Top cook, au­thor and celebrity speaker Chelsea Win­ter has had huge suc­cess per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally. She cred­its much of it to her mum, An­ne­mieke

CHELSEA WIN­TER HAS a pocket full of bits and bobs. Shells, rocks, seed pods and three shades of po­hutukawa leaves col­lected on a walk along Point Che­va­lier beach, too pre­cious not to res­cue from be­ing stomped on by a jog­ger en­grossed in the sound in his head­phones. It’s a habit she has picked up from her mother, artist An­ne­mieke Farmilo who, 150 kilo­me­tres away, is traips­ing around the green hills of Pukea­tua, Waikato, with her nose to the ground, trea­sure hunt­ing. An­ne­mieke has an eye for spot­ting na­ture’s gems. She can see the tini­est of feath­ers in a pud­dle and res­cue a kina shell smaller than a pea from sea foam on Great Barrier.

“My mum has a way of find­ing beauty in re­ally sim­ple things. The way she sees the world is the way I also want to live my life,” says Chelsea.

An­ne­mieke uses her trea­sures – pounamu, glass and other nat­u­ral pieces – in her art to make land­scape scenes. Her art cel­e­brates na­ture and chal­lenges per­spec­tives; put an ob­ject in a frame, and it forces the viewer to stop and fo­cus on the fine lines of a gnarled piece of wood or the sym­me­try of a feather, she says. Take a step back, and the framed ob­jects form a big­ger pic­ture.

Chelsea her­self should never be taken at first glance. There’s Chelsea Win­ter at large – the phe­nom­e­non. The MasterChef win­ner with more than 350,000 Face­book fans, au­thor of four cook­books, all num­ber one best­sellers, with a fifth book, Eat, hit­ting the shelves late Septem­ber. Her third book Home­made Hap­pi­ness is about to be trans­lated into Ger­man. She is a suc­cess­ful pub­lic speaker and reg­u­larly trav­els with groups around Europe with Trafal­gar tour com­pany.

But take a closer look be­yond the hoopla and Chelsea is a na­ture en­thu­si­ast who loves bush walks and body­surf­ing. She grew up in the coun­try­side on the out­skirts of Hamil­ton with deer, chick­ens, pigs and a fat pony called Angie. She de­scribes her­self as “quite good at cook­ing”; her lat­est cook­book in­cludes recipes re­quested by her Face­book fans. “Some­one on my page asked if I had a cream dough­nut recipe, so I made one. There’s a slow-cooker sec­tion for cook­ing with cheaper cuts of meat, be­cause they asked for it.”

Her fans love her be­cause she’s un­apolo­get­i­cally, Chelsea. She speaks in her own lan­guage; part Roald Dahl and part Ches from Ch­es­dale Cheese. Chelsea-isms in­clude phrases such as: “Mum thinks I’m a bet­ter cook than her but that’s pop­py­cock.” “I can’t wait to put this cake in my gob.” “I just galumphed a whole crois­sant.” And, “Get your laugh­ing gear round this.” She can ride a horse and quote the en­tire Jim Car­rey movie Dumb and Dum­ber, not nec­es­sar­ily at the same time, al­though she’d give it a crack. On a “blim­min’ freez­ing” day in Pukea­tua, where the fog from nearby Kara­piro River is so thick it ob­scures nearby Maun­gatau­tari Moun­tain, Chelsea and her mum are “up at spar­row’s fart” out with the horses, Chelsea lead­ing Mouse, a shet­land pony around the pad­dock and An­ne­mieke in the sad­dle of Black­bird, a quar­ter horse/arab.

“I frickin’ love this place. I love the fresh air. I love the earth. I love the an­i­mals. I feel at home. Mike [Chelsea’s hus­band] and I have made our house in Auck­land cosy and nice, but the city isn’t me. It’s not un­til I get back into na­ture that I ever feel my true self,” she says.

It’s not a mat­ter of if, but when, Chelsea moves from Point Che­va­lier, Auck­land. She and Mike (Bul­lot, a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur and a former New Zealand rep­re­sen­ta­tive in laser class sail­ing) are just de­bat­ing the lo­ca­tion. “We will def­i­nitely be mov­ing af­ter we start a fam­ily. At the mo­ment I’m dead keen on go­ing ru­ral, and Mike’s hang­ing out to live by the sea. So it’s surf ver­sus turf. Ei­ther way, it’s a win.” Chelsea’s dad Mark and her brother Si­mon and sis­ter Dana all live in Mt Maun­ganui, so there’s fam­ily both in the coun­try and by the sea.

The cou­ple has al­ready bought a patch of land on Great Barrier Is­land, a beach peb­ble’s throw from her mum and step­dad Kevin’s bach. It’s at the fam­ily bolt hole that An­ne­mieke says Chelsea honed the cook­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing skills that led her to win MasterChef in 2012. From the age of six she was cook­ing off the grid along­side An­ne­mieke, with­out a steady stream of gro­cery sup­plies. Si­mon and Dana are nine and 10 years her se­nior. She also has a step­brother and step­sis­ter, Ja­son and Lara, who are Kevin’s kids from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage. Dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days on the Barrier, tents are pitched all over the sun-bleached yel­low grass and there are usu­ally about 15 kids to feed.

“I’m a big be­liever in a sack of onions and a sack of pota­toes as a base for podg­ing things out and mak­ing nu­tri­tional meals go a long way,” says An­ne­mieke. “Kevin would take the kids out to catch fish, and we’d eat fish morn­ing, noon and night and live off pipi or mus­sel frit­ters. Chelsea was six when we bought the bach, and she was in the kitchen from the be­gin­ning, think­ing on her feet and man­ag­ing what food we had with lots of laugh­ter and silli­ness.”

That in­ven­tive kitchen thrifti­ness was in­stalled by An­ne­mieke’s par­ents. Her fam­ily im­mi­grated to New Zealand from The Nether­lands when she was six, some of the tens of thou­sands of Dutch na­tion­als who moved to the land of milk and honey af­ter World War II.

From Hol­land, her fa­ther left his job as a met­al­lur­gist and pho­tog­ra­pher with Phillips (he was part of a team who in­vented the coil inside a light bulb) to set­tle in Te Awa­mutu. In the be­gin­ning he cy­cled to Otoro­hanga to work in his brother-in­law’s fish and chip shop.

An­ne­mieke and her sib­lings, who didn’t speak a lick of English, were en­rolled at the lo­cal con­vent school. “It was quite fright­en­ing. We were all blonde and stood out from the oth­ers, and the nuns didn’t know what to do with us. On birth­days we were given a spe­cial treat of wind­mill bis­cuits on bread with but­ter and jam.

“The teas­ing from the other kids was bad and we worked out quickly that we didn’t want to have those bis­cuit sand­wiches any­more.” She down­played her Dutch-ness, and An­ne­mieke’s (pro­nounced Ana-meek) name was short­ened to Anna un­til she re­claimed it back a few years ago. “It meant a lot to have my birth name back. Th­ese days, I’m very proud of my Dutch her­itage.”

“I am so aware of Dad’s sac­ri­fice leav­ing Hol­land, and I thanked him so many times for bring­ing us here. Be­fore he died I said, ‘Dad I can’t even find the words to say to you how I ap­pre­ci­ate com­ing to New Zealand.’” Ev­ery day she is in awe of the beauty of the Pukea­tua coun­try­side, where the hills duck be­hind fog and the Kara­piro River sparkles to life when it catches the mid­day sun.

Chelsea and her mum are headed to The Nether­lands this Septem­ber on the tail end of Chelsea’s “dream gig”, trav­el­ing on be­half of Trafal­gar with a group around France.

“I’m keen to learn what I can from my mum and her her­itage,” says Chelsea who in­cluded a few of An­ne­mieke’s and her oma’s recipes in her first cook­book, At My Ta­ble. Ear­lier in her ca­reer, when she was ap­pre­hen­sive about writ­ing a cook­book and do­ing a demo in front of 500 peo­ple at the Food Show, it was her mum who told her she can do any­thing and to shake off the nerves. And how could she re­ally ar­gue with a woman who taught her­self to ride a horse at 57, and got back in the sad­dle six weeks af­ter be­ing thrown off, smash­ing her pelvis and sus­tain­ing an in­jury that re­sulted in about 30 breaks?

“That accident was hor­rific, but she just got back on her feet again. My mum has lim­it­less en­ergy, and there’s no is­sue that comes up that can’t be re­solved,” says Chelsea.

“I look at the life she and Kevin have cre­ated here in the Waikato by work­ing hard, and it makes me want to work hard too. She’s in­spired me to value the beauty of na­ture, and in­stalled the im­por­tance of fam­ily. And if I could be even a smidge as brave as her, I’d be away laugh­ing,” says Chelsea.

OP­PO­SITE: The fog from the Kara­piro River is dense enough to ob­scure nearby bird re­serve Sanc­tu­ary Moun­tain Maun­gatau­tari but it doesn’t de­ter Chelsea Win­ter and her mum An­ne­mieke Farmilo from tak­ing shet­land pony Lit­tle Mouse and Black­bird, the quar­ter horse/arab, for a morn­ing stroll around An­ne­mieke’s life­style block in Pukea­tua. THIS PAGE: Chelsea grew up around horses and is con­fi­dent of them, but her labradoo­dle Sprite is more hes­i­tant. An­ne­mieke’s cairn ter­rier Biddi is fear­less around horses and at­tracts mud with mag­netic force.

Kevin crafted a strip kayak from teak, western red cedar and Amer­i­can white maple. He’s plan­ning to make an­other for An­ne­mieke so they can kayak Lake Kara­piro. Fam­ily mat­ters Chelsea’s par­ents Mark and An­ne­mieke di­vorced when Chelsea was fi ve, and both par­ents found their new part­ners quickly af­ter sep­a­rat­ing. She’s close to both her step­dad Kevin and step­mum Heather, and a tight- knit fam­ily has been the back­bone of her suc­cess. “MasterChef was hard, and the win was pretty sur­real. But when the dust set­tled, it was a bit like, ‘ Well done, and good luck, you’re on your own.’ So I thought, ‘ OK, what now?’ I re­ally couldn’t have got through it all with­out the sup­port of my amaz­ing hus­band, Mike, and my fam­ily; they’ve mo­ti­vated me to do more and al­ways en­cour­aged me to be my­self.”

An­ne­mieke and Kevin’s last prop­erty was a 240- hectare sheep and dairy graz­ing farm in Otoro­hanga where they were nearly self­suffi cient. At fi rst they were hes­i­tant about down­siz­ing and mov­ing to Pukea­tua. “We al­most didn’t look at this place be­cause it’s only one hectare and we thought it was too small, but when we saw it we knew straight away it was right,” says Kevin.

Ce­ram­ics by Great Barrier Is­land artist Sarah Har­ri­son and spe­cial leaves col­lected by An­ne­mieke. “Th­ese leaves stood out from thou­sands of oth­ers when I was horse rid­ing. It was a chal­lenge get­ting them home un­dam­aged,” she says.

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