”.

“I want them to know they don’t have to be everything for everyone else, but they can do things for themselves to make them happy.”

“Staying in a job I loved at times – but would drive me completely nuts at other times – isn’t showing them that, especially when they can see for themselves how much I love to bake.”

Emma Rawson, Photos: Helen Bankers • make-up: Julia Donaldson

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