MasterChef judge Simon Gault has much to thank his dad for. The successful chef, accomplished aviator, display pilot and golfer of, well, adequate skill, is without question a chip off the old block. In fact, Simon learned all of these skills from his dad.
So when Bryan Gault suffered a stroke that had doctors fearing for his life, Simon dropped everything to be by his father’s side.
“If I start talking about what Dad means to me, I’ll start crying,” confesses tough guy Simon – and he’s not kidding. “Dad is awesome, the best dad anyone could ever want. I’m so grateful for him, for everything he’s taught me. I just want to make sure I keep him around for longer.”
It was last October, while Simon was in the middle of filming the fourth series of MasterChef, that Bryan (79) had a stroke which initially paralysed his entire left side, and he is still unable to use the fingers on his left hand.
A terrified Simon (48) dashed to his father’s hospital bed, causing him to miss some of the TV One show’s filming, including the Fiji episode.
“Of course I did – what’s life without family?” says Simon, who describes his younger sister Sarah as his biggest fan and best friend. The chef is also expanding his own family – his wife of three years, Katrina (38), is expecting their first child later this year.
“Family are the people you can absolutely trust, the people who are always around when it all hits the fan,” says Simon.
And last October, it did.
“I remember it vividly,” recalls Bryan, a former Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot and Air New Zealand 747 training captain, business owner and avid cook. “I woke up with cramp in my leg. I got out of bed and headed for the bathroom, thinking that using the leg would make the cramp go away. Then I figured I may as well shower and get dressed – but couldn’t pick my clothes up off the floor. That’s when I knew I was having a stroke.”
While Bryan initially chose to deny the inevitable, he quickly realised he had no choice but to get help. “That’s when I asked my wife Ellerie to call the meat wagon, and I was carted off to Middlemore Hospital.”
Like Simon, Bryan is very determined. After three months in hospital, he walked out – something the doctors weren’t convinced he’d be able to do. He is now spending his days trying to pick up walnuts to get his left hand working.
“I’ll never fly again. Now I’m trying to get the little grey cells to recognise that my fingers are supposed to be useful.”
It’s not surprising Bryan is frustrated. He spent much of his working life away from home – Simon’s mum and Bryan’s wife of 55 years, Ellerie, jokingly describes herself as
“an aeroplane widow”. But no matter how far afield he flew, Bryan made sure to spend time with his son, even if that meant using unorthodox methods.
“The first time Simon flew in a plane with me, he was two weeks old – we put the carry cot in the back where the suitcases go,” recalls Bryan. Despite a childhood where going up in the plane was a birthday treat, Bryan was quick to discourage his son from following his path.
“Dad never wanted me to be a pilot,” says Simon. Luckily, the kitchen came calling.
”We all grew up figuring we were all better cooks than each other, and everyone else was incompetent,” deadpans Bryan.
Surely it’s remarkable that a young Simon ever got near the kitchen? “Considering we were better than him, yes,” agrees his dad with a twinkle. “Although I will concede that he may have a slight edge on us now…”
“I still ask them about cooking – they are pretty good,” says Simon, who has included recipes from his parents in his bestselling cook book, Homemade.
“Mum was my first business partner, too – when I was 22, we set up Bell House in Howick. At the time, it was one of very few fine dining resaturants in Auckland.
“Dad also helped me with whatever I was doing, whether it was school projects, flying or cooking,” recalls Simon.
“It’s thanks to flying that Dad and I have seen each other so much and formed such a tight bond. He is one amazing man – I am so proud he’s my dad,” he says.
“Over the years we’ve formed a pretty tight bond,” says Bryan fondly. “I am extremely proud of him.”
NZ Warbirds Open Day takes place at Ardmore Airport on June 2, 10am-4pm.