On-screen, he’s the judge with the ready laugh and cheerful grin who never fails to extract a smile even as he critiques the contestants on My Kitchen Rules.
However, in February 2014, Manu Feildel admits a very different man was to be found off screen after he “lost everything” when his Sydney restaurant, Manu At L’étoile, closed.
That was exacerbated when, just five months later, he faced the closure of Le Grand Cirque, his joint venture in Melbourne with MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris.
“It was tough,” the French-born chef, 43, reveals. “I lost my pride, my money and went through a stage of depression for a couple of months.”
Were it not for the support of his family and friends, including MKR co-host Pete Evans, Manu says he’s not sure he would have bounced back from those dark days.
“I got back on track because of my friends, family and the job I have now,” he says of the role MKR also played in his recovery.
“I don’t have time for worrying anymore – what’s the point? It’s better to smile and be happy than to struggle for something that might work.”
Having fun is coming far more easily to Manu this season, as My Kitchen Rules is experiencing some of the biggest highs and lows in its eight-year history.
“I’ve signed on for next year − and a 10th-anniversary season is certainly possible,” he says.
“I love the job. I work with my best mate, so it’s easy to go to work.”
Pete and Manu recently travelled to New Zealand to film a series of MKR.
And he’s not resting on his cooking laurels. He recently shot scenes as “an angry chef” in upcoming Aussie film The BBQ alongside Shane Jacobson and Magda Szubanski.
Manu has also opened a pop-up eatery in Sydney’s Surry Hills called Duck In Duck Out. But another restaurant isn’t on the cards.
“Restaurants in Australia are a tough business at the moment,” he says. “They’re all struggling and I don’t want to be one of them.
“I would love to open a restaurant and cook for my customers without having people judge me.
“One day, if MKR stops, I’ll open a little French bistro somewhere with a sign saying, ‘Food critics not welcome!’”