It's been 10 years since My Kitchen Rules (or MKR to the initiated) first kicked off in Australia, meaning judges Pete Evans and Manu Feildel have now been critiquing meals and dashing hopes or making dreams come true, side-by-side, for a decade.
To celebrate this milestone – not to mention almost 20 years of friendship – the pair sat down with Good Health to talk about everything from combatting calories on set, and offscreen fitness, to their enduring bromance and the future of the small screen sensation.
While you have been co-judges on the show for the last decade, your history goes back much further, right?
Pete: Yeah, Manu and I have a long history together. We actually worked together 19 years ago when Manu came to Sydney and I gave him his first job. We became friends then.
The way that My Kitchen Rules came to be was Manu had already done the pilot for the show, but then lost the job because the powers-that-be thought his accent was too strong, so they came to me. So I basically took Manu's job and was paired with another host, but it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to be strong enough as a team.
I then spoke to the executive producer and said, "Have you heard of a bloke called Manu?" And then I found out that Manu had previously been on the show. I told them that they were making a huge mistake and that he was star material.
I got a call from Manu a few days later saying that we were going to be on the show together. It was meant to be!
Manu: Funnily enough we have known each other for almost 20 years.
I applied for a chef's job at a restaurant Pete was running, then fast-forward 10 years and we started working together on My Kitchen Rules.
During the filming of the grand final for this season, in-between takes we had a hug and a moment. I said, "Bloody hell, congratulations. Ten years, buddy!" We started hugging each other and became a bit teary. We have spent half of the year together, every year, for the past 10 years, so there's definitely a bromance and a special bond.
What's the dynamic like between the two of you?
Pete: We have each other's backs. It can be as simple as, "Hey, I'm not feeling my best today, do you mind taking the lead?" And the other will be like, "Yep, no worries."
We know one another very, very well, and we respect each other immensely, and we also love one another, we're mates, so we help each other out whenever we can. There is an open and honest communication between us.
Manu: We can read one another very well. I know when I can talk to him, and I know when I need to leave him alone, and vice versa. Sometimes we don't even have to talk, we know exactly what the other is thinking.
It's the same with food. When we taste the food at the table we just have to look at each other and the look can either say, "Oh my gosh, that's delicious!" or "Oh my gosh, that is terrible!" After 10 years together, that's what happens.
How does your friendship translate offscreen – do you hang out together?
Pete: Not really. We would actually probably hang out more if we didn't work together!
We're together for five to six months full-time, during which we see one another every day or every other day. Then, as soon we finish filming, we don't really see each other for six months.
We've both got our own families, our own businesses, and our own ventures, so we need to utilise those other six months to have balance in our lives.
It's not that we don't want to see each other. As soon as we start filming again, it's straight back into our friendship, like "Hey, brother. How are you? How you been? How was your holiday? What did you get up to? Let's go out for a meal…" It has been like that since day one.
Manu: It's like a perfect marriage, because we only see each other for six months of the year! But when we do see one another again, we're so excited.
After filming, we've both got our own jobs. I work with different brands, Pete writes books… We have another life, and we don't really have time to catch up.
Now that you're in nostalgia mode, what changes have you noticed about yourself over the last 10 years?
Pete: I think you can see from the photos that now, at the age of 45, I'm in the best shape of my life. Every year I seem to get healthier, stronger and have more mental clarity.
I saw My Kitchen Rules as a great opportunity to grow, to learn a new craft, and to learn more about myself. That's been one of the greatest gifts of being in this role, being able to learn so much about myself and being out of my comfort zone.
Manu: Not only has the show changed a lot in that time, but we've changed so much too. It's a bit emotional in some ways.
We started when we were a lot younger and full of beans, and now we are a little older with more responsibilities – kids and wives, and so on.
Also, 10 years ago I could eat and drink a lot more and not put on weight, whereas now I just balloon!
Apart from that I don't think I've changed that much. I'm happy with my job, happy with my life, and I have matured a bit and become more business-oriented, but I guess that's all part of becoming an adult.
How do you counteract the calories while filming the show?
Pete: I personally lose weight when we film MKR every year, because I fast a lot.
I'm no longer used to having those types of food in my system when I'm shooting.
The best way I know to re-balance is to let my digestive system have a break through fasting. I end up putting on more weight during the off-season than I do during on-season!
So many of the contestants come on the show and pile on weight.
Manu: Okay, let's be honest. I know we all find excuses to not be healthy all the time, but when I'm on MKR it's really hard.
We're on the road and on a plane every day, so to have a regulated exercise or eating regime is very difficult for those six months of filming.
For me, I always end up putting on weight, so when I finish I have to get back on the treadmill and get in shape. It's harder and harder every year. I can feel it now even when I'm tying my shoelaces!
What's your own health regime?
Pete: I have a very simple philosophy: less is more. I eat good quality meat, good quality seafood, and organic vegetables. I don't really drink alcohol and I don't really do too much exercise.
Getting good sleep as often as possible, getting adequate sun exposure, breathing fresh air, drinking plenty of water, and moving the body as nourishingly as possible without punishing yourself.
That's pretty much the formula – I don't think there are many people who can go wrong with that combination
Then there's the emotional wellbeing part – cultivating friendships and connecting with nature – which is all about having wonderful relationships. It doesn't need to be complicated, let's not try to complicate things too much, and let's not put labels on things, just go back to being human and to appreciating this gift that we have called life.
Manu: Pete's health journey has actually helped me too. In the beginning, I took it with a pinch of salt. However, in the last few years I've done paleo a few times and it felt good. But if I continue doing the paleo diet, I definitely would not be happy in my head – which is also part of being healthy I think.
I'm French, so I need a bit of cheese and wine, I can't help it! You have to find a balance. My wife and I are currently doing an eight-week challenge that involves mixing cardio and weights five days a week and a strict diet of no drinking, no sugar, and no carbs.
How about for mental wellbeing – what do you do to maintain an even keel internally?
Pete: For emotional wellbeing I've probably had more than a thousand different therapy sessions and I trained in three different types of meditation from the age of 19, so for the last 25 years or so I have included meditation of some sort in my lifestyle. But meditation for me can simply be going for a walk, sitting in the park, or going for a surf.
I mix it up because I don't think there's one thing for everyone, also I'm not a fan of doing the same thing over and over again.
Manu: I go through periods of unhappiness, like everybody. I think we all suffer from it at times.
The time that I can meditate, relax, and forget the world, is when I go on holiday or when I spend time at home with my family, that really lifts my spirits.
My wife has pushed me to do some Pilates and yoga, which I know is physical, but I think it's good for me mentally too.
Pete, you're now 46, and Manu, you're now 45 – how comfortable are you with getting older?
Pete: I'm excited about the future to be honest with you. In fact, I have never been more excited about the future than I am now. Both my body and my mind are feeling the best they've ever felt.
Growing old and degrading is not really part of my plan – my goal is to be surfing when I'm 100! And there's no real reason that this isn't a possibility. I haven't even really begun my journey of discovery yet.
Manu: Getting older is part of life, so the wrinkles and things like that don't bother me at all. I just want to be able to stay as young as I can for as long as I can.
When I say 'young' I mean young in the head and to be mobile and active. I want to be able to play with my kids for a lot longer than the next few years. But, in general, life is good and I'm ready to rock 2019!
Are we going to see another decade of My Kitchen Rules, do you think?
Pete: At the end of the season I grabbed Manu and said to him, "What an amazing adventure we've had. I just want to tell you that I love you, and thank you so much for the last 10 years and hopefully we get another 10 together."
I'm looking forward to the future because every year just keeps getting better. I'm very grateful for the 10 years in this role and I'm looking forward to seeing how long we can go for, so here's hoping!
Manu: I know that they've re-signed us for a few more, so there's at least two, but another 10 years… Bloody hell, that would be amazing if it happens. But in the world of TV you just never know.
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