Have you ever prepared a meal so gluttonous, so shameful, so grotesque that you’ve had to take a cold hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask ‘what would Pete and Manu think?’ Alex Casey was able to ask them IRL.
Just as you shouldn’t look at a solar eclipse without special glasses, I’d also advise against looking directly at Paleo Pete in real life. We were sitting in the morning sun and he was gleaming with the distinct terracotta tan that can only come from not believing in sunblock. It was breathtaking. I had been allocated 20 minutes with My Kitchen Rules NZ hosts Pete Evans and Manu Feildel in a swanky Auckland cafe. They weren’t allowed to leave, I wasn’t allowed to leave, we all just had to sit there and endure what was to come.
Prior to the interview, my colleagues and I had gleefully assembled an MKRNZ style Instant Restaurant menu inspired by the worst dishes we’d ever made while young, drunk, broke, stupid or otherwise. Manu seemed onboard, recalling being a young buck in England and only being able to afford chip sandwiches with tomato sauce for dinner. My eyes lit up, but he quickly walked back any remaining chip butty enthusiasm. “That’s when you’ve got nothing to eat… now I’ve got something to eat.” Pete said nothing, but continued to sparkle like Edward Cullen in the sun.
As culinary men, I first wanted their take on a New Zealand classic: Kiwi Onion Dip. At the time, The Spinoff had just uncovered the dip’s creator Rosemary Dempsey, and we were chasing endorsements from some foodie heavyweights to get her a Damehood. Who better to support this noble cause than two of the most recognisable Antipodean epicureans? Turns out Manu had been gifted some the previous day. “I looked at the little package with the cream and the fried onion and the chips.” He looked me dead in the eyes. “Nope.”
“How does that even represent New Zealand cuisine?” Pete chimed in, “is it Māori?” I stumbled through an answer that involved the buzzwords “pantry staple” and “party favourite”. Pete looked at me like I had just stolen his last slurp of bone marrow. “No meat? No fish? That doesn’t sound like cooking to me.” Let that be a warning to all future MKRNZ contestants – the judges don’t think Kiwi Onion Dip is cute, even if you smear it artistically in a swoosh across the plate. “That would be more points off,” Pete barbed.
With both judges still silently gagging at the notion of Kiwi Onion Dip, time for some hard-hitting gender politics. Namely, why are the main judges on cooking shows hardly ever women? Aren’t we supposed to love being in the kitchen? Both Pete and Manu acknowledged there was a problem. “If you look at the history of cooking, it’s definitely been very one-sided and male-dominated,” said Pete. Luckily, that’s starting to change. “In the next five to ten years we’ll see a lot more women chefs coming in at that level.”
Beyond the glaring gender imbalance, there were several other vicious MKRNZ rumours floating around that desperately needed dispelling. So here come some truth bombs in quick succession: yes, they always shoot two endings so nobody knows who has won. No, the contestants don’t receive any outside help in Kitchen HQ beyond some dish hands that clear their stations between courses. Yes, the food is lukewarm by the time they eat it on camera. The worst thing they’ve ever eaten was a three-way tie between some kangaroo gnocchi, rock-solid sweetcorn soup and lavender cheesecake. “It was like eating soap, blergh” said Pete in a rare moment of emotion. And the best? “Lamb brains,” said Pete Lecter. “Lamb brains and calf’s liver.”
On that note, it was time for me to pitch them the hero of the interview dish – the instant restaurant menu of shame. Our entree was ‘Heart attack noodles’: two packets of Mi Goreng, microwaved with one cup of grated cheese. Manu was diplomatic. “After I big night I suppose I could…” Pete, not so much. “You’d be going home first.” Their reaction to a noodle-based entree did not bode well for the main: two packets of Maggi noodles mixed with cocktail sausages. “You can stop right there,” said Manu, cutting me off before I even got to the part where you put the noodles in a burger bun with Doritos.
“I just… don’t think you should do this,” said Manu, trying to walk me down from the ledge before I dove valiantly into the dessert portion of the menu. The mood was tense, but this dish was a favourite of mine as a teen, and perhaps the most lavish of all. ‘The Everything Trifle’: a pastry shell encasing chocolate pudding, cookie dough, cream, a crushed Crunchie bar and a lot of regret. “A lot of regret?” said a now po-faced Manu. “I think this whole menu is a lot of regret.”
Thankfully, our 20 minutes was up and it was time for me to walk out of the cafe and straight into the sea. But before we parted, I wanted to know if either of the esteemed judges had any advice for my colleagues who helped assemble this menu of disgusting delicacies. “No,” Manu said, looking at Pete who was now looking out the window, almost certainly praying for the sweet release of death. “I just think they need to think about their lives.”
My Kitchen Rules NZ begins Monday 25, 8pm on TVNZ2
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