Entertaining is in the blood for Manu Feildel, the gregarious co-host of 'My Kitchen Rules'. Manu chatted to us on his recent visit to New Zealand about his childhood ambitions, what the MKR contestants are really like and how he feels about the Kiwi mangling of his moniker.
Manu Feildel has been charming Australian diners since settling in the lucky country 13 years ago, but fine dining wasn’t always on the menu for Manu. A caution for the coulrophobic (that’s a morbid fear of clowns) amongst you; there’s a squirting flower and a pair of size 20 squeaky shoes hiding in the 38-year-old Frenchman’s closet.
Like so many children, Manu had a dream to "run away with the circus", and did just that, performing as part of an amateur circus school from the ages of 13 to 15.So what made Manu hang up his baggy trousers for chef’s whites?
"My family I suppose, my dad was a chef, so was my grandad and my great grandad. I was terrible at school, I wanted to run away with the circus as some of the kids dream, and then mum just opened my eyes and said, 'Why don’t you go and work for your dad for a year?'"
Once he was in the kitchen, Manu realised he had found his calling.
"I just fell I love with the job, but I’m still a bit of a clown in some ways."
Manu says his background in the circus has helped with his performance as a TV host on 'My Kitchen Rules'.
"For sure, I love entertaining, I love being a show pony and so on."
His love of performing saw him take out the winning mirror ball on 'Dancing With The Stars Australia' last year, but we’re unlikely to see him slap on the greasepaint and mime his way out of a cube anytime soon.
"Probably not on 'My Kitchen Rules'. I’ve got the serious mask on for the show, but maybe in another venture," although he does appear to mull over the idea of he and Pete hosting their own Big Top dinner party.
"That would be great, the theme, the circus."
This season of 'My Kitchen Rules' has some 'interesting' characters and over the course of the series, Manu says he and Pete got to know the competitors well. When we asked about the current fan favourites you love to hate, Jen and Leigh, Manu confides they are not so bad as they seem on TV.
"Leigh and Jennifer are actually really good girls, they just put it on for the camera I think, they love the camera, I think they just get on with it. And some are not as nice."
Does he mean Thomas? Manu roars with laughter before diplomatically answering, "I don’t know if I should comment."
The last New Zealand restaurant Manu dined at was the instant bistro of Kiwi 'My Kitchen Rules' contestants Meg and Simon, but while in the country this time around he hopes to sample some of the culinary fare on offer in our more professional establishments.
"I’ve got good friends here in Auckland so we’re going to catch up and have a bite, so hopefully, they’ll take me somewhere brilliant. I know the food is fantastic here in New Zealand, especially in Auckland so I’m excited."Manu’s seven-year-old son Jonti has also expressed an interest in cooking, but dad’s happy to support his son whatever his career choice.
"He says that he wants to be a chef, and, we’ll see. If he wants to be a chef I’ll teach him, if he wants to be a taxi driver we’ll take it from there."
We told Manu that saying his name - said Ma-noo, not Mah-nu - is sometimes a bit of a struggle; We’ve had the Maori pronunciation of his name ingrained in us from our Play School days of Manu and Big Ted so adopting the French pronunciation takes a second of forethought - but Manu is unperturbed by any liberties we might take with his name.
"You can call me Manu, it’s fine. I know how hard it is for me to speak English so I understand why you guys would find it difficult to pronounce my name, so I won’t get upset at all."'My Kitchen Rules' screens Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays at 7:30pm on TV2