For celebrity chef and much-loved MKR judge Manu Feildel, this year’s series is all about going back to basics.
Kicking off a fresh season this Sunday on Channel 7 and 7plus, Manu says the over-the-top drama of recent seasons has been dialled down in favour of good home cooking and the joy of gathering around the dining table after more than two years of COVID.
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“I think in the last few seasons there was a lot of drama involved, but this season we are back to basics, back to what we used to do 10 years ago, which is back to real food, a lot of passion and a lot of love,” he told 7Entertainment.
“Firstly, I didn’t enjoy all the drama.
“Secondly, I think with the drama we lost some of the younger generation who loved to watch the show, the 10-year-old kids.
“Those kids perhaps weren’t allowed to watch it anymore because of that drama, and I think it should be a family show, you know?”
During COVID, simple, family-centred home cooking became more important than ever.
During lockdown, there was nowhere to go out to dine, so it became about gathering around the kitchen table, cooking with whatever ingredients you could get hold of, spending time as a family unit once again.
“I think people can relate to the idea of cooking for family and friends now more than usual,” Manu said.
“We’ve been locked in, we haven’t been able to socialise, and suddenly we are allowed to gather together again, share a meal and eat some home-cooked food, so it’s pretty perfect timing.”
This year, Nigella Lawson joins the MKR team – a fact that has all of this season’s contestants shaking with nervousness and excitement.
While Manu is a trained chef, Nigella is a home cook.
Do they have different opinions on what makes a really great meal?
“We’re pretty much on the same page when it comes to that, actually,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a home cook or if you’re a chef – I think if you love food, you know what’s right and what’s wrong.
“I might know a bit more about technical ways of cooking something, but at the end of the day, the judging is pretty much about putting a fork of food in your mouth and you either like it or you don’t.
“It’s that simple.”
So what is Manu looking for this season? Who will make it through to the grand finale, and what qualities will they need to impress the judges?
“I think our contestants need to try to let go of any stress and just keep things simple,” he said.
“We don’t want to be wowed by fine dining food, we just want something that is delicious, done well, cooked well.
“You don’t have to bring 150 different techniques in to wow us, and you don’t need 150 ingredients.”
Manu has been co-hosting MKR since 2010 – an incredibly long and successful run on a show that has made him a household name.
The enjoyment of making the show has never worn off for him because each season is different to the next.
He loved having Nigella join the show for 2022 and says they have a great rapport.
“I mean, I have Nigella Lawson sitting next to me, we have Colin Fassnidge and Curtis Stone and Matt Preston, and together we have all these different banters, so we had a lot of fun,” he said.
He also enjoyed this year’s diverse, fun group of contestants, who come from a variety of different cultural and cuisine backgrounds.
“We have people with African, Turkish, Malaysian, Fijian cooking traditions this year,” he says.
“It’s a great mix and each person brings something different to the table.”
And this time, visiting home cooks in their own hometowns, Manu got to see some parts of Australia he hadn’t visited before.
“I’ve been to Western Australia a few times but had never been to Margaret River, and it’s absolutely gorgeous down there,” he said.
“That’s really part of the show that I enjoy.
“Every time I do a series, I go somewhere else I haven’t been before.
“I’ve travelled around Australia so many times, but I always discover somewhere different, and that’s brilliant.”
MKR premieres at 7pm on Sunday, August 7 on Channel Seven and 7plus.