MKR contestants Mark and Andrea share how the kitchen fuels their friendship

Parents Andrea and Mark run their busy households in very different ways

If Waikato “foodie friends” Andrea Clark and Mark McConnell have learned one thing, it’s that throwaway comments can land you on television – or more specifically in their case, on MKR.

One night, while their two young families were over at Mark’s house preparing dinner together, Andrea quipped, “It’s like we’re cooking on My Kitchen Rules!”

That was the catalyst for Linda, 42, Mark’s wife, to say, “Oh, you guys should actually do that!” and began looking online for applications to the show.

“She saw applications for MKR’s new season closed in two days,” continues Andrea, 36. “She quickly sent the forms, and we filled them out and sent in photos. A producer called the next day and came down to see us in Taupiri the day after. It was a whirlwind!”

“If Linda hadn’t applied for us, we probably wouldn’t have,” muses Mark, 50. “We call her our ‘hype girl’ because she always loves everything we cook – and she’ll tell you she’s definitely not a chef.”

With six children and three businesses between them, life is hectic for the Taupiri and Puketaha-based mates and their spouses.

They met five years ago through their children’s school. It wasn’t long before they started getting together regularly to socialise over dinner with other families.

Family get-togethers are full-on fun! Mark and wife Linda, with kids (from left) Finn, Eve and Alice. And Andrea and husband Brendan with Covi, Henley and Cooper (front).

“We either cook together or bring a pot-luck meal to share,” explains Andrea, 36. “Mark is really good at salads and meat. His beef loin with chimichurri sauce is so moreish. And I do desserts well, so that became our complementary roles within the group.

“We always said that if we can cook a three-course dinner with multiple kids running through the kitchen, trying to monitor time and friends standing around drinking and getting in the way, then MKR would be a walk in the park.”

Mark, who runs a sportswear company, also wanted to give MKR a shot to show his kids – Alice, 11, Eve, nine, and Finn, three – that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

“As a parent, if they see Dad on a cooking programme, it shows them they’ve got nothing to lose by trying something new and having the confidence to put yourself out there,” he explains.

Mark was raised on a dairy farm in Taupiri, and helped milk cows until he was 20. Then he had the chance to play professional rugby in France and Ireland.

He says his mum Cheryl encouraged him to spend time in the kitchen growing up. She taught him the basics of cooking.

Mark’s culinary talents also helped woo his Irish wife 19 years ago, after they met at a Meatloaf concert in Dublin. The next week, he had a date with Linda – and her mother Yvonne.

“I cooked seafood chowder for them – and they still talk about it!” laughs Mark of his gastronomic triumph.

“I didn’t realise that Linda’s father Paul, who was away at the time, is an amazing cook. So there’s always a bit of banter between us about who can cook the best.”

For Andrea – who is mum to Cooper, 14, Henley, nine, and Covi, four – baking means an escape.

It’s a place she can relax and enjoy the process of creating something – like her signature, decadent, flourless chocolate cake – that she can be proud of.

But as a young teen growing up in the tiny Australian town of Merimbula, on the New South Wales south coast, she says learning to cook was initially more out of necessity than fun.

“When my parents divorced and Mum left, Dad would work six weeks away at a time, so my younger brother and I would be home alone a lot from the ages of 14 to 18,” she shares.

“My grandma lived next door in a little granny flat. She was there watching over us, but really it was just me and my brother. And, naturally, I took on the role of mum.

“It was hard but I took hospitality as a subject at school and learned all the things I could there. I just wish I had an air fryer back then!”

Andrea met her Kiwi husband and “number-one supporter” Brendan, 37, when she was 17 and he was visiting friends in her town. The fitness-loving couple moved back to New Zealand five years ago. Once back, they started up two women-only gyms in Hamilton and Auckland.

Now, with the support of their families and rural school community behind them, Mark and Andrea point out they didn’t go on MKR to win it… Well, not in the beginning anyway.

Tells Mark, “We probably spent the first few weeks being quite quiet, not outwardly pushing ourselves and just observing the other big personalities. Then something changed and we became quite competitive!”

His culinary teammate agrees, “Now, when our families get together, we always joke about getting our spouses back by signing them up to appear on [survivor reality TV show] Naked And Afraid!”

Will the pals get the last laugh on MKR?

Quick fire

What do you enjoy cooking with your kids?

Andrea: My kids love baking banana cakes, cupcakes and lemon loaf – everything desserty. Mark: I cook lasanga and steak with the kids. We never do takeaways, but prefer to cook a lot of meals
in the weekend and freeze them to use during the week.

Name the best kitchen invention?

Andrea: Air fryers! We’ve got sports on every day after school and we need quick meals. My 14-year-old son also uses it twice a day. Mark: I think they should be banned!

Who is messier in the kitchen?

Mark: Andrea is – she has this amazing skill of throwing flour into a bowl from four feet away!

MKR New Zealand screens 7.30pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays on TVNZ 2 and TVNZ+.

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