A Festive Feast with Colin Fassnidge
Selector chats with Colin Fassnidge on the chaos and glory of life, food, and telling it like it is.
In an increasingly curated, manipulated and hyper-edited world, chef/TV presenter Colin Fassnidge is an outlier; a heart-on-his-sleeve Irishman with untameable hair, a salty vocabulary and a total disregard for self-censorship: traits that have endeared him to a growing legion of fans. It does, however, cause some consternation to his agent, he admits.
“She told me the other day that I shouldn’t fire back at some people like, you know? But I can’t help myself. When people say something stupid, I like to point it out. I get a lot of joy from stupid people, you know, the ‘flat earthers’ and such.”
To his credit, Fassnidge just as frequently takes the mickey out of himself, posting videos of his daughters’ critiques of his food, or a photo of himself as a 12-year old with a bad haircut and short shorts.
“It’s life, you know?” he says of his unfiltered social media feed. “The normal, chaotic life that I have with my wife, kids and dog.” He takes the same unabridged approach to the cooking videos he started doing during Covid. Unstyled and unscripted, peppered with fruity language, they’re as down to earth as the chef himself.
“It’s food that we cook. What I’ve realised is, with the cost of living and chefs making food so hard, people are afraid to cook. And so, they’re appreciative when I do simple cooking and use cheaper cuts in the videos. I mean, I like MasterChef. I like everyone on there, but it
used to shit me to tears when they did a dessert challenge that takes 15 hours. What is the point? That’s not real life.”
MAKE OR BREAK
Hailing from Dublin, Fassnidge always knew he wasn’t going to spend his life there, particularly when he realised cooking was his calling.
“Ireland was too small for me. And to be a chef back then – it felt a bit like the Billy Elliot story – he wanted to dance and they’re all like ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I wanted to cook and I was made to feel it wasn’t a man’s job. And my parents were like, ‘Well, if you have to cook, do it for the best people.’”
So, he did, working for a Michelin-starred restaurant, Thornton’s in Dublin, before moving to the UK to work for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford. “That was like a kick in the arse,” he says.
By all accounts it was a notoriously tough kitchen, where there were 40 chefs, hours were long and Fassnidge found the prescriptive nature of classical cuisine, at times, restrictive. “They had binders, bibles of certain sauces and it took hours to make this one little sauce. And I’m like, no one’s going to know. It took all the love out of cooking,” he says. “Then I worked with Gordon Ramsay and after that I was just like, ‘F*ck, I need a holiday.’ Justin North, who I’d been with at Le Manoir, said he was going to Sydney to work in a restaurant there and I should come. So, I went for it because I was just burnt out.”
I worked with Gordan Ramsay and after that I was just like 'F*ck, I need a holiday.'
It was 1999 when he landed in Australia and North introduced him to fellow Dubliner Liam Tomlin, who lured Colin back into the kitchen.
“I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to cook. I just want a break.’ But there I was, straight back into it, working at Banc. The trade-off was, on our days off, we got to go to the beach and the city was gearing up for Olympics, so it was electric. And I was like: ‘Right. I’m staying here.’”
That decision was cemented when, not long after, he met his wife-to-be Jane Hyland, when they worked together at est., where she was assistant manager. Of all his culinary experiences, it’s cooking at a pub that Fassnidge nominates as his career highlight.
“The heyday of my cooking career was at Four in Hand,” he says. “In the early days of taking over what I would say was a shit pub, everyone said it was never going to work, that I was going to fail. Then we got two hats. And those days of just 16 hours of cooking – I loved it, it was one of the happiest times of my life.”
My Kitchen Rules and Kitchen Nightmares TV chef personality Colin Fassnidge.
In 2012, he opened the casual, nose-to-tail diner 4Fourteen in Surry Hills, borrowing just shy of a million dollars to do so. “I didn’t want to put my house on the line, but also, I didn’t have enough money. And I paid it off in six months,” he says. In 2015, the pub housing Four In Hand was sold, and after a hugely successful five-year run, in 2018, business at 4Fourteen took a downward turn.
“In year six, the lockouts came in and foot traffic dropped by half. I went from 160 covers a night and 100 for lunch to 40 covers at night and two at lunch, but because Jane and I were in a seven-year lease, we couldn’t get out. So, we paid all the staff and suppliers but we worked for a year for free. And in the end, I sold it to another restaurant for 40 grand, the entire fiddle. I can’t even bear to go by there now,” he says.
From his own experience, what advice would he give to start-up restaurateurs?
“If you’re going to put your own money into it, don’t get caught up in the fit-out and think you need the best plates and cutlery and chairs, you know? Remember the old Billy Kwong’s with the plastic chairs? I think young people just don’t buy into this – it’s all about the experience. Just do what you do really well, and if you’ve got a product that people want, they’re not really going to care about the chair. The other important thing is to find good rent. Landlords are so f*cking greedy; some will lock you in and then you’re in trouble. Also, forget about expensive foods like truffles, because you’re not going to make the money back. You’re better off buying a whole pig and learning how to use it all to make the most return. And always try to have a business partner who doesn’t cook and keeps an eye on the books.”
These days, Fassnidge spends more time watching other people cook, rather than sweating over a stove himself. In 2013, he joined My Kitchen Rules as a regular guest judge. In 2021, he appeared on the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here coming in 5th place. Then last year, he took on the Australian version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, a show that finds and helps failing hospitality businesses. This year, for its 13th season, Fassnidge was asked to appear on MKR as co-host with Manu Feildel.
“I was quite happy doing Kitchen Nightmares, which rated really well. But then me and Manu said that if we’re going to do it, we were going to do it our way. And if you look at the season just gone, people love it. They love it because we have a laugh. And to be honest, it’s quite nice to walk down the street and have people happy to see you. And the children are like: ‘We’ve watched this recipe’ or ‘We did this in the kitchen’ – I feel like I’m actually contributing something culinary-wise, you know what I mean?”
Dublin bred but Aussie grown chef Colin Fassnidge.
A FESTIVAL FOR EVERYTHING
Coming from a country Fassnidge says “has a festival for anything and celebrates anything you can drink Guinness with,” it’s a given that enjoying the “craic” is part of his cultural DNA but, he says, he’s learning to temper the excesses of his youth. When time and schedules allow, he and partner Jane also enjoy entertaining at home.
“We have any staff get-togethers here. We always do New Year’s Day. There’s usually around 50 people in my house for a barbeque. Last week we had friends around and I made these huge meatballs. And it was like a big Goodfellas thing: pasta in the middle of the table and meatballs. Rustic, and it’s always sharing. My tip is to always have food that you can have done the day before, because then you can have a beverage while you’re cooking.”
Fassnidge is pretty chuffed at being able to entertain in a new kitchen, including a table seating 20, fashioned “I worked with Gordon Ramsay and after that from a wood slab he bought in Western Australia.
“I did Truffle Kerfuffle in June and I got a bit drunk and had a walk around at night time, where they sell stuff. And I bought this huge slab of wood for a table. We’ve always wanted a better kitchen but couldn’t afford it. Just because you’re on TV, people think you’re a millionaire, but we were locked out of the restaurant for two years – I was unemployed, so we had to save up for one.”
It promises to be a busy month or two – Fassnidge is currently shooting My Kitchen Rules New Zealand across the Tasman – and, unsurprisingly, he’ll be the designated Christmas cook. “I usually do ham and prawns, and a salad. I’ve really got to pull it out of the bag this year, apparently, because when I’ve finished New Zealand, I’m going to Mongolia to film a show – a sort of No Reservations-type thing called Food Diary for Netflix,” Fassnidge says.
“It’s along the Russian border and it’s just before Christmas. So, my wife’s got the shits big time and warned that Christmas better be good this year.” So what’s he planning?
“Probably ham and prawns and salad,” he laughs. “No, no: I’ll do a pork shoulder too. I’ve got an Argentinian barbeque in my garden I’d like to have a play with. I’ll tell you what, if I make it back from Mongolia, we’ll have a bloody good Christmas.”