MKR was seen as cashing in on the success of TEN’s MasterChef. Four years later it is now a force in its own right and Australia will have to choose between professionals or amateurs in a small screen feast.
While there are undoubtedly similar ingredients to Come Dine with Me, Seven’s in-house production has succeeded without any franchise format to follow, mixing casting, drama, state contests, location challenges, host personalities and a finals battle in “MKR headquarters.”
Manu Fieldel and Pete Evans shared a few secrets with TV Tonight about the MKR recipe and how the show is put together.
Shooting of the home dinners proceeds well into the early hours of the morning, with most teams on their feet for close to 24 hours. The length of the shoots means most meals are actually never hot.
“It’s shopping for three hours, prep for three hours. By the time we arrive, sit down, we should get the entrée in the first hour,” Feildel explains.
“We are there for 10 -12 hours but the contestants start at 6 or 7 in the morning and probably go until 4 or 5 in the morning,” says Evans.
“I don’t think we’ve ever really had a warm meal in our lives!”
“The only food that we eat warm is the studio food, because they give us the plate straight away. But the food that we eat at their homes is usually cold. Lukewarm at best,” concedes Feildel.
“But in the studio we eat a plate of food, especially when people are starting to get eliminated, we get to try the food within 30 seconds of it being plated. So we try it and mark it and then when it comes to us half an hour later we already know what we’re going to say,” Evans adds.
Despite the show’s title, many of the contestants host dinners in the homes of family or friends. This is due to minimum space requirements, including accommodating a television crew. Occasionally this impacts on their skill with appliances and ovens, and mistakes are not uncommon.
“Possibly they could have jumped in there a few times before and tested it out,” Evans suggests.
“A lot of them do but some don’t.”
As with other Reality shows, producers and crew are not able to assist teams even when they can see something is going awry. Much better to capture the drama in all its raw form.
And like some other Reality shows, MKR also takes steps to insure its outcome isn’t leaked.
“There are two different endings, so not even the contestants know who wins. We do!,” says Evans.
“A lot of Reality shows these days film two different endings. Ones that are filmed in advance.”
If that means a finalist plate is scored a 10 in one take and then a 9 in another then nobody is saying. In fact nobody is saying anything about how the two endings are achieved. A defensive Feildel insists it’s a necessary step.
“We have to protect six months of hard work with a crew of 150, 24 contestants, plus us. This is a shitload of work, and if the work comes out before it gets on air what’s the f***ing point? So we have to do it. So we don’t tell you how it’s done, but we do it,” he says.
This season is even more elaborate than before. There are two groups of six teams, with the hosts again criss-crossing the country with a $250,000 prize on offer. Feildel promises more travelling, bigger challenges and contestants who want to up the ante.
Evans says producers have improved the recipe but followed audience reaction from social media.
“When we write a menu we look at what sells and what the people like. If people order the prawns we’re not going to take them off and put raw squid for instance. We’ll keep putting the prawns on but make it the best possible prawns and that’s what they do with this show as well,” he says.
“The producers and network study what people like about the show and each and every year they give them more of what they like and less of what agitated them.
“This is a dish for the network, it’s part of their menu. So how can you make it better? By giving the customer, the viewers, what they want.”
“The thing the viewers don’t see and feel is how hard it is for the contestants and what they’re going through. The 12-15 hours a day, the challenges that are pushed under the 50 degree sun. You might see it on the screen but you don’t feel it as much. It doesn’t matter how much you try to translate it through the image, but those guys are going through hell sometimes,” Feildel insists.
But if it has also made stars of the hosts, it can come at a price.
Tabloids write about Evans’ romantic life, or expose Feildel for forgetting to drive with an ‘L’ plate while he is learning to get his license.
“Unfortunately there are pros and cons of being on the screen,” Feildel concedes.
“It’s something you’ve got to learn to accept. You actually, for some reason, belong to the public now. People have an image of you and who you should be. If you slip, it makes noise and unfortunately you have to deal with it.
“If people stop you in the street for a photo you have to stop and smile. If you get stopped by ‘paps’ because you’ve done wrong, you’ve got to stop and smile. But we’re human beings.
“We’re not superstars, we’re not celebrities. We’re just two guys who have been given the opportunity to do a bit more than everybody else.
“But it didn’t fall in our lap. We worked to get this. It’s not because we knew someone who knew someone, or the accent, or good looks or whatever.
“I worked my bollocks off to be where I am today and I don’t have to thank anybody else.”
Prior to MKR, Feildel appeared in Ready Steady Cook and Boys Weekend while Evans has appeared on Lifestyle channel’s Fish plus Fresh with the Australian Women’s Weekly.
And what of this year’s contestants? Seven’s internal casting department does a sterling job at uncovering then marketing its teams into those audiences can love and hate.
Evans agrees it is all part of the show’s secret recipe, and hints at who might pop this season.
“They all can’t be villains and they all can’t be boring. The recipe has to have a little bit of everything in it. That’s what the producers do so well, they give the audience a little bit of everything to tantalise the taste buds,” he says.
“What I would say is don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Give them a chance.
“People are already loving the father and son, Mick and Matt from Tasmania.
“Jenna and Joanna the cupcake queen from South Australia are a really interesting couple to watch. They’re dynamic in the kitchen.
“Luke and Scott are very health-conscious. They’re personal trainers from Queensland. They bring another dimension which we haven’t seen before which is nutritious cooking, into a mainstream show.
“Maybe people, like the ‘activated almonds’ thing, might do a little bit of research on something that they might not have heard of before.”
“They start by introducing themselves and being friends but towards the end with that $250,000 they become… not enemies, but they start splitting. It’s a lot more serious and only one will win,” Feildel warns.
And lastly, what of the new season twist about surprise dinner guests?
Are we likely to see returning contestants bringing their spark back to the table?
“Maybe,” smiles Feildel. “All will be revealed. After the tennis!”
My Kitchen Rules premieres 7:30pm Monday on Seven.