For the last 10 years, Manu Feildel has been judging the cream of Australia’s home cooks on Seven’s My Kitchen Rules. He knows when someone has put their heart on a plate.
Which is why it was heartbreaking when the Frenchman, 45, dissed a cheese platter lovingly prepared for him by The New Daily to celebrate MKR‘s 10th anniversary.
Dropping by an instant restaurant at the Melbourne office in February, Manu was treated to a board laden with St Angel triple cream brie, fresh baguette, strawberries and dried muscats.
Initially, he was complimentary.
“I love the way you sliced the bread. It’s really cool,” Manu said, accepting a glass of “pretty good” chilled rosé – his first booze for six weeks.
He’s also been off carbs and sugar: “This little show I’m working on six months of the year, I put a lot of kilos on so I try every January to lose it a bit.”
But then the rot set in, and Manu turned off the charm and turned on the cheese platter for one particular reason … then also bagged the wine.
MANU HATES ON THE PLATTER
Despite his distaste, Manu readily admitted the fruity cheese platter was far from the worst thing he’s eaten during his MKR decade.
“We had a frozen lavender cheesecake. It wasn’t supposed to be frozen but it wasn’t setting, and the contestants put it in the freezer.
“It became a frozen bar of soap that tasted very flowery. It was terrible.”
Being dished up food he doesn’t rate has made Manu “tougher” as the years have gone by: “Cook me good food, otherwise, see you later. I’ve been asking for sauce for 10 years and they’re still missing it. What the hell’s going on here?”
Ah, yes. Sauce. Manu’s MKR quest for more of it has been a long-running sub-plot of the show. At last, a chance to ask him how to make the perfect sauce.
MANU’S PERFECT SAUCE
At home with wife Clarissa Weerasena and Jonti, 14 (Manu’s son from a previous relationship) and daughter Charlee, 4, menus are devised on the fly, according to what’s in the fridge.
“My wife is an amazing cook, she’s a balance of Malaysian, Chinese, Sri Lankan, and it’s no chore for her to cook, she loves entertaining,” Manu says.
“The biggest reason why I fell in love with her is she has the same passion as me for food.”
Their standby weekday meals? “One pot wonders” like pork belly with chestnuts, noodles in a black sauce with prawn and pork, and chicken laksa made with laksa paste made in Malaysia by Clarissa’s mother and sent in frozen blocks.
When it comes to dinner parties, Manu has a couple of hacks and suggests seafood because there’s an “amazing array” and it’s fast to cook.
For a wow main course, take the skin off a big piece of salmon, and cover with a paste of 50 per cent sugar, 50 per cent salt, cracked pepper and dill or other herbs.
“Leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours, rinse the salmon under water and then you can slice it and it’s cured. Then you add a bit of citrus and a bit of sour cream and toast and it’s delicious. No cooking.”
Another Manu option: a bake-in-foil number.
MANU’S FISH DISH
Another Manu option: Make a vegetable garnish from sauteed half cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. Lay a piece of fish on foil and top with the garnish.
“Close it up, bang it in the oven for seven minutes, open the bags. It’s self saucing, beautiful vegetables, beautiful aroma. Voilà.”
As discovered in the cheese platter debacle, Manu would never serve cheese to guests when they arrive. “Cheese is dessert,” he says. “Why would you fill yourself with cheese when you’ve got a three-course meal coming?”
And thus his idea for a canapé is more inventive.
MANU’S BEST CANAPÉ HACK
To do all that cooking, you need fridge and pantry staples. Manu’s are butter, seasoning, olive oil, cream and parmesan.
He laughs at a longstanding rumour that he and MKR co-judge Pete Evans spit out the dinner party food rather than eating it all.
“Darling, I love food,” he says.
“I don’t chew and spit, I chew and swallow.”
MANU EATS THE CHEESE