Medical drama interrupts MasterChef final

By Joanne Carroll

Finalist Aaron Brunet with wife Ani and daughter Ariana at Manu Bay near Raglan. Photo / Rhys Palmer
Finalist Aaron Brunet with wife Ani and daughter Ariana at Manu Bay near Raglan. Photo / Rhys Palmer

When MasterChef finalist Aaron Brunet sits down with his family to watch the show's finale tonight his nerves and tension will be eased by yoga, good food of course, and the extraordinary love of his wife.

Both finalists attribute much of their cooking brilliance to their partners: Paula Saengthian-Ngam was inspired by her Thai husband to create the Thai dishes that have blown away the judges.

And Aaron's wife Ani is a yoga teacher - responsible for the unusual sight of Brunet doing a meditative head stand in the MasterChef house as he prepared for one of the last challenges.

"I made a choice at the beginning to look after my health and state of mind," Aaron told the Herald on Sunday this week.

"To exercise, sleep well, not to drink too much. You can't cook good food if you are stressed. Life is good if you feel physically well."

A sneak preview of tonight's final reveals the ousted contestants gathered in the MasterChef kitchen in Auckland's Avondale, to cheer on Paula and Aaron.

But things go wrong for Paula, under pressure, when she is slicing a tomato with a mandoline. Her supporters are dismayed as she takes the tip off her finger. "Medic!" she calls.

Blood drips over the floor. "My finger just kept on bleeding and - it's just not good," she says, tearfully.

The cut is so bad that judge Simon Gault asks Aaron a critical question: is he willing to allow judges to stop the clock to allow medics to deal with the serious cut?

While others have chopped and burned themselves and their food, yoga-practising Brunet has stayed consistently calm through the competition. And Ani, 41, has inspired her Raglan husband in more ways than just teaching him yoga.

Ani's first husband, Rob, was also one of Aaron's closest friends.

When Rob was dying of cancer, his last request was to Aaron: to take care of Ani.

"I was 21 and Rob was dying," Ani told the NZ Woman's Weekly. "Aaron and his mum lived around the corner from us, and he would come and help me nurse him. Just before Rob did pass away, he looked into Aaron's eyes and asked him to look after me, which he's done ever since."

The couple now have a 13-year-old daughter, Ariana.

Aaron says: "I missed my family but it was great to live with such passionate foodies. We were always talking about food and I learned a lot from them, particularly Paula in the last few weeks."

His mother Zora is a regular at craft shows around the country selling her well-known wooden rainbows.

She is also the inspiration for his cooking: she comes from Italy and learned to cook from her mother.

Aaron says keeping the result under wraps has been difficult.

"Especially living in a small town, everyone in Raglan is wanting to talk about it and you have to be a bit closed with people you are usually quite open with.

"Even people I don't know have been coming up to me and asking me about it. Everyone's comments have been very positive."


The MasterChef final screens at 7.30 tonight on TV One.

- Herald on Sunday

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