Winning My Kitchen Rules is really very simple. I know this because series co-host and celebrity chef judge Manu Feildel said, "It's simple," when I asked what a team would have to do to win My Kitchen Rules.
"People get confused between fine dining and good food. It doesn't have to be fine dining to be good," he explained. "You can have beautiful fish and chips as long as the fish is well cooked, the batter is well crispy and the chips are well fried. And beautiful sauce with it. It's that simple. It really doesn't matter what it is as long as whoever cooks it knows what they're doing with it."
It sounds simple, sure, but could the humble fish 'n' chips really - really - take you all the way to collecting the MKR title and the whopping $100,000 prize money?
"Sure," confirms Pete Evans, the show's other co-host and fellow celebrity chef judge. "There are three Michelin-star restaurants that have fish 'n' chips on their menu."
"Let's put it this way," Feildel says shaking his head, "The guy who did the fish and chips on MKR Australia this series, wrecked it completely. Wrecked it. And how hard is this to make fish and chips?"
It reminds me of Gordon Ramsay's infamous omelette test he gives aspiring chefs applying for a job at his restaurants.
"It's easy but it's hard to make the perfect omelette," Feildel says.
Of course you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. If we use eggs as a metaphor for all the hopes and dreams of the show's contestants. then Feildel and Evans have been breaking them for seven years now. While My Kitchen Rules has been running here for a couple of years, this brand new third season is the first time the pair have travelled here to judge New Zealand's culinary efforts for themselves.
"I personally wasn't sure what to expect," Feildel says. "But I was excited to be here and discover what New Zealand has to offer."
"We are hoping to see more native produce," Evans agrees. "I would love to see more of that side of things."
The show is famous for mixing things up to keep the format spicy for its viewers. This season the big change is its blazing hot pace.
"This series, it's only six teams so it goes pretty fast," Feildel explains. "Six instant restaurants, a couple of challenges, semifinal and grand final."
As a viewer it'd be best to not get to attached to any of the teams. They drop like flies. Where in previous seasons they might get a pass or slip through into the next round, this year they've really only got one shot toimpress. High-pressure stakes then?
"Yeah. It is," Feildel says.
This also means contestants can't rely on a winning personality to get them through. As judges, is it ever hard to separate a contestant they like from the food they've served up?
"Not really," Evans says. "We come in, we judge the food, we mentor them as much as is fair. We've learnt over the years to keep a professional distance. It's a job.
"It's nearly like sacking someone. And it's not like they've done anything majorly wrong. They've got all their hopes and dreams tied into this. It could be a big game changer or life changer for them. Being a judge on these shows carries a big weight on our shoulders. We have to go into it professionally. When we eliminate teams we give them the most dignity and respect possible. Because they have sacrificed time away from their jobs or family or loved ones."
"It's a big responsibility," Feildel agrees.
So how do the judges feel in that moment of elimination?
"Oh, we never enjoy that process at all," Evans says.
Feildel nods and says, "Getting rid of someone is hard."
"And it could be just because they left something in the oven for a minute too long. That's the reality of the reality TV show," Evans continues. "One minute could mean going home. It could have been the perfect dish.
"That's difficult because sometimes a team will have more talent than another team but they've made a mistake on that day. But that's the job we get paid to do. Judge the food on the plate, not the team that's cooking it."
He likens it to the Olympics.
"If [Usain] Bolt is running ... you know he's the fastest. But if on the day he trips for some reason, they're not going to give him the medal."
The analogy gets a laugh out of Feildel, "Nice," he chuckles. But Evans isn't done.
"It's a cooking competition, not a personality competition. What gives the show it's legitimacy, and why people love it, is because we don't judge on the personalities. The audience does."
"That's the audience's job to do that, yeah," Feildel agrees.
The formula for winning may be simple but getting it perfect is extremely difficult. The pair explain how every judge at the table can be served the same dish but variables mean one can be spot on perfect and one can be completely off.
"Sometimes his is perfect and mine isn't," Evans says. "Or vice versa," Feildel interjects.
That difference, slight as it may be, can mean going home.
"We have to judge what we've got in front of us," Feildel says. "Not what's being served around the table."
"Good is good and bad is bad," Evans states matter-of-factly.
With that in mind if they were young and hungry and just starting out today would they themselves enter My Kitchen Rules?
"No way," laughs Feildel before getting serious. "It's a hard gig. To give what we demand ... we just push them to give us more and more and more. It's a hard, hard, gig."
"I tell you what, I would!" Evans says excitedly. "It's a wonderful opportunity to establish yourself. Especially if you're good. So, I'd say yes. If I was younger or in different circumstances and it was what I wanted to do in my life then why not?"
Feildel looks at him bemused as he finishes his thoughts.
"Back yourself," Evans smiles before giving the MKR contestants some invaluable advice, "and go for it."
Who: Celebrity chef judges Manu Feildel and Pete Evans
What: My Kitchen Rules New Zealand
When: 8pm Monday, TVNZ 2
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