My Restaurant Rules is the most compelling New Zealand reality show of the year.

Review: My Restaurant Rules is Michelin-starred local reality TV

The seething passions of small-town restaurants explode in TVNZ 2’s new cooking show.

Like so many new reality TV formats, My Restaurant Rules sounds like a genre parody, and not even a particularly clever one. Just as Seven Year Switch (couples switch partners to revive their relationships) is a bleak Married at First Sight ripoff, so My Restaurant Rules seems a cynical home brand version of My Kitchen Rules

Yet as with most aspects of reality television, the format and even the intention of the creators matter far less than the casting – and that’s the heart of what makes this such an appealing proposition. Based on a moribund Australian format, and changed enough (the original saw participants starting their own restaurant) that it could be its own thing entirely, My Restaurant Rules sees five duos from ‘neighbourhood restaurants’ around the country compete to wow each other, and judges Colin Fassnidge and Judith Tabron, with the winner taking home a $100,000 prize. The clincher is that the show is on the road, with the cast travelling to one another’s restaurants, and working as hectic duos together in the kitchen. It’s high stress, and brings the drama.

The judges of My Restaurant Rules, Colin Fassnidge and Judith Tabron, centre.

The past few years have seen a plethora of romance-based reality shows, which seem to operate according to the following quid pro quo: we will give you some Instagram followers in exchange for a few short weeks of public humiliation. They have, naturally, encouraged a fairly specific type of participant. Young, attractive, often withholding, manifestly not there for the right reasons. Sometimes they can be wildly entertaining, as on this year’s Married at First Sight Australia. Sometimes they can be heartcrushingly dull, as on this year’s Married at First Sight NZ.

The cast of My Restaurant Rules self-select as being there for exactly the right reasons, in that they already own and operate restaurants. Rather than being thrust together by the show, the duos have long-established interpersonal dynamics, which tend to be much more fun to watch than the awkward, stagey interactions of just-mets. 

The first episode saw us dine at Rustic, a ‘shabby chic’ (a term which was to become controversial, somehow, in episode two) bistro in Waioru. Run by head chef Tyson and his adoring and adorable mum Denise, they served up a menu including ribs, mussels and fish with pan-fried gnocchi. The latter proved controversial with an Italian team, who are notable in bringing the only woman chef of the group. Raf, the Italian front-of-house, later provided one of the more extraordinary moments of the first pair of episodes when he told a shocked table that women were unsuitable for customer contact for “eight to eleven” days a month.

That he was roundly shouted down by the rest of the table showed one of the many positive functions of reality TV – these unscripted moments in which real people reveal themselves in a constrained environment allow us to map the social progress of the nation. Raf’s comment would have been uncontroversial 30 years ago; today it was arresting. Small mercies, but still.

Dan (NZ’s first televised purebred emo) and Julia (his wife!).

Next we journeyed to Katikati’s Central Park, where Daniel and Julia awaited us. Daniel might be the first purebred emo to appear on New Zealand reality TV since Scotty Rocker graced Treasure Island well over a decade ago. It was worth the wait. He’s a true and natural creature of the genre, swearing constantly, trashing his wife Julia for his own mistakes and generally serving delicious-looking examples of ‘90s fine dining (think chicken roulade) with a gracelessness that clearly left a sour taste in the mouths of all who consumed it.

By the episode’s end the pair had stretched the meal out for too many hours, and offended everyone at the table, earning a stern and satisfying reprimand from Tabron. It was extremely entertaining, and a window into passions which clearly lurk within small town and suburban restaurants just as they do in more acclaimed inner city counterparts. This is ultimately what My Restaurants Rules is serving, and it’s very, very satisfying.

My Restaurant Rules is on Mondays and Tuesdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 2, and streaming from 8.30pm the same day on TVNZ OnDemand.

The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.