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Manu Feildel: ‘Kiwis rule the roost’

French chef Manu Feildel is impressed with the Kiwi team on My Kitchen Rules.
Manu Feildel - chef and judge on My Kitchen Rules

If there’s one thing chef Manu Feildel found disappointing about New Zealand entering the latest season of My Kitchen Rules, it’s that he didn’t get to try a hangi. But it’s the only part that did disappoint the French judge.

He, fellow judge Pete Evans and the other competing teams on the Australian show have enjoyed Kiwi hospitality twice now, courtesy of Auckland competitors Meg and Simon – and while their first offerings left something to be desired, Manu says the Kiwis are giving their Aussie counterparts something to worry about. “It’s interesting, the Aussies are very scared. If [the Kiwis] win, it would be horrible for the Aussies!

It was a great choice to bring in what I call ‘the cousins’. They give a good fight and they’re lovely people.” Manu is a huge fan of the Kiwis’ native food choices, which have included whitebait fritters and feijoas. But while the chef is impressed by most of the food that’s being dished up by the contestants, he admits his job has taken a toll on his figure.

Although Manu acquired a finely honed physique on last year’s Australian Dancing With The Stars – which he won – he says keeping the weight off through three seasons of My Kitchen Rules has been hard. “It’s something you don’t think about but you’re eating all day, every day.”

Manu and Pete’s day jobs include sampling local restaurants on nights when the competitors aren’t cooking for them. Add that to the travelling and the lack of exercise, and Manu reckons he puts on about 8kg during a typical season. “I mean, what do you do on a plane? You eat,” he shrugs. This season, he wants to be more conscious of his fitness. “I’m trying to be healthier, and keep on doing sports in between.”

But while Manu aims to make time to keep himself fit, it’s not the top priority in his life – that spot belongs to his son Jonti (7), who lives with him for a few days each week in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. “He’s like me in so many ways,” says Manu proudly, adding that “everything changed” when his son was born. “I was only living for my career, which is still very important, but I was never happy enough. Then he was born and it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

My Kitchen Rules Kiwi contestants Simon and Meg

It’s not just physically that Jonti and Manu are alike – Jonti has already declared his wish to be a chef when he grows up. “If he wants to be a chef, I’ll teach him everything I know but if he wants to be a tennis player or a journalist or whatever, I’ll support him with that, too.”

But Jonti isn’t a fan of watching his dad on My Kitchen Rules. “He doesn’t watch it any more, he’s bored!” laughs Manu. The same can’t be said for most of Australia and New Zealand, however, with the reality show reaching big audiences in both countries. And with the Kiwi element now part of the show, things are heating up. Simon and Meg, who are recently engaged, are the first New Zealanders to enter the competition which has traditionally been a battle for supremacy between the Australian states.

“We got the traditional Maori welcome first time around, but I was hoping someone would pull out the spade and four hours later…” says Manu of their first trip to Simon and Meg’s “instant restaurant” in Auckland’s Half Moon Bay. Manu says this season is more competitive than the two previous competitions. “The contestants aren’t scared of voicing their opinions, which has made it interesting.”

While Manu loves being a judge on the hit TV2 show, he says he’d never compete on the show with his partner. “She’s a brilliant cook but I would tend to be a bit bossy – I think relationship and work should be separate. Brother and sister teams work better than husband and wife teams.”

As for advice for other Kiwis thinking of giving My Kitchen Rules a go, Manu says it’s simple. Make sure everything you produce is cooked well and tastes good. “People cook something a million times but then for us they add a twist. Why did you change it? Why would you change a recipe that works? Keep it simple and make sure it tastes good. People make it too complicated.”

But none of it is as easy as you might think watching from the couch at home. “As viewers, people think, ‘I could have done that myself.’ But there’s the stress, the time restraints, cooking for professional chefs. It’s stressful and you have your ego and pride on board. I wouldn’t want to do it myself!”

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