Even celebrity chefs get a grilling on My Kitchen Rules. Controversial guest judge Colin Fassnidge has been called "grubby" and "stuck up" by fans on MKR's Facebook page.
"To all those who reckon I need a shave, I'm the one on national TV and I get paid for it," he said. "I get my hair and beard manicured every day." And to all those women who reckon he's "gorgeous": "I'm married with two kids," he replies.
Straight upfront and brutally honest, Irish-born Fassnidge brings the discipline he learnt in the kitchen with leading French chef Raymond Blanc and hothead Gordon Ramsay to his Sydney restaurants Four in Hand and 4Fourteen. When he sits in front of the cameras, he's true to form because "contestants need to be served up the truth when it comes to their cooking".
"I've got 30 chefs working for me and I've learnt from the best, so I can't modify my standards or change my style," he said. "There's $250,000 riding on this competition, so there's no mucking about. Yes, I think I score lower (than other judges) and I've never given a 10 - but I wouldn't even give myself a 10."
He's joined by guest judges Guy Grossi, Karen Martini and Liz Egan for the fifth season hosted by French charmer Manu Feildel and clean-eating Pete Evans, who says he leaves his paleo food philosophies "at the door" when he steps into work mode.
"At the end of the day, I've been a chef for 25 years and I know great flavour when I taste it," Evans said. "There have been many dishes that have been incredibly delicious and well thought out . . . but hopefully people realise and understand that many MKR dishes aren't always everyday food, as there's no denying that a lot of what's being served is somewhat indulgent and therefore not an ideal choice if you're dedicated to living a thriving, healthy lifestyle."
All judges concede standards are higher this time round as teams show their stuff with ancient seeds and grains, fresh herbs and clever use of secondary cuts. "Us chefs are mad about secondary cuts, so it's good to see contestants go outside their comfort zone," Melbourne-based consultant chef Liz Egan said. "What I look for is balance, so if a protein is very soft, then you need a crunch in there somewhere. If something is quite rich, then you need something fresh and if there's more than three parts to a dish, then it's probably overworked."
Feildel says WA contestants Chloe James and Kelly Ramsay have pushed the boundaries with offal, snails and rabbit, which hit the spot with chefs but maybe not everyone else. "In fact, some of the food has been so good that I've finished it off once the cameras have stopped rolling," he said.
My Kitchen Rules tops 2.5 million viewers nationally each night. Guy Grossi, who's been on the panel from the start, believes the production has evolved as contestants have honed their skills for the tightest contest ever.
"Certainly, the teams are more savvy," Mr Wolf's Karen Martini said. "They're not shy anymore and we're seeing some very outspoken and ambitious contestants.
"Fortunately, blind tastings for us mean we're set apart from the individual personalities and anything that goes on in the kitchen, so we're just looking at the food on the plate in front of us. That's what counts."
Olga de Moeller
'I wouldn't even give myself a 10.' COLIN FASSNIDGE