TV

My Kitchen Rules New Zealand judges Manu Feildel and Colin Fassnidge used to hate each other

The celebrity chefs reveal their secret feud and how fatherhood has changed them

It’s difficult to believe that celebrity chefs Manu Feildel and Colin Fassnidge used to dislike each other. Today the judges of MKR New Zealand are so close, they’re almost like brothers – they live in the same east Sydney neighbourhood, have holidayed together and even spend family Christmases at each other’s houses.

But when they first came together on the set of the Aussie version of the show, they were far from great mates. “I usually get the blame,” says Colin, who admits he had a bit of an attitude problem back then. “Chefs like to fight chefs when they’re trying to make their name. It’s just egos.”

If anything, Manu made an effort to welcome him to the show. “He was obviously very green and I’d already done a few years of TV, so I politely said, ‘If you’ve got any problems, let me know if I can help in any way.’ After a few months of working together, at the end of the grand final, he knocked on my door and said he’d like to apologise for being an a***hole. We’ve been good friends ever since.”

Manu and Colin with contestants on the set of MKR Australia.

Away from their families, shooting in New Zealand last summer, the pair, both 49, regularly hung out together when the day’s work was finished. “We go for dinner or cook for each other,” says Colin, chatting to Woman’s Day in between posing for our exclusive photo shoot on Auckland’s waterfront. “Manu made me a beef stroganoff the other night and he likes my colcannon [a classic Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage].”

There’s no competitiveness when they cook or work together, but they do tease each other endlessly and are fond of pranks. Manu tells, “If one of us is dozing during the day, we’ll take a photo and post it online. But it’s just fun stuff. We don’t hurt each other.”

Although Colin admits, “He did get a bit narky the time I poured tomato sauce in his ear!”

Occasionally they get into trouble for pranks. An online video of Manu pretending to take a poo in Aussie TV host Larry Emdur’s dressing room, with Colin passing him a toilet roll, didn’t go down too well with network bosses. “They went ballistic,” confesses Colin, who still can’t help laughing.

‘He did get a bit narky the time I poured tomato sauce in his ear!’

It makes sense that these two avid foodies would form a strong bond. Manu grew up in France and Colin in Ireland, but they had the same childhood experience of struggling at school and were both saved by a career in the kitchen.

“I left school at 15,” says Manu. “I wasn’t dumb – I just couldn’t concentrate on a teacher talking to a whole class about things I didn’t care about. So my mum suggested I spend a year as an apprentice in my dad’s restaurant and I loved it. By the age of 16, I was working 15-hour days.”

“I hated school too,” agrees Colin. “I told them I wanted to be a chef and I was creative, but they weren’t interested. Leaving school and going to catering college was the best thing I ever did.”

The teachers who dismissed Colin’s dreams might be startled by his success. As well as being a TV star, he has two Sydney restaurants and a huge following for his cooking videos on TikTok, which have a focus on reducing food waste. Meanwhile, Manu may now be out of the restaurant game, but he has a range of at-home sauces, and he owns an event space and photography studio.

Colin with daughters Maeve (left) and Lily.

Career is important, but the celebrity chefs also share a love of family. Colin has two daughters, Lily, 13, and Maeve, 12, while Manu has 18-year-old son Jonti, who is currently playing league for the Rabbitohs’ under-19s squad, and daughter Charlee, eight.

“Men change drastically when they’ve got kids,” says Manu. “When Jonti was born, my whole philosophy of life and what I wanted to achieve completely changed. It’s everything for your kids and nothing for yourself.”

Colin adds, “My business actually did better once I had a family. I took time off to be with my daughter, because I didn’t see the point of having a kid and never seeing them, and my staff, who are mostly women, did an amazing job without me.”

Proud papa Manu with Jonti.

Gathering their families together for Christmas has become a tradition, although some years go better than others. There was the time Manu peaked too early after an over-enthusiastic morning game of beer pong with the neighbours. It’s a drinking game that involves throwing ping-pong balls into cups full of beer, although on this particular occasion, Manu decided it would be a great idea to switch to whiskey.

Colin laughs, “I turned up at 11am and my daughter was like, ‘Manu’s lying on the grass.’ He was asleep, comatose, and I had to finish Christmas lunch.”

“I’d done all the prep,” argues Manu. “All you had to do was put it in the oven.”

Manu with his daughter Charlee.

Both men will turn 50 next year. Manu is thinking about spending more time travelling with his wife Clarissa. Colin enjoys growing veges in his backyard. They’re definitely mellowing with age and so is MKR NZ. It’s a nicer, happier show these days.

“It changed last series,” explains Manu. “We’ve pulled all the drama out, which we’ve been begging to do for years. Food brings people together and creates friendships. So why do you need to bring drama into a show like this? It’s ridiculous.”

This means Colin doesn’t have to play the bad judge, which suits him as he’s not actually like that in real life.

“Everyone thinks he’s a tough guy, but he’s not,” smiles Manu. “He’s soft, this one. He’s got a big heart.”

MKR New Zealand premieres 7.30pm Monday, 30 October, on TVNZ 2.

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