For My Kitchen Rules fans, it's been a long two years since the home-cooking competition show was on our screens. The series was cancelled in 2020 after its 11th season garnered less than stellar ratings and reviews from viewers. But this time around, the network listened to fans, promising a fresh take and the best season yet.
With such big changes, the show has earned a welcome rebrand. Now known just as MKR, the series features talented home cooks, delicious food, less squabbling at the dinner table and, of course, UK superstar Nigella Lawson alongside long-time judge Manu Feildel.
When Manu heard the show had been renewed, he was beyond excited.
"It's been put on a shelf for the last couple of years, so getting a comeback and going again was brilliant," Manu, 48, tells TV WEEK.
"To be honest, it was nice to have a break and start fresh again. When you do something for a long time, it can become a bit repetitive. We needed a break to reaffirm the concept."
One of the biggest changes has been the replacement of controversial chef Pete Evans, who helmed the show alongside Manu for 12 years. While Manu says he welcomed the change, a part of him found it strange to not have Pete by his side.
"It did feel weird without Pete, but this is a fresh start," he says. "We're still very good friends – we speak on a monthly basis – but he's moved on to do other things."
Thankfully, Manu and his new co-host got on like a house on fire.
"Nigella is a wonderful woman, co-host and a real food lover," he says. "Who doesn't love Nigella? All around the world, everyone loves her."
The feeling was mutual. Nigella first met Manu briefly at former MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris' wedding in 2018, but it wasn't until they started shooting MKR that they really got to know each other.
"I adore Manu," Nigella, 62, enthuses. "For one thing, he was very welcoming and talked me through everything, but he is really what you see. He's just Manu. And one of the things I noticed from day one is how much the crew love him – that's always a good sign."
Feeling as anyone might on their first day of a new job, Nigella was relieved when Manu took her under his wing.
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"I get quite wound up sometimes, because I worry so much," she explains. "He steered me through the stresses. The thing is, he's a chef – he's used to high-pressure cooking. I'm a home cook – I can't help but put myself in the shoes of whatever team is cooking at the time, so it's difficult."
Watching the show, it becomes clear that's the beauty of their pairing. Manu, with his professional training and kitchen prowess as a chef, can relate to the intricacy and skill of each dish, while Nigella, whose career has been spent making food achievable and delicious for all, can identify with the challenges of each team that invites them into their home.
"It was really easy for us to work together," Manu declares. "It was the perfect pairing."
When Nigella was approached to be part of MKR, she was taken with the concept: home cooks creating delicious food without the bells and whistles.
"I so love the idea that these were people who were just pleased about being a home cook and wanted to bring something of their food and themselves to the competition," Nigella shares. "I don't expect people with brilliant chopping skills – it's about cooking food that has flavour and delivers delight."
But more than that, she's always had a soft spot for the way Aussies approach food and cooking.
"Australians are very food-literate," she says. "You've got such great produce that it really enables great food to be made. There's an honesty, freshness and unpretentiousness about Australian cooking that's very inspiring."
Growing up, like many of the home cooks on MKR this season, Nigella learned to cook by watching her mother, who she describes as a "stern taskmaster". She and her sister were required to lend a hand each night by the time they were five years old.
"I how to cook without realising I was learning how to cook, just because we were required to do that," she says, adding that her skills are by no means as perfect as many other television cooks.
"When I did my first show, people said, 'Oh, she can't cut properly, her knife skills are terrible.' Yes, they are! But I always say, 'If you needed skills and qualifications to cook, human beings would have fallen out of the evolutionary loop a long time ago.'
"This is cooking and I think it's good. It's not about whether you know how to do a perfect concasse [dicing] of tomatoes. I'm not knocking that knowledge, I'm just saying it's really good to see food being cooked in a way we can respond to."
The new season of MKR premieres Sunday August 7th, 7pm, on Channel Seven