Truth about Manu Feildel’s MKR signing
Just over a decade ago Manu Feildel had two sliding door moments that would change his life forever.
In early 2009 after a number of auditions for MasterChef Australia, Feildel, 45, pretty much had the sought after job as co-host alongside George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan in the can.
There was a lot of buzz in the television industry about the Channel 10 show at the time and everyone in the food world wanted the gig.
However, at the last minute Ten executives got cold feet over Feildel because of his thick French accent.
"At the time to miss out on MasterChef was very disappointing, they had invited every chef on the planet and I got so far and got to the last audition," he said.
"My French accent had been a good thing until that day, you know?"
He admits he was "devastated" at missing out on the opportunity that ended up going to Matt Preston.
It would have been tough for Feildel to watch that first season of MasterChef Australia, which was truly a ratings and cultural phenomenon.
When Julie Goodwin was crowded winner of the very first series, more than three million Australians tuned in. It was a true television moment that shook the industry.
Cooking shows were now the flavour of the month and everyone wanted to get on that bandwagon.
However all wasn't lost for Feildel.
Preston had actually been helping the casting agent in charge of finding the hosts and recommending talent, but he ended up on the show himself.
In response to MasterChef Australia, Channel 7 was making their own cooking show pilot, with the title My Kitchen Rules.
The show was loosely based on My Restaurant Rules, which ran for two seasons on Seven with Curtis Stone as host in 2004, and Ian "Dicko" Dickson in 2005.
The first series of My Restaurants Rules was more of a ratings success, but looking back in history the show's lasting legacy was launching the very successful TV career or the first host, Curtis Stone.
Like MasterChef Australia every chef had auditioned for My Kitchen Rules, keen to have the success that was now coming the way of Calombaris, Mehigan and Preston.
Feildel again impressed executives, so much so that he and Pete Evans, who was a friend, made it to the last two and filmed a pilot, he told news.com.au.
"They said 'do you want to do a pilot' and I thought 'why not, I've got nothing to lose'," he said.
"When the pilot was done, it went to the executives and I lost the job again .... because of the French accent."
Once again Feildel was heartbroken, and appeared destined to never make it in Australian television.
Cue Pete Evans, who has always been one of Feildel's biggest supporters.
"Pete turned around when they offered him the job (and said) 'but I want to work with the right person'," he said.
"They said I was off the list because of my accent, but Pete said he wanted to work with me and they changed their mind, and I was back on."
It should have been a glorious time for Feildel now he finally had his big break on Australian TV.
But instead, for the first few months - indeed years - he found the co-hosting job incredibly difficult and challenging.
One of the problems was communicating confidently in English when the pressure was on and with the television cameras not missing a beat.
"I could speak some English, but my French accent was probably a little stronger then it is today," he said.
"People don't realise, when you are nervous words don't come out the right way, you try to get the worlds out the quickest you can so you can move on.
"So I had to learn to articulate my words and to speak slower.
"I also think people had to get used to my French accent, and they have."
It took Feildel a long time to get used to the mechanics of television.
It's not as easy as it looks.
"It took about three years before I felt comfortable to go to work, I used to stress every morning," he said.
"When you have got twelve to fourteen cameras on your face it can be quite daunting. I struggled for months.
"The English, the pronunciation, the learning of the suits, all of it was difficult. But I was determined to succeed."
The fact he had the support of his co-host Evans - in what can be a brutal television world -made a different to Feildel.
"Pete has always been a huge support, he has always looked after me as a chef and always made me feel comfortable," he said.
"I sometimes hated him because he made things looked so easy, but he was always a fantastic support."
Feildel said now the job was easy and he has built a strong television profile for Seven, where he is one of the network's biggest stars
But he will never forget those early days, and how tough it was, on himself and his loved ones.
Filming the show takes about six months of his life and it is gruelling.
"The instant restaurant part of the show is easy," he said.
"The challenges become harder, because we expect more from the contestants, and they are tired and exhausted and stressed.
"Some of them have left their kids and family behind, so it can be very difficult for the contestants, more so than us.
"But we didn't sign up for the competition I guess, they did."
The entire celebrity chef community in Australia, including the MasterChef Australia hosts and other television rivals in the industry, supported him.
Feildel was a guest at Calombaris's wedding in Greece late last year.
"I think in the chef industry it is like a brotherhood," he said.
"If someone runs out of bread, you always say 'can I help you out?'
"It's always been like this. The networks fight, but we don't."
As My Kitchen Rules celebrates 10 years it now faces another threat - Married At First Sight.
While it used to rate over one million viewers, it is now rating in the 700,000-800,000 range, which is still respectable but not like it was.... all thanks to Channel 9's relationship ratings giant.
But Feildel confirmed to news.com.au it will be back next year, and there is life in the show yet.
There is also an All-Stars version that will start filming in July, which is believed to be going back to the original format of My Restaurant Rules.
It is expected that series will air later in the year.
Feildel, and his much-loved friend and co-host Evans, will be at the forefront of that series too.
Channel 7 will be hoping once Married At First Sight is over, the All-Stars version of MKR will once again return the format to the No.1 ratings juggernaut it once was.
- Luke Dennehy is a Melbourne based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @LukeDennehy