HOT IN THE KITCHEN
Manu Feildel and Pete Evans serve up a new season of My Kitchen Rules
HIS passion for food has opened a world of career and life opportunities for Manu Feildel.
As a youngster, the Frenchman cut his cheffing teeth in his father’s bistro in France, then headed to London armed with a completed apprenticeship, but no English, to rise through the restaurant ranks.
In 1999, he moved to Australia, working briefly in Melbourne before moving to Sydney to work at Hugos restaurant.
The boss who gave him a start at Hugos – Pete Evans – became his mate. The pairing came full circle five years ago when the duo took up roles
on fledgling cooking reality show My Kitchen Rules.
MKR, which focused on home chefs pitted against similar passionate foodies, became a juggernaut. Last year, the finale was the most-watched TV event of the year.
The 2014 season kicks off tomorrow night and it seems Feildel isn’t the only one whose appetite for the show remains – and the servings are bigger than ever.
“The show had changed so much since that first season,” Feildel says.
“There’s a lot more to it – it’s longer, there are more ‘acts’ there’s more food, it’s gone crazy.
“In season one, it was hard enough for me to get in front of the camera and host a show. I was making the move from doing a bit of TV as a guest to hosting a show – they are very different roles.
“All I was thinking was making sure I pronounced all my words properly so all Australia could understand me.” Fast-forward to season five and
MKR now takes up half of Feildel’s year. “It’s six months on ( MKR), six months off,” he says.
“When I say ‘six months off ’ though, that means it’s the six months I have back in restaurants (he has L’etoile in Sydney’s Paddington and recently announced plans for his first Melbourne restaurant – which he hopes to have up and running by March).
“As I say to people (about time away from chef duties), Louis Vuitton doesn’t sew every handbag himself. He has a whole team doing that.”
Feildel has also managed in the past year to fit in a healthy personal life, including writing books, being a dad to son Jonti (from his first marriage) and getting engaged to partner Clarissa Weerasena. “I don’t think we will be able to have our wedding this year, because it is pretty much full already, but sometime in 2015 it will be – we are still looking at dates,” he says. “She has said yes, so we are on the way.”
Back in TV land, Feildel says MKR is ready to serve up another feast of talent, twists and personalities. There’s also the addition of the MKR Food Truck, a semi-trailer decked out with a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. It’s hard to miss and allows for a host of new – and very public – cooking challenges.
“The show’s popularity and the quality of the cooks I think is a reflection that Australians are more and more interested in and more knowledgeable and adventurous about food,” he says.
“The contestants are always pushing the envelope. There are some great characters and great people, and great food and great drama.”
Five seasons in, Feildel admits he still finds it hard to sit by and watch when things go pear-shaped if the wait for a course stretches into another hour as home chefs lose the plot in their own kitchen.
It makes great television, but his heart goes out to them.
“Sometimes I feel like taking my jacket off, putting the chef jacket on and going out there and helping out,” he says.
“Often they haven’t realised how much work they took on board, they start swimming, then they end up drowning in the kitchen. It’s hard to watch.”
He and Evans have had their share of awkward moments – most often when a dish goes wrong.
“Pete and I have been mates for 15 years – we were employer and employee, then mates, then started working again together through this,” Feildel says.
“It’s a good balance between the two of us. We sometimes look at each other and without a word – we don’t need to say it – you know we are having this whole conversation along the lines of ‘what on earth are they doing here? What are we doing here?’ It’s funny.
“In five years, there has been one dish that still haunts me – I think it was series three – a blueberry and lavender cheesecake. And it tasted like a bar of soap.
“I try to keep a poker face and never judge a dish until it is actually in my mouth. “Sometimes it tastes better than it looks – and often it can look better than it tastes as well. “But this was just horrible. “Pete and I love positive comments more often than not, but unfortunately sometimes we have to be brutally honest.” MY KITCHEN RULES MONDAY, TUESDAY AND
WEDNESDAY, 7.30PM, SEVEN