The Aussie celebrity chef has caused endless controversy with his anti-vaccine ideology, suspect cures for cancer and support for David Icke
In a YouTube interview just before the pandemic, Australian celebrity chef and podcaster Pete Evans gave his two cents on humanity's place in the world. "I believe we're a virus," Evans said, ever philosophical as he flashed his trademark white teeth. "Nature will sort us out… It has so many ways of removing us."
Wind forward a few weeks, and the 47-year-old lifestyle guru and TV presenter was spouting fresh ideas about viruses on social media. In Australia Evans is a household name: a kind of Joe Wicks figure, with lashings of Gordon Ramsay and Paul Hollywood. In a widely-lampooned video last month, Evans claimed that a $15,000 "biocharger" device that he was conveniently flogging on his website could treat coronavirus. It turned out that the gizmo in question was little more than a trussed-up lamp. An Australian watchdog quickly slapped the chef known as Paleo Pete with a fine of over AU$25,000.
The undignified affair with the lamp seems not to have cowed Evans one iota. His social media offerings lately have been, to say the least, fruity. "This is a very exciting time in human history," he gushed last week, with all the sensitivity of a bull in a china shop. On Mother's Day, he posted a picture of his elderly mother Joy being hugged by Evans's two teenage daughters, in spite of Australia's social distancing rules. Evans insisted stoutly beneath the picture that he would continue to give his mother "a hug and a kiss" every time they saw one another, rules be damned.
He has shared doctored photos of Bill Gates that insinuate a sinister connection between the philanthropist and Covid-19. On a recent Instagram story, Evans also alerted his 234k followers to "code words" allegedly sloshing around "the media". According to the post's unhinged logic, if a person is described by the media as having "tested positive for CV", it actually means that they are "awaiting execution".
For some Evans fans, particularly those clinging on for his barbecue recipes, the final straw came last week when the chef posted about an interview with the Holocaust denier and lizard obsessive, David Icke.
In the conversation highlighted by Evans, Icke called the pandemic "fake" and linked the virus with 5G. Soon after Evans's post, it was announced that he was leaving his job as the host of reality TV show, My Kitchen Rules, after a decade at the helm.
Evans's departure and his bizarre behaviour in the weeks leading to the announcement have led many to rue the downfall of Paleo Pete. The writer Matthew Parris recently divided figures in Britain into those that are having a "good war" against Covid-19, and those that are having a bad war. It's safe to say that Evans is having a terrible war; not least because the loss of his TV presenting gig is reported to have cost him AU $800,000 per year.
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Evans seems to have taken the pandemic as his cue to jump head first down the rabbit hole; some have been asking publicly whether he is coping with the pressures of the lockdown. One of Australia's foremost doctors, Dr Harry Nespolon, said on a radio show recently that he was "genuinely worried" about the chef's wellbeing. Such cause for concern is not new for Evans – warning signs have been blinking for years.
And yet things started auspiciously enough. Pete was born in Melbourne and raised on the Gold Coast. An avid surfer, he began working in restaurants at 13. He reportedly dreamed of becoming an accountant but failed to get the necessary grades. Instead he set up a restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton with his older brother. Evans was just 19 but Pantry took off. A string of restaurants followed. Everything the young brothers touched seemed to turn to gold.
In 2005, their hip restaurant Hugos won the coveted "best pizza in the world" contest. Meanwhile Evans's career as a TV cook and food writer also took flight. He sold shed-loads of books and shot to fame as a judge on My Kitchen Rules, which in its heyday in the early 2010s attracted millions of viewers. Evans also became an evangelical advocate of the paleo diet, arguing we should eat like our ancestors – no grains, dairy or refined sugar, but plenty of fish, vegetables and meat.
Evans is thought to have been introduced to the diet by his now wife, the Kiwi and former glamour model, Nicola Robinson. She has called her breast implants the biggest regret of her life and has had them removed; now she identifies mistily as a "nutrition mermaid" and "moon gazing farm girl". The couple live in New South Wales, where they are currently riding out the lockdown with Evans's two daughters from a former relationship.
Meanwhile, every two or three days, Evans churns out episodes of his podcast, Evolve, on which he interviews doctors and gurus, who often end up agreeing fulsomely with his own hunches about life and food. It bills itself as "an informed look at topics that include nutritional and emotional wellbeing, as well as expanded consciousness", and has 324 glowing reviews on iTunes, with a rating of 4.4 out of 5.
Perhaps Evans's eccentricity was always hiding in plain sight but it first caught the public's imagination in 2012 when a very funny feature about his eating habits was published in an Australian magazine. Evans revealed that he started each day with a smoothie of "alkalised water, organic spirulina, activated almonds, maca, blueberries, stevia, coconut kefir and two organic, free-range eggs". He ate similarly bamboozling foods throughout the day, including "cultured vegetables", "emu meatballs" and a muffin made of "coconut, carob, blueberry, goji and stevia".
Evans was pilloried, and people became desperate to know what on earth activated almonds actually were. (For what it's worth, they're nuts that have been soaked in water, and dried.) What seemed harmlessly Goopish in Evans quickly took on a darker tint. In 2014 the chef suggested that poor diets were responsible for a rise in autism.
The next year, Bubba Yum Yum, a paleo cookbook co-authored by Evans for mothers, babies and toddlers, was cancelled after the book was deemed dangerous by The Public Health Association of Australia, which said the book could lead to the deaths of children across the country.
Of particular concern was an alternative recipe for baby formula, made of bone broth and liver, that contained potentially lethal levels of vitamin A. Unrepentant, Evans published Bubba Yum Yum online anyway, with some tweaks.
In 2016, despite having no medical qualifications whatsoever, he advised an osteoporosis sufferer on Facebook not to eat dairy, telling her that doing so could actually "remove the calcium" from her bones. "Most doctors do not know this information", he added. When quizzed about his beliefs on Seven's Sunday Night current affairs program (watched by 1.4 million people), he said: "What do you need a qualification for to talk common sense?"
The following year Evans – who has also said he put his daughters in therapy from the age of just 12 months – raised eyebrows higher still by criticising the fluoridation of tap water. In 2017, he produced and narrated a Netflix documentary, The Magic Pill, to promote the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, claiming it could help manage autism, asthma and cancer. The Australian Medical Association called for Netflix to remove the film, calling it "irresponsible".
In 2018, he returned to an old foe: sun screen, which he had warned in the past was full of "poisonous chemicals". Rather than lather himself with protective lotion, in a country dogged by high skin cancer rates, Evans explained that he liked to look directly at the sun. He called this hobby "#sungazing" and seemed impervious to the howls of despair that were to be heard from experts up and down the country.
More recently, he got into hot water over his association with the anti-vaccination movement. He had already come under fire for selfies with notorious anti-vaxxers Paul Chek and Robert F Kennedy, but has now posted on Instagram urging fans to sign a petition not to enforce mandatory vaccinations in nursing homes during the pandemic.
He wrote in the caption to a video: "There are apparently studies linking the flu injection to an increased possibility of other illnesses... This petition is really important, and is something federal members and cabinet have to regard." At the end of the video, he added: "Also for the record I am not anti v (anti-vax) as many people have assumed." Actress Isabel Lucas commented on his post to say that she had signed the petition.
The question, now, is what Pete Evans wants to make of the sizeable fame and influence he still has. Reports abound that he could expand his lifestyle empire (already substantial: you can buy everything from face cream to dog food on his site). He is also reportedly planning on setting up a healing clinic. But doing so with so few qualifications to actually heal people could prove a road block.
Whatever Evans chooses to do next, it seems clear he will not be swayed by the barrage of criticism mounting at his door. His YouTube interview from earlier this year is potentially portentous. Asked by the interviewer how he metabolises all that negative energy, Evans smiles, messianic and relaxed. "I love it," he says.
He explains that for every critical article that is published about him, there is a greater chance that his message will reach someone that needs it. Yet he insists his purpose isn't to inflame or spread misinformation. "I'm not here to fight and battle. I can only share my experience and my lens of perception."