Pete Evans and Manu Feildel really are brothers from another mother. Great mates for 17 years, the pair are now happily chalking up another milestone – travelling around the country to judge the upcoming season of My Kitchen Rules New Zealand.
Both laugh about the fact real-life friendship has turned them into on-screen stars. “It’s the perfect relationship,” tells Manu, 43.
“We work together for six months and in the beginning of that six months, we’re happy to get back together. Then at the end of six months, I don’t want to
see him again!”
The pair are full of jokes about filming the TVNZ 2 show, which premieres this week, but they both agree they share a mutual admiration and a passion for food that bonds them like blood brothers.
“Manu is the most likeable person in the world,” says Pete.
“There’s no other chef that I would rather work with because I know what Manu’s like. He’s funny, charming, professional and charismatic. He ticks all the boxes. If you’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, he’s the kind of someone you want to spend time with.”
Honesty is their top priority and a value that’s kept their friendship strong. “If you’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, it has to be the right person,” says Manu. “It’s like a marriage.”
The pair met when Manu slipped his CV under the door of Pete’s Bondi Beach restaurant. “I loved what I saw on the résumé – French chef, loved seafood – and he started work the next day,” recalls Pete.
“At that time, we had a very close-knit team of chefs at the restaurant, with a few Kiwis actually, and they are all still very close friends.”
When Manu left Pete’s employment, the Gold Coast-raised surfer watched with interest as his French mate’s culinary star rose.
“He went on to get chef hats [culinary awards] in Sydney and only a few chefs had ever done it,” tells Pete.
“I felt proud watching him achieve that. Then when we reunited for MKR, we were like, ‘How good is this?’”
For Manu, he says having Pete by his side for eight seasons of MKR Australia has been invaluable, especially because he is so supportive.
“When I was given the position of co-hosting the show eight years ago, I had a lot to prove to the production and myself. Pete was by my side from day one. The instant restaurant rounds were a complete nightmare for me and I forgot my lines often. At the time, it was the biggest show I’d ever done. I was a fish out of water.
“But Pete used to say, ‘It’s OK, mate.’ And even today, he’s always introducing me to people and helping me to move forward. That’s what friends do for each other and that’s why it’s easy to work together. We’re mates.”
The pair have spent the past few weeks traversing the length of our country for a series of instant restaurant rounds between six teams of Kiwi contestants. Both are passionate about the amazing dishes they’ve eaten and different parts of the country they’ve been able to travel to.
“If I get kicked out of Australia, I’ll come to New Zealand,” grins Manu, whose partner Clarissa Weerasena joined him for her first-ever holiday in Aotearoa.
“It’s a beautiful country. I stayed in Wellington and another good friend of mine is from there so he offered to show me around. He took me around the coast and apparently it’s very windy, but it wasn’t that day. It was really beautiful.
“And Auckland’s restaurant scene is phenomenal. The little corner in Britomart has cool bars and restaurants of every type of food. It’s just brilliant.”
Given that Pete’s model wife Nicola Robinson was born in Christchurch, he’s known about all the beautiful parts of our country for years.
“When I’m travelling in America and Europe for a show called Moveable Feast, I always say to people, ‘If you love Australia, you should check out New Zealand!’”
Although Nicola stayed at home on their farm in Australia to look after the animals while Pete filmed here, he says she’s given him the inside scoop on where
to catch the best waves.
“As a surfer, you can go from one coast to another and get good waves,” enthuses Pete. “I’ve been getting amazing, amazing waves. I’ve surfed Raglan and all the beaches around it. And I went to Whangamata the other day – that was really good fun.
I’m hopefully going to go to Piha next week. I’ve also got my sights set on Te Arai’s Forestry Beach. I reckon that’ll be a good little adventure while I’m here.”