As one of the most famous chefs on Australian TV, you no doubt know your way around the kitchen. But if someone is just getting into home cooking, what would you suggest for those beginners?
I think the number one tip is just keep it simple. Start with only a few ingredients and learn the techniques and so on. Cooking takes a long time to learn I suppose if you’re beginner so keep it simple and expand your horizons and read a lot of recipes and cookbooks and just practise a lot.
You’re a professional chef so we assume you do a lot of cooking, but how much of it do you actually do at home? Is that a regular occurrence or are you more like “I’m clocking off now, that’s a work thing”?
I’m very lucky that I’ve got a wife who is a great cook. Clarrissa [Weerasena] cooks, she’s Malaysian and Sri Lankan. Asians in general love cooking and they love sharing food with their families and friends. And Clarissa is a very good cook and she can cook all different types of cuisines so I’m happy to let her cook most of the time. I do about 30% and she does about 70%.
If you and Clarrissa have a special date night, do you have special meals you’d cook to impress each other?
Not really! If we have a date night, we just go out to be honest with you. We love going out, we love Japanese food, it’s one of our favourites. All our life is surrounded by food, that’s definite. Even when we go on holidays, we go where we can find some good restaurants.
You and Clarissa have been together a while now and tied the knot back in 2018, what’s the secret to your successful relationship?
For me, it’s to just say “yes, darling” [laughs]. Happy wife, happy life! No, we’ve got a lot in common but we do have our bickering every now and then like every other couple, like normal people. I think food is what connects us very well and we’ve got two beautiful kids together [Manu's son Jonti, 15, who he shares with his ex Veronica Morshead, and daughter Charlee, who was born in 2015]
Speaking of your kids, Father’s Day just went by for another year. How did you spend that?
You know, it’s crazy now that the kids have so many sports on the weekend that I’m becoming the Uber driver, you know? I’m going from dancing to piano lessons to rugby – so Father’s Day was pretty much the same day except I spent a weekend with my kids that was really fun. They woke me up with a beautiful cuddle in bed and that was gorgeous.
A couple of years back, you and a few other big name chefs like the original MasterChef judges and Nigella Lawson all went to George Calombaris’ wedding and there were so many famous chefs there! What do you all eat at an event like that? Is there a lot of pressure for the caterers to serve up the best food?
I think we all stayed at pretty much the same hotel so we all had great breakfast every morning and like, normal stuff. But yeah, George’s wedding was pretty well organised and we had some great food, we had an amazing caterer that cooked some really good food. You know, when we go to a function, like a wedding etc, we’re not really there to judge. We’re like normal people. We’re just there to enjoy the day and enjoy the party and enjoy each other and have a couple of drinks and the food is kind of… you know, we’re not there to judge.
Speaking of big name chefs, you recently teamed up with MasterChef’s Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston. What’s it been like filming that in comparison to My Kitchen Rules?
Well, I mean it’s always refreshing to do something different, something new and work with different people. Working with Peter [Evans] for 11 years was fantastic and I enjoyed every minute of it. Working with Gary and Matt was different in the way that the show was different. It was more relaxed and a little bit more fun and a little bit less serious when it comes to judging.
And we – Gary and Matt and myself – have known each other and caught up with each other many times, we worked together before. We spent a couple of weeks in Greece together for George’s wedding and we’ve been good mates for a long time so we’ve got a lot in common as well and we had a lot of fun, it was brilliant. I’d love to work with those guys again, it’s been fantastic really. It was easy! There were no egos, it was just three amigos working together. It’s not even work anymore.
Have you heard much about season two of Plate of Origin, do they know if they’re going ahead yet?
No, I’m not sure what’s going on. It’s always a game of numbers so I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. Hopefully there will be another and if not another one, something else with the two gentlemen would be fantastic.
How about your former MKR co-star Pete? Do you catch up with him much?
Yep, I’ve caught up with Peter last week. We had a cup of tea together and had a good chat and yeah, we’re still friends, we’ve been friends for a long time so nothing’s changed.
Is it hard to see him face so much backlash recently?
He doesn’t look at it as backlash, he looks at it as publicity. He gets his message across and people like it, people don’t and you know, it is what it is. He’s happy, he’s a happy human being and he’s getting on with his life. And he’s fine.
As well as MKR and now Plate of Origin you’ve had a high-profile roles as a judge on Australia’s Got Talent – do you have any other reality shows in your sights at all?
Well, everything’s been put on hold really to be honest with you. I’m just waiting for all this COVID BS to just move away and I can go back to work. But yeah, I’m happy to go back on the screen. Food is what I love but AGT has been put on hold, I’d love to get back on that as soon as possible and whatever else, I’d be happy to.
You’ve also got your own sauce line The Sauce by Manu. Why did you originally decided to launch this range?
I set about doing the range because I’ve been asking for the last 12 years on the screen “where’s the sauce?” so I thought I’m not going to ask anymore, I’m going to make my own range. And also, there’s nothing out there that is refrigerated, that is made with real ingredients, that has got no additives and no preservatives and no sugar so to make the real stuff, I finally got there.
Do you have a favourite flavour?
Do I have a favourite flavour? No. It’s like there’s three kids, there’s no best kid [laughs].
Is there any meal that you’d literally refuse to eat if it didn’t have any sauce on it, given how much you’re so well known for your love of sauce?
Maybe if someone cooked me a breast of chicken and it’s overcooked, you definitely need some sauce on that to swallow it!