‘Of course I cried but it was happiness, not nerves,’ laughs the handsome groom, speaking exclusively to New Idea after the emotion-filled ceremony last Monday. ‘I could not hold onto my feelings. I’m a big, soft bear!’
The happy couple’s nuptials had been put on the backburner for several years while life, work and the birth of beautiful daughter Charlee, now three, postponed their big day.
But at last the stars aligned, allowing Manu and Clarissa to cook up their whirlwind wedding surprise in just three months of hectic planning.
‘It was on the cards for a very long time. We were engaged for four years,’ Manu, 44, admits ruefully. ‘People have been asking all that time, “When, when, when?” But our lives are so busy nowadays and I’ve been doing a lot of work.
‘In the end we said, “Listen, we just have to do this thing.” It wasn’t really important, but it needed to be done. And we’ve been able to get our best friends and family together this year...
‘So I believe in destiny,’ grins the charming French chef, TV star, restaurateur, businessman, author and rookie actor. ‘It just happens when it happens, to be honest. There is a time for everything. Maybe we weren’t ready a year or two ago. We are now!’
And softly-spoken Clarissa, whose exotic looks reveal her Chinese/Sri Lankan heritage, agrees. ‘Life happens when you are making plans! We had other things to do. For us, we were already married in spirit and in mind. It was more about being together with family and friends, and doing it so our parents were there to witness.’
In the end, it all came together like the best cordon bleu meal. Just as Manu and Clarissa intended, it was a romantic, intimate affair with 20 close family and friends jetting in from all over the world to witness them tie the knot at the exclusive Elandra Resort in Far North Queensland.
‘We were thinking about eloping and going far away to have a private time,’ Manu explains. ‘But as the years passed, we thought, “Why go so far away when we live in this amazing country?”
‘I remembered my friend had closed his resort to the public and was only doing parties and private functions, so I called him and said, “Listen, there are going to be 20 of us.” And it just happened.’
Indeed it did, just like a perfect recipe! Heartfelt tears flowed from the second Manu saw his groomsman son Jonti, 13, smartly dressed in white shirt, beige linen pants and matching waistcoat, identical to his dad’s.
‘When I saw him walking towards me, with Clarissa’s niece Haelee, I could not hold it. I just started crying,’ says the MKR co-host. ‘It was a beautiful thing to see my child walking towards me with the wedding rings on a little pillow.
‘And I was really happy to have him wearing the same thing. Jonti is my mini-me. He looked pretty hot,’ jokes the doting father-of-two.’ In fact, the suit looked better on him than on me!’
And then it was time to party under the tropical stars until midnight, with a simple roast dinner arranged around a long table, a chocolate and hazelnut ganache wedding cake, speeches and a smorgasbord of laughter.
Unusually, Manu and his mother Evelyne kicked off the dancing, followed by Jonti and Clarissa’s mother, Mona. ‘It wasn’t completely traditional, but we organised it that way,’ shrugs Manu. 'They played a French song we used to listen to when I lived with my mum, so it was beautiful.
‘I think the fact that it was only close family and friends, just 20 of us celebrating this beautiful day, it was so perfect for me,’ he says, with lip-smacking satisfaction. ‘No big wedding with 250 people you barely know!
‘It was nice. The wedding was what we planned and that’s what happened. Nothing over- promised and under-delivered! It was just the way we wanted it.’
But now, with the new season of MKR getting underway, hard-grafting Manu has returned to the daily grind. ‘It’s back to normal life, back to work. The show must go on!’
For the future, Clarissa says gently. ‘We hope, like any other couple, that we maintain our relationship and grow our relationship and look after our kids and provide for them. We are so happy as we are.’
For the full story and more amazing pictures from the couple's special day, see this weeks issue of New Idea - out now!