My Restaurant Rules judge Colin Fassnidge’s great Kiwi jaunt

The outspoken chef insists he's mellowed in his later years. ''You get to a point in life where you're like, 'Man, I'm not going to have a heart attack over a piece of asparagus.'''

He’s one of the most outspoken judges on Australasian TV, once known for chasing chefs from the kitchen if they overcooked food. But brazen celebrity chef Colin Fassnidge insists he’s mellowed since his days as a “tyrant”.

“I’m actually a nice guy,” he smiles, flashing his signature dimples. “You get to a point in life where you’re like, ‘Man, I’m not going to have a heart attack over a piece of asparagus.'”

The cheeky foodie, 46, has joined Auckland restaurateur Judith Tabron on TVNZ 2’s new show My Restaurant Rules, travelling the country to taste and judge Kiwi cuisine at five restaurants.

“Everyone says I’m the hard judge, but Judith is,” he insists. “I heard a lot about her being stern, basically the female version of me, so I was a little worried before meeting her. But we clicked straight away and bounced off each other.”

Colin – a familiar on Kiwi screens as a guest judge on My Kitchen Rules – spent 11 weeks in Aotearoa filming the reality show, while his Irish wife Jane, 43, and their daughters Lily, 10, and eight-year-old Maeve stayed home in Sydney.

Table for two! Colin says Judith’s the mean one.

“It was quite nice for a few weeks on my own, in an apartment, and then it was killing me,” the curly-haired cookbook author confesses.

It’s not the first time Colin’s visited Auckland, where his best friend – and the godfather of his girls – Sydney-based chef Warren Turnbull grew up.

“I like New Zealand because it reminds me of Ireland, with the greenness and produce,” tells Colin. “Chefs here have pride in their produce, even more than the Aussies, and Kiwis are a lot like the Irish with the same humour.”

While Colin settled over the ditch 20 years ago, where he enjoys taking his daughters and dogs to the beach in his “very Australian” ute, he’s close to his Irish heritage.

“Most homes in Ireland were based around the table and I became a chef because I grew up around food,” he shares. “My dad Tony cooked a roast every Sunday that he prepared the day before. My mum Colette was a great cook too and we always had stew. I used to hate it, but I like it now.”

Colin’s upbringing also inspired his “nose to tail” philosophy.

“There’s too much waste in food and if you kill an animal, you don’t just use the fillet of a cow and throw the rest away,” he explains. “As a kid, we ate a lot of liver, kidneys and secondary cuts of meat in stew. It’s actually a great way to cook, finding ways to use all the bits and bobs.”

At home, he makes a childhood favourite called colcannons, a mash made with potatoes, milk, butter, cabbage, onion and parsley.

“My kids like it apart from the green bits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a chef, you still have kids who are troubled,” he grins. “My youngest Maeve is like me, stubborn. She’ll only eat white foods like pasta, bread and pizza, and we have so many arguments about her diet.”

When his spiral-haired girls aren’t doing their best MKR impressions at home, judging Colin’s dinners out of 10, and often delivering a strong two, Lily and Maeve are pulling practical jokes on their playful dad.

“I prank the kids a lot and they do it back to me,” he smiles. “I gave them salt ice cream and once they start, it’s like a little war. They put cling film on the toilet, but it was pretty obvious, and they put food in my shoes.”

Colin’s also known for his hilarious antics behind the scenes at MKR Australia, with French chef Manu Feildel, 45, his main prey.

“We had a prank war – that’s how busy we are at MKR,” he jokes, pulling out his phone to show a video of him covering Manu in tomato sauce. And his mischief-making isn’t a new hobby.

Daddy’s girls! Wife Jane and girls Maeve (left) and Lily keep him grounded.

“Once when I was younger in the kitchen – in my 20s and old enough to know better – there was a guy who was leaving, so we sellotaped him to a chair,” he recalls. “We put him in the back of a fruit and vegetable truck, and were going to get him back out but it drove off. We got in a lot of trouble for that.”

For Colin’s latest foodie venture, he’s left the wind-ups and drama to the contestants of My Restaurant Rules, which just finished screening on TVNZ.

“It’s different to My Kitchen Rules because it’s chefs against chefs and with all those chefs around a table, there’s a lot of ego!” asserts Colin.

“You can imagine if a chef goes to another chef’s restaurant and tells him how bad it was, what’s going to happen. I just sort of corral them.”

If your wife and daughters were an ingredient, what would they be?

“Jane would be salt because she’s stern and in charge; she’s the boss. You need salt because it makes everything better, but it’s quite sharp on its own. Lily would be sugar because she’s the little sweet and emotional one, and Maeve would be a lemon – sour. She’s a mini-me and I say if I ever want to rob a bank, I’ll do it with Maeve. She won’t break!”

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