Aussie Celebrity Chef and TV Host Gary Mehigan, popularly known for his 12-year-long stint as a judge on MasterChef Australia, is not new to Indian cuisine. He understands the Indian palette, probably, better than any of us. In an exclusive interview with financialexpress.com’s Eshita Bhargava, Chef Gary Mehigan, who has collaborated with Conosh for Masterclass sessions in Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi, spoke about his love for Indian food, an Indian spice that has made space in his kitchen, favourite Indian Chefs, and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about the event and the masterclass which you are organizing.
I have been filming for NatGeo India as part of a new series launching early next year. It involves lots of travel and a little food along the way, of course, I am working with Conosh on a Dinner and Masterclass Tour across three cities, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. It’s my first public event and we have planned six dinners and Master Classes for foodies and fans. My dinners will be a snapshot of what I love to cook and eat.
What brought you to India for the first time? What was it like?
I was asked to be part of Ozzfest which was a cultural and business program coordinated by the Australian and Indian governments to foster relationships between our two countries. It was at the height of MasterChef’s popularity, so it was an intense and slightly surreal experience. We couldn’t really grasp why we were so popular. I was struck by the warmth, generosity, and good humour of nearly everyone I met and was instantly drawn to the colour, culture, and beautiful chaos that seemed to be everywhere I looked. Obviously now, after so many visits I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of India and all that it has to offer.
Does traveling add a lot to your experience as a Chef?
Traveling as a Chef is one of my greatest pleasures. It opens up a world of food that is a constant source of fascination and inspiration. It can be an ingredient, flavour, technique, or philosophy, an endless repertoire of recipes, and the learning is never done.
Besides food, what attracted you to India?
I often say, it’s not the place but the people that make a visit special and that’s how I feel about India. We have so much in common. Food is inseparable from the Indian way of life but the optimism and joy of life expressed here is addictive. Much like in Australia, there is a certain resistance to authority that I admire and a sense of humour that so often diffuses situations that could easily become more serious.
You’ve travelled fairly well. I want to understand which city or state in India you think has the best food and why?
In all honesty, my learning has just begun. Indian food culture and history is rich and very complex and the nuances are endless. In every region, city, neighbourhood, family, and home, I found so many things to enjoy. My latest travel to Nagaland has once again opened my eyes to a very different and fascinating world of fabulous food. So, it would be difficult to pick one place.
Have you tried street food? What was your experience like? Do you have your favourite picks?
Of course. And I’d argue that Indian street food is the best in the world. After 15 or so visits, I’ve eaten a lot…! You should take a look at my Instagram page and stories and you will know what I mean. I’m also acutely aware that like politics, India loves to debate about the intricacies of a particular dish and what is the best and tastiest… This may seem silly but I love a nice cup of tea. I stop often from place to place just to take a moment to watch the passers-by, have a chat (not a chaat!) with someone, and enjoy hot sweet chai maybe with a little cardamom or ginger.
What is your favourite Indian spice?
I love green cardamom but probably use more black pepper in my cooking than anything else.
What are some of the restaurants and chefs that you like in India?
I’ve had some outstanding food all over India but below are a few of the chefs I admire greatly for their contribution to our wonderful industry:
Avinash Martins: Cavatina South Goa
Hussain Shazhad: Bombay Canteen
Manish Mehrotra Indian Accent: Delhi
Sarita pereira The Love Fools: Mumbai
Thomas Zacharias The Locavore
Prateek Sadhu ex Masque Mumbai
Vinesh Johny – Lavonne pastry school
Pooja dhingra – Le 15 Mumbai
What attracted you to food and the culinary world?
My grandfather was a chef and an inspiration to me in my early teens. I had every intention of becoming an engineer or architect but felt inextricably drawn to food. The years since have proved that intuition and the decision to become a chef were right. I love what I do, I love the instant gratification of creating and cooking a dish and serving it to someone. I think we would all agree that food is one of the great conduits like music and art that brings us together and celebrates what we have in common and what brings joy.
Chef, what connects India and Australian cuisine?
It may sound strange but the texture: The crisp and crunch and the smooth and creamy…
What are the food trends that we’ll be witnessing in 2023?
I’m never the right person to ask…! Social media will give you a far better read into foodie fads and trends. However, what I would love to continue to see is the support for ethical, mindful, local, and sustainable food. We occupy a unique period in history where the choices we make now will affect generations to come.
If you could invite three people to your table, dead or alive, who would they be and what would you serve them?
I think the following would make for an entertaining night:
Billy Connolly – Comedian extraordinaire
Muhammad Ali – Boxer and legend Heston Blumenthal – Culinary magician