Chef Colin Fassnidge says his team of fans is better than rival Manu Fieldel's team of faves

Team Colin on MKR: The Rivals.
Team Colin on MKR: The Rivals.

A mop of curly locks, loads of Irish charm and a passion for his craft have endeared chef Colin Fassnidge to viewers of the Seven Network's MKR since Season 4 (2013).

Ironically, he says he had never really watched cookery shows, but had made appearances on a few before taking up the judge's mantle on MKR.

"It was a different world, I thought it would be easy, but it was a challenge," the 45-year-old says.

He especially recalls when he had to judge on a plane. The season 6 contestants had to create a meal to be served aboard a Jetstar aircraft.

"I was told to make an announcement and I made a joke about how the engine had failed, which didn't go down too well. I got rapped over the knuckles for that one."

Of course, all this has been going on while he was executive chef at The Four in Hand pub (Paddington, Sydney) for 10 years, taking it to a two chef hats dining room; followed by his own restaurant venture 4Fourteen, (at 414 Bourke Street, Surry Hills) and more recently Banksia Bistro.

"My wife's [Jane Hyland] the brains of the operation, I'm just the face. I work better when I'm alone ... I like to be under pressure, it keeps your mind busy."

Meanwhile, back at the MKR instant restaurants, his team of fans are up against chef Manu Fieldel's team of faves.

"Me and Manu weren't really friends before the show. Chefs have got big egos and chefs on TV have even bigger egos. Now we're the best of friends. We're always up at each other's houses, our wives are sick of it."

Neither chef had a hand in choosing their teams, but Fassnidge says his is best: "I was lucky, mine are all good."

He is also pleased with his teams' menu choices. "I was quite impressed. They've all got their own strengths, it's a great mix I think, much better than Manu's.

"I told my teams if they are cooking their dishes from back home, do it exactly as you would there, don't tone down the spices. If it's a homely dish don't try to dress it up.

"There is some indigenous cooking, which is really good to see."

Fassnidge is known for his nose-to-tail use of the meats and seafood he cooks and is pleased to see some of the teams using this philosophy: "I mean in the modern world of cooking people are trying everything."

This season the mentors are able to help out their cooks.

"We show them what our strengths are and tell them how to cook things more quickly, to work cleaner, and to think about it what they are doing more. Planning and tasting are so important."

Scores so far have reflected the influence of the mentors, who take over some of the chopping, prawn-peeling, telling them to get the ice cream in the freezer early on, and all the while motivating them to do their best.

The chef says the worst thing to happen is when everything is on track in the kitchen but when you come back after the service you know they haven't listened.

Me and Manu weren't really friends before the show. Chefs have got big egos and chefs on TV have even bigger egos.

Colin Fassnidge

Naturally it wouldn't be MKR without a little bit of drama: "I hate when the TV pundits say there's too much drama. Look, if you put that many people around a table at any time there's bound to be some drama. Look at family dinners at Christmas."

On the February 10 episode, Romel made an apology to Mark and Lauren, but competition leader Dan, with wife Steph, thought he needed to apologise to more of the teams - leading to a walkout by Romel and Sophia.

"I like Romel," Fassnidge says. "I have spoken to him a bit even after last season. The thing is they're shooting themselves in the foot if they all keep this up."

He says Dan and Steph, on Manu's team, are great ambassadors for the show.

"I spent some time with them at a charity dinner. They have a place in Hervey Bay [Eat at Dan & Steph's], it's great to see people do well. There are loads of great stories from the show, it can be life-changing."

There is also a certain amount of romance attached to this season, including the Fassnidge team member Sue Anne, who fan-girls on him quite openly.

"It's all done in fun. If it was more me to them I'd be in trouble. Sue Ann makes me laugh every day. She's sort of like a kid - trying to keep her on track is the hardest thing."

Fassnidge has a few other projects in the wind, and is writing a recipe book for home cooks "It's a dish for every occasion," he says.

"And the kids keep me busy. They're not going to be chefs, one wants to be an Olympic swimmer. They'd come in to work with us all the time so they know it's a tough grind cooking."

Speaking of how tough it can be, he says he feels very sad for his friend George Colombaris.

"He's not having a good time. We've all made mistakes, and it's not nice to wake up every day and be faced with everyone saying bad things about you."

Fassnidge believes Sydney people are lazy when it comes to dining out. "They will support the best new restaurant for the first few months, then they move on to the next new one. They go out on a Friday and Saturday and the rest of the week they get food delivered. Melbourne has a much better restaurant culture."

He encourages people to go to local restaurants on a Wednesday and take the kids.

As to who will take home the $100,000 prize money on MKR: The Rivals, he says "you sort of know who will do well, they have a real passion".