MasterChef win­ner and au­thor Chelsea Winter on her food phi­los­o­phy and keep­ing bal­anced

MASTERCHEF WIN­NER, AU­THOR AND AD­VO­CATE FOR HOME-COOKED MEALS, CHELSEA WINTER SHARES HOW SHE STAYS BAL­ANCED AND WHY NOTH­ING’S OFF THE MENU

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

‘There’s enough stress in life with­out hav­ing to ob­sess about ev­ery crumb you put in your mouth’

She’s not afraid of but­ter or cream, and she hasn’t given up sugar. Car­bo­hy­drates pass her lips on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, as do wheat and meat. Yes, look­ing af­ter her health is im­por­tant to Chelsea Winter, but so is the plea­sure she takes in cook­ing and eat­ing. And she reck­ons she’s found a way to bal­ance one with the other.

“Food is ob­vi­ously a huge part of be­ing healthy – you re­ally are what you eat,” says Chelsea. “My phi­los­o­phy is to stay away from overly pro­cessed, re­fined, ready­made food as much as pos­si­ble. Sure, ev­ery now and then if I’m driv­ing down to Hamil­ton I might go through a drive-thru – but it’s what you do most of the time that counts. And most of the time I stick to good old home­made, real food. There’s noth­ing I don’t eat.”

Hav­ing won MasterChef back in 2012, Chelsea has es­tab­lished a ca­reer as a writer of hugely suc­cess­ful cook­books. Her recipes are fam­ily-friendly, and there are plenty of sweet treats in the mix, along with hearty din­ners and Kiwi clas­sics with a mod­ern twist. So what about clean eat­ing?

“I don’t pay any at­ten­tion to it,” says Chelsea, res­o­lutely. “Any­one who’s cooked out of my books will see that.”

The ti­tle of her fifth and lat­est book is Eat. Chelsea ap­pre­ci­ates this can be a loaded word for any­one who has a tricky re­la­tion­ship with food. She’d like to be a part of chang­ing that.

“What I want is to be giv­ing peo­ple back a good re­la­tion­ship with food, be­cause iron­i­cally I think the more you get wound up try­ing to fol­low what­ever diet is trend­ing, the un­health­ier it is. There’s enough stress in life with­out hav­ing to ob­sess about ev­ery crumb you put in your mouth. And it’s not that hard to have a good diet.”

If you cook whole­some meals from scratch, rather than re­ly­ing on the stuff from pack­ets and jars, then you’re eat­ing well, ar­gues Chelsea. Ad­mit­tedly she’s blessed with good genes and has never had to worry about los­ing ki­los – in fact she was that kid at school who al­ways got teased about be­ing too skinny.

“I don’t count calo­ries,” she says. “I’ve never been down that track.”

In­stead her fo­cus is on mak­ing food de­li­cious. Veg­eta­bles are im­por­tant, but serve them up plainly steamed and most kids are likely to push them to the side of the plate, she points out. So in Eat there is a cau­li­flower and pump­kin bake

smoth­ered in a rich, creamy, cheese sauce. Def­i­nitely not low-fat. “But at least you know your kids are go­ing to be get­ting some veg­eta­bles.”

New pri­or­i­ties

Chelsea is all about moderation and bal­ance – it’s how she ap­proaches the ways she works and plays, as well as how she eats. That hasn’t al­ways been the case. Af­ter the MasterChef win, she stepped away from a cor­po­rate job to build a ca­reer in food and for a while thought she had to say yes to ev­ery new op­por­tu­nity that came along. Not sur­pris­ingly she ended up feel­ing ex­hausted and burnt out.

So af­ter turn­ing 30, Chelsea paused for a mo­ment to fo­cus on how she could make pos­i­tive changes to the way she was liv­ing.

“I had a good think about things that weren’t adding value to my life any more,” she ex­plains. “And I de­cided al­co­hol was one of those things. I took a cou­ple of months off and liked it so much I de­cided to keep go­ing. Now I al­ways have a re­ally clear head and lim­it­less en­ergy. It’s awe­some! I very, very rarely drink al­co­hol and I think that plays a huge role in my good health.”

At about the same time, Chelsea sat down with her hus­band of four years, en­tre­pre­neur Mike Bul­lot, and worked out which parts of her new foodie ca­reer were giv­ing her the most sat­is­fac­tion. She re­alised what she en­joyed was writ­ing the recipe books and in­ter­act­ing with her com­mu­nity of read­ers via her Face­book page, which has more than 350,000 fol­low­ers. So she learned to say no to work offers that will pull her at­ten­tion and en­ergy away from those key ar­eas.

Th­ese days when Chelsea wakes in the morn­ing she doesn’t panic about the long list of tasks she has to get through. “I wake up and go ‘Cool, I love ev­ery­thing I’m do­ing, more or less’ and I feel re­ally for­tu­nate.”

‘Food is a huge part of be­ing healthy – you re­ally are what you

eat’

Head­ing into her early 30s, Auck­land-based Chelsea also made changes to the way she was ex­er­cis­ing.

“I used to be a jog­ger but got to the point where I felt like it wasn’t that good for my body any more so I stopped,” she ex­plains. “Then I got re­ally into yoga, but when life is busy it can be tricky get­ting to a class.”

In the winter her main phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is walk­ing their dog, Sprite, twice a day on a lo­cal beach. In the sum­mer months she steps things up a lot. “That’s when I’m re­ally ac­tive – body board­ing, try­ing to surf, swim­ming and hik­ing.”

She loves beach life and when­ever pos­si­ble vis­its her fam­ily at Mt Maun­ganui or heads over to Great Bar­rier Is­land where she and Mike have bought a sec­tion they plan to camp on this sum­mer.

“Those are my happy places,” she says. “Pretty much as soon as the hol­i­day sea­son starts we’re out of the city and at the beach.”

Baby plans

Be­fore too long they hope to make a more per­ma­nent move out of the city. Chelsea, 33, is not re­ally an ur­ban girl, and be­sides she’s long­ing to start a fam­ily and would like to give her kids the same sort of out­doorsy, ru­ral up­bring­ing she en­joyed.

“I’m pretty much the last one of my friends to have a baby,” she ad­mits. “So we’re hop­ing we can make it hap­pen some time in the near fu­ture.”

Fam­ily is hugely im­por­tant to the cou­ple and they’re ex­cited about the prospect of hav­ing kids of their own. But Chelsea’s not one for stress­ing over things she can’t con­trol and has a phi­los­o­phy that life tends to work out the way it’s meant to – which is why she is cur­rently say­ing “if it hap­pens, it hap­pens”.

In the mean­time, she’s been ful­fill­ing her am­bi­tion to travel more, re­cently vis­it­ing Hol­land with her Dutch-born mum An­ne­mieke. “That was amaz­ing,” she says. “I felt a real sense of com­ing home.”

The pair re­turned to An­ne­mieke’s birth­place and met up with lots of long-lost rel­a­tives. Chelsea loved get­ting an in­sight into a cul­ture that is part of her her­itage. And the food was a high­light. “The Dutch re­ally know how to do a good cheese!”

Chelsea loves cheese. She loves but­ter slathered onto crusty bread with maybe a sprin­kling of salt. And yummy, creamy dishes. And choco­late cake – pos­si­bly for break­fast.

Joy on a plate

Food is hap­pi­ness for Chelsea. She likes know­ing that her recipes are be­ing recre­ated in kitchens all over the coun­try be­cause it feels like spreading some of that hap­pi­ness.

“Healthy is more than just a plate of food; it’s a life­style and it’s about bal­ance,” she says. “As long as you’ve got some bal­ance in what you’re eat­ing and a lot of vari­a­tion then healthy to me is about be­ing able to have pud­ding af­ter din­ner and not worry about it be­cause you know you’ve had some pretty good food through­out the day.

“That is the ideal – not look­ing at ev­ery in­gre­di­ent and wor­ry­ing about whether it’s healthy be­cause that’s when you start to freak out. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve freaked out about food. Now it’s my very good friend and I love it dearly.”

‘Pretty much as soon as the hol­i­day sea­son starts we’re at the beach’

Eat by Chelsea Winter, Pen­guin Ran­dom House, $49.99.

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