Colin Fassnidge the New Guard
Colin Fassnidge is hands down the coolest celebrity chef on TV. Witty, roguish and charismatic, his colourful culinary journey has been about directing the fire inside.
Colin Fassnidge is in his element. He’s hosting a My Kitchen Rules season launch at his recently refurbished 4Fourteen restaurant in Sydney’s hip Surry Hills. He’s been asked to say a few words in front of a collection of influential media and assorted celebrity guests. Tall and lean, his posture is all swagger – a cross between Jagger and James Dean as he growls into the microphone, cracking a few jokes in his gravelly Irish accent before proceeding to tear strips off his co-stars Pete Evans and Manu Feildel.
He then takes his seat between the editor of a trashy women’s magazine and a noted food journalist and effortlessly holds court, managing to talk ‘gossip’ and ‘serious culinary discussion’ in equal measures. He re-tells a story of when he met the owner of Channel 7, billionaire Kerry Stokes, at a network lunch.
“Hello, I’m Colin.”
“G’day, I’m Kerry.”
“Nice to meet you, Kerry. What do you do?”
“Ha! I like you. We’ll get along fine.”
Dublin to Sydney
It’s a long way for a young lad from Dublin, who played drums in a band before being bedazzled by the rock star allure of Marco Pierre White to take up cooking as a trade. He almost burned out in the regimented kitchen of Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, before taking a break and embarking on a backpacking adventure around the globe.
He had no intention of manning the pans again, but while in Australia, a lack of cash saw him call up old mate Justin North, who was working at Sydney’s hottest restaurant at the time, Banc, run by the Irishman Liam Tomlin, who immediately gave Colin a job. If Blanc was an Army General, Tomlin was the Gestapo, but Colin stayed. “I fell in love with the lifestyle, the beaches,” he says.
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Old ways, new ways
As executive chef at Four in Hand, Colin earned two hats and a reputation – in more ways than one. His nose-to-tail food philosophy was lauded – creative, flavoursome, seasonal dishes made from secondary cuts. But he ran his kitchen the only way he knew how – with aggression.
“At the start, I ran my restaurants with an iron fist," admits Colin. "But after a while you find yourself all alone in a kitchen because no-one wants to work with you...and the stress was huge."
Fortunately, a change in his personal life was the catalyst for Colin to embark on a new way of doing things professionally. He and his wife Jane became parents. By the time the couple had two small daughters, Colin had mellowed, matured and learned some valuable life lessons.
“When I had my daughters it clicked into my head, ‘What is the point of having kids if you are never going to be there with them?’," levels Colin.
"So I started to trust the sous chef with more work and it worked. I started to nurture staff instead of burning through them. I found good ones and I really looked after them. I found that anger wasn’t the way to go. I still get angry, but having kids taught me to teach more.
"I learned to be a businessman. I don’t consider myself a head chef anymore, I am a restaurateur. I am thinking on behalf of the guests now, rather than just the food."
It has also seen Colin develop a new role – mentor to a host of exciting young 'new guard' chefs.
"You get quite fatherly about it," says Colin. "I went to Monopole a few weeks ago where Paul Farag, who was with me, is cooking and I said, ‘You’ve really come on from what you were – a troubled teenager to now running a two-hat restaurant’. It is a proud fatherly feeling. You've seen these people throughout the years and they've stuck by you through thick and thin."
While Colin is an old hand in the kitchen, he's the 'new guard' celebrity chef on TV. A few appearances on MasterChef led to Channel 7 giving him a shot on MKR. He's been a hit. His good looks and Irish charm balancing out his acerbic reviews of contestants' cooking. TV seems to have come easily, but Colin admits otherwise.
"I wasn’t good at the start," he says. "Everyone thinks they can do it until the producers tell you you're not very good. And I got told, so I got better, quickly."
Of course, being a TV celebrity has as many drawbacks as it has benefits, not that Colin is too worried by the whole thing.
"At the start of last week, a magazine had a story that I'd been fired for being hungover, while another said Pete (Evans) had been fired and I'd been given a promotion," laughs Colin. "It does put bums on seats though – my saving grace is I am often still in the kitchen at 4Fourteen – it keeps you normal in the frenzy.
"If you'd told me 20 years ago I'd be on TV, I would have said I was a sell-out. But I have a new appreciation for what these people do. It's a lot of work and long days."
As the MKR launch event winds down late in the night in Surry Hills, Colin is still holding court for the few remaining guests. Laughing, relaxed... mellow. Long days indeed.
Get Colin Fassnidge's poached pork fillet with pearl barley and wilted greens recipe