Simon Gault isn’t a man to give up easily. When the MasterChef New Zealand judge and celebrity chef found the woman of his dreams at the age of 43, he wooed her for four years before making her his wife in a romantic ceremony at boutique Auckland hotel Mollies two years ago.
And when he found the view he wanted to see from their dream home, he bought the ideal section and waited until he could build the perfect house.
Almost nine years later, his vision is finally realised. “For years, I was married to restaurants, constantly working all hours – it was my life,” says Simon (48).
He sits with his beautiful wife, Katrina, at a rustic 12-seater dining table that blends happily with the giant sofas and polished concrete floors of the modest yet elegant three-bedroom home the couple designed together.
“Now I’m happily married to the perfect wife and I’d actually quite like things to stay that way! For that to happen, my life had to change.
“I grew up in a very family-oriented environment and it really matters to me. It’s important that Katrina and I have time to spend together here, to be able to switch off. “Now, I look out onto trees, countryside, the lake – and not another house in sight.”
There are personal touches from both Simon and Katrina all over the house – a cute, shiny blue pig the couple brought home from Hawaii graces the kitchen bench, while a full-length mural in the hallway is the creation of the couple’s friend and senior waitress at Simon’s Euro restaurant in Auckland, Nicole Abbot. But much of the house’s simple elegance is the work of Katrina.
“I work with colours and textures,” says the hairstylist, who turned 38 last week. “When it came to the house, I knew what I wanted. I’d come home from work on Saturdays, and Sundays and Mondays were spent talking to architects, looking at fabrics, curtains, windows – I loved doing it.”
Simon chimes in proudly, “Katrina was the brains behind a lot of the house – apart from the kitchen. Most of what you see is her vision. She has a great eye. I reckon she should do interior design for a living.
“The kitchen was me. I always knew what I wanted there, but the colours, furnishings – they were all her idea. “It’s exactly what we wanted. It’s very private. We come home, close the gates and we can do what we like.”
The stylish three-bedroom home is the perfect hideaway for a busy couple who spend most of their professional hours in public. But while Simon is clearly delighted with his newfound domestic bliss, he finds “switching off” hard.
“Simon never stops. It’s not unusual for him to dream about a new dish, then next thing I know, he’s out of bed and on the computer, whipping up a menu,” smiles Katrina.
“But I wouldn’t have him any other way. He’s been like this since I’ve known him. It would drive some people crazy, as it’s impossible for him to relax, but I find his passion really exciting. “He’s very creative – there’s always something constantly churning in his head.”
Which is probably why Simon’s “baby” of the house – the kitchen – is a visual masterpiece that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“The whole kitchen was designed around the fridge – it’s the Rolls-Royce of fridges, and I promised myself I’d have one, one day,” says Simon, who first came across the enormous
American-designed whiteware while working as a chef for US software billionaire Larry Ellison in 2000. “It’s my absolute favourite thing in the house. But I’m a chef, I should have an awesome fridge.”
True. But not all chefs also boast a home kitchen – most of which is hidden, behind the “show kitchen” that forms part of the spacious open-plan living area – that includes a blast chiller, sous-vide oven, two dishwashers, a vacuum packer and an aerator (an odd-looking device used to lighten soups and create chef-style foams).
This kitchen has got everything you’d need for a restaurant. I could do a 10-course meal out of here, no problem,” says Simon. But it has to be pretty good – because with seven New Zealand restaurants now under his chef’s hat, home is where Simon does most of his brainstorming for new dishes and menus, aided and abetted by Katrina.
“People think I don’t cook, but of course I do,” she says. “I have my own style. I’ve learned some things from Simon – I’m more aware of good produce now – but I like cooking. It’s definitely not all Simon in the kitchen!”
In fact, it’s more likely to be her in the kitchen than Simon when the couple settle down to dinner. “We are really busy, and often eat late, so I’ll put some chicken on the barbecue and whip up a salad, something light,” she says.
They also love the pizza oven they’ve had installed outside. But for this couple, a pizza is anything but fast food. “Proper Italian dough needs to be made 24 hours in advance and rested at 10°C, and the fire takes four hours to heat up enough to make it properly, so we have to plan a bit if we want pizza,” says Simon.
Katrina lights up at the thought. “It does take ages but, wow, it tastes amazing.”
Simon and Katrina are a great blend of opposites that make a perfect match. “Simon’s much more outgoing than me, but I understand him. We’re a good team,” says Katrina, who, Simon says, is a great sounding board when he’s dreaming up recipes – just as she’s quick to rein him in if he misbehaves.
“She loves it!” teases the irrepressible Simon. ”Just think, she could be with some boring person who just wants to sit on the couch and read a book. Have you ever seen me read a book, Katrina? If I do, it’ll be about teaching me to do something better, or a strategy book, not a story book.”
In fact, Simon’s favourite activity in his new home, to his surprise, is hanging out in the spa pool in the outdoor area, which comes complete with a large open fire and top-of-the-range barbecue.
“I never thought I’d own a spa pool, but it’s one of the best things we’ve bought,” says Simon. “We come home after a long day and hop in and chat and brainstorm. It’s become our think tank.”
While the pair are toying with the idea of one day owning an apartment in town, they are clearly delighted with their “perfect” home. And thanks to last year’s MasterChef contestant and Simon’s apprentice at Euro, Brenton Thornton, it now also features a landscaped garden, which grows enough fruit, vegetables and herbs to keep Simon stocked with all the produce he can handle.
“Brenton used to be a landscape gardener. Now, not only can I pick all the ingredients I need to cook here at home, but the veges are so good, I actually use a lot of them at Euro. We probably supply more than 40% of the tomatoes there now,” says Simon.
In fact, Simon and Katrina grow a huge range of herbs and vegetables, including olives, avocados, apples, lemons, edamame beans, sweetcorn and rocket (a donation from fellow MasterChef judge Ray McVinnie).
“The garden is something I’m very proud of. I’m really big on using local produce and knowing where my ingredients come from, and I love being able to walk outside and pick them.”
So will we see chickens, pigs and sheep roaming on the sloping lawn one day? “Chickens, maybe. My parents used to own chickens. I loved going outside and getting their eggs,” says Simon. “But trust me, I’m no farmer!”
In fact, Simon is happy with things exactly as they are. For now, anyway. “I don’t have any TV work scheduled for after MasterChef, but I’d happily do more if it came up,” he says.
Meanwhile, his year ahead includes a new cookbook, due for release next month, and a range of Countdown supermarket products, which he hopes to have on shelves within weeks.
And home? “It couldn't be better. I think it’s awesome,” grins Simon. “I’ve got a really cool home, a fantastic wife and I’m busy. Things are just the way I like them.”
What's in Simon's fridge?
- More than 100 jars of condiments and sauces: “I get sent loads to try,” says Simon. “Last week a woman gave me a jar of her home-grown chillies.”
- Kilos of cheese: “I’m a real cheese person so there’s never a shortage!” says Katrina.
- Truffle paste: “Mix it with mascarpone for a really easy dip,” suggests Simon.
MasterChef New Zealand screens Sundays at 7.30pm on TV One