A year ago, Brenton Thornton was out of pocket, out of work and seemingly out of luck. Having accumulated various debts totalling more than $20,000, the landscape gardener had taken a huge gamble.
He walked away from a well-paid job to try his luck in the third series of MasterChef and lost. He was left broke and devastated, so it comes as a surprise that Brenton describes his decision to give everything up and enter the contest as one of the best he has ever made.
Despite losing the title he wanted so badly, he’s with a great girl, working at his dream job, earning “half the money for double the hours” – and is happier than he’s ever been.
“I still don’t know how this all happened,” says Northlander Brenton, 25, who came in fourth in the 2012 series of the hit show. He now works at Simon Gault’s restaurant Euro, which has played host to celebrities from around the world-most recently Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and James May earlier this month. In 2011, the restaurant famously turned away singer Katy Perry, saying it was fully booked. It’s all a far cry from his television experience.
“I was devastated when I didn’t win MasterChef,” says Brenton. “Without a doubt it was the most stressful time of my life. I took a huge gamble by giving everything up, but I was shooting for the $100,000 prize.” With no job and his meagre savings running out fast, Brenton remembers the moment when he opened his wallet and spent the last of his money.
“I’d been in the MasterChef house for a few weeks – we were down to the last 10 contestants,” he recalls. “We’d just nished lming and decided to go out for dinner, but I only had $20. It made me feel slightly sick, knowing that once it was gone, that was it – but I figured I owed a lot more than that, and $20 wasn’t going to make a lot of difference to my debts, so I spent it. By then I was beginning to think there was a possibility I’d win the competition – the closer you get to the end of
the show, the more you think the big prize is yours.”
Brenton says that somehow everything always works out for him. “Some would call me stupid, and I think I’m a bit of a dumbass sometimes,” he smiles.
“I ran a business through the recession and gave everything up for a dream – I’ve defnitely taken
gambles. But each time they’ve stopped just short of a crisis.” And, as luck would have it, that’s what happened when Brenton was eliminated. Simon offered him an apprenticeship.
“It changed everything,” says Brenton, who now works in the rotis section at the open-view kitchen and cooks at the famous chef’s table at Euro.
“I've learnt so much in the last few months. That’s why there’s part of me that’s happy I didn't win. The prizes would have been nice, but I have a career now.”
Despite long hours, little sleep and even less money (a junior chef’s wage is nothing to shout about), Brenton’s life couldn’t be better, and he credits much of his happiness to girlfriend of four years, Pilates instructor Christina Croucher.
“She’s always believed in me – I wasn’t even going to enter the competition, but she was a driving force. She was convinced I’d win,” he says. And even when things didn’t go to plan, the pretty brunette didn’t inch.
“For a while it was hard to see an upside, but Christina made me focus on the positives.”
While Brenton has big plans, for now he’s happy cooking at Euro, running the garden he designed that provides much of the produce for the restaurant, and singing and producing music with his band Crescendo.
“I don't think I’m balancing things too well,” he admits. “I'm maybe sleeping four or five hours a night at the moment. I've gone from working the normal 40-hour week, being your own boss and getting good money, to apprentice wages and doing 70 hours. But I reckon I'm a lucky guy. MasterChef changed my life."
Words: Kelly Bertrand & Catherine Milford