LIFE is about to change dramatically for two laid-back Newcastle blokes.
Tonight Anthony Cook (“Cookie”) and Chris Norgard make their debut on Channel Seven’s ratings juggernaut My Kitchen Rules (MKR), one of six “couples” in group three of the cooking competition.
Both married and fathers of two, the lifelong friends are second generation Novocastrians and their mothers owned a sandwich shop together.
“We’ve been through every major moment in our lives, from our marriages to our kids, together. Everything. We’re like family,” Cookie said.
Chris, who lives in Merewether, is a successful sports physiotherapist and Cookie, from Adamstown, is a dietitian and community health worker. Chris likes to play golf, stand-up paddle boarding, bike riding and fishing. Cookie spends most of his time running after his young children.
And they both love to cook.
The pair have been unable to tell anyone but close family about their role in MKR, until now. It hasn’t been easy for either of them, having to spend four months away from their families and places of employment.
“Because I’m a physio with long-term patients it’s been pretty awkward, to be honest,” Chris said.
Cookie is amazed his two children, aged 5 and 7, have managed to keep the secret, describing them as “absolute treasures”.
“My daughter Gabriella calls the show “M pair of tongs R” because of the symbol,” he laughed.
Chris’ teenage son Zac, and daughter Emma, are simply hoping dad doesn’t embarrass them too much on national television.
Chris says he now has a new-found respect for people who have appeared on reality television shows people like Novocastrians Carly and Tresne, and Hunter Valley cheesemakers Annie and Jason, who were MKR contestants in 2014,
“It’s not all roses and it’s pretty hard at times. Sleep can be a rare commodity, and there are some long days. It’s not a walk in the park,” he said.
“I mean, you’re putting yourself out there and cooking in front of a national audience. Cooking isn’t normally stressful for me – I actually use it as a stress relief – but when you are cooking and know it will be shown to a big audience that adds an element of pressure.
“And you are cooking for 12 in a normal domestic kitchen, too. That’s something that brings a lot of people undone, not being used to cooking for that amount of people in a fine dining sense.
“When you’re cooking for 12 it drops the temperature in the oven a fair bit and a lot of people don’t take that into consideration.”
“There’s a lot of pressure, yes. The timing pressure is a part of it, and there’s also the pressure you put on yourselves, I mean, Chris and I pride ourselves on our cooking and it’s something we feel we do well, and we always want to do our best,” he said.
“You’re striving to do that and you’re thinking about food all the time and we’d be waking up at two or three in the morning with food ideas, and I’m like ‘I’ll write that one down and we’ll talk about it tomorrow’.
“And being away from the family for so long was tough.”
Cookie and Chris like to cook “modern Australian” cuisine, which Chris described as “a bit of everything, really”.
“We don’t channel all our efforts into one type of cuisine. And we are both fairly big guys so we like our tucker as well. We’re pretty big on protein,” he said.
“That was one challenge for us, we had to try to scale back the size of our meals from what we would normally eat to what you would present in this type of competition.
“It makes a dish look a bit more dainty when you’re not trying to fill a plate. That helped with the presentation as well.”
As for the group dynamics, Chris and Cookie tried to stay out of any drama and just be themselves.
“The first two groups have had their villain I suppose, for want of a better word,”Chris said.
“I don’t think we’ve got a full-on, dominant villain in our group but there are some definite dynamics going on around the table between some people.
“But we don’t get too involved with all that. We’re just there to cook and to experience it and meet people. We’re not there to play any strategic game. We’re just happy to comment on what we eat and do our thing.
“We played it fair.”
Cookie said they tried to “stay out of the personal stuff as much as we could and focus on the food”.
“We tried to have a laugh with the other people in the group and didn’t get wrapped up in the whole ‘he said she said’ stuff.”
Describing themselves as “proud Novocastrians”, Chris and Cookie enjoyed showing the contestants around Newcastle when they dined at Chris’ house for the pop-up restaurant episode.
“We live in a fairly new house with a pretty modern kitchen so we had plenty of space,” Chris said.
“We were lucky in that regard. We had plenty of room here to spread out and make lots of mess, as we like to do.”
Chris has known Cookie since he was three years old. He’s now 45.
“We’ve known each other too long, you think? It’s time to have a break? Ha, I’ve been saying that for years but he keeps hanging around,” he laughed.
“But it definitely worked in our favour in the unique MKR situation – you’ve got to know the person pretty well to handle the pressure together.”
They are both excited – and a little nervous – about Monday night’s debut, having only caught glimpses of themselves on television advertisements for the show.
“You never know how you’re going to look and sound. Listening to your own voice is always weird, it’s probably weirder than seeing yourself,” Chris said.
As for Cookie, he’s enjoying the ride.
“This is awesome! This is the most fun thing ever,” he laughed.
“Maybe ask me again in a few weeks. But I’m loving every minute of it.
“Being on the show has given me an enormous boost in confidence. It’s not something that has been a strong point of mine in the past. But putting myself out there has been a game changer.”
Neither man has any idea what the future holds but they are open to new ideas and directions.
“I’ve been a physio for a long time and if you do anything for a long time it starts to become, I don’t know, not as exciting as it was when you started the career,” Chris said.
“I probably wouldn’t mind some sort of a change in direction but I don’t think I could see myself working in a kitchen day in day out – I’ve been my own boss for a long time.”
Cookie has been a dietitian since 1999 and spent a lot of time working in community health. An eight-week contract in Dubbo became seven years and it is there he met his wife Louise, a clinical psychologist.
But as many of us know, all roads lead back to Newcastle.
“Right now I’m actually doing a health and hygiene role at Tomago Aluminium,” Cookie said.
“It is part nutrition and part health surveillance, checking people’s blood pressure and health outcomes. It’s a very varied role and I just love it.
“We talked about doing something with food well before going on the show, so it’s just a case of wait and see.”