Celebrity chef Gary Mehigan talks to Ronak Mastakar about his culinary journey and his upcoming show where he will take a gastronomic sojourn in India
You have seen him in Master Chef Australia, and many other shows, Chef Gary Mehigan has given us many master classes in cooking. The most-celebrated international gourmet chef has been in culinary industry for 30 years, but he still manages to keep everyone enthralled (and drooling) every time he comes on screen, be it as a chef or a host! His natural leadership qualities command attention, but more than that he is a great teacher with a soft heart.
Gary Mehigan will be in India, where he will unravel the new age and innovative cooking techniques that are taking the Indian food industry by storm. Gary will be seen exchanging notes with some of the finest Indian chefs and engaging in foodie talks with renowned Bollywood celebrities. Excerpts from the interview:
As a host in ‘Far Flung with Gary Mehigan’ you visited several Asian countries. How different is this new show going to be?
This show is all about the Chefs, and what is going on in India at the moment. So, no travel unless you count the trip from Delhi to Mumbai, but lots of travel around both cities, seeking out the Masters of Taste in India at the moment.
Tell us about your foodie experience in India.
I’ve been to India quite a lot now, so yes, I’ve eaten a lot of street food. It’s such a busy and colourful place it’s hard to walk past so many delicious things without stopping and eating. I love all sorts of chaat including panipuri, sevpuri, pav bhaji and seekh kebab.
Speaking of Indian cuisine, any favourite dishes?
So many, I couldn’t possibly choose one. I love Dosa Masala, and have it most mornings for breakfast when I am in India, but have also learned to make it at home. I visited in winter this time, so winter greens like sarson ka saag, fresh ponk, moras bhaji and toor dal are a favourite. I love everything from dal and curd curries from Rajasthan to the lighter fragrant coconut curries from south to biryanis and parathas. I also try to learn a few recipes every time I visit India.
In this show, you will be visiting restaurants, conducting masterclasses. What more can we expect from Gary Mehigan as the host?
Lots of talking. Meeting and chatting with so many wonderfully passionate food ambassadors of India, was a real privilege. And cooking for the celebrity guests in the studio and feeding them and the crew, and seeing their delight at different things I prepared. I’m a feeder, just love seeing the delight on people’s faces as they enjoy a meal I have cooked.
You will also be dining with Bollywood celebrities. What can we expect from this interaction?
Lots of fun and interesting conversations. Everyone was refreshingly down to earth, and not what I expected from Bollywood superstars. The connection with food was important and they all were great and dug in and got their hands dirty.
Do you watch Bollywood movies? Any favourites?
No, my Hindi is not that good! I do flick through the movie channel in the hotel from time to time, and a friend of mine, Pallavi Sharda, has starred in Besharam and Hawaizaada to name a few. I do love the music and colour, but I have loved other Indian or Indian collaborative movies such as Dangal and Lion.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I originally wanted to be an architect or an engineer, but then I realised I probably wasn’t cut out for either, and my father suggested I consider following in my Grandfather’s footsteps. So, I went to culinary school for three years and then to London. My first job was at The Connaught Hotel, under executive chef Michel Bourdan, it was a game changer for me working with all these beautiful ingredients and I was hooked.
Who is Gary Mehigan in real life? What does he love when he is at home relaxing and not playing chef?
Now that I am not cooking fulltime, I actually enjoy cooking more than I ever had. It makes a difference when you’re not under the commercial pressures of a busy restaurant kitchen. So, pottering around in my kitchen at home is a real pleasure. Because I travel frequently, spending quality time with my wife, daughter and our two dogs are a big part of my life. I have ridden motorbikes since I was 17, you will often find me on a Sunday morning, up early and riding either down the coast or up into the hills outside Melbourne, for several hours. I also love boxing as it keeps me fit and my mind sharp. Believe it or not, I went on a Thai boxing camp for 10 days last year…midlife crisis maybe but I loved it
One thing that you want to do this time in India, that you didn’t on your last visit?
Get out of the big cities and explore. So many places I would like to visit in the north and south. Kerala, Rajasthan, the Himalayas. Never enough time.
There are so many nail-biting events in the show when you judge a person how does it feel?
We are always sad to see people go, because we all become one big family, especially towards the end of the series, but I am rarely sad because I know that they are hopefully going to live their food dream.
Molecular Food has been gaining popularity. What new food trends can we expect?
The term molecular gastronomy has probably done more harm than good, to be honest. All cooking is science and what we’ve seen in recent years is a more thorough understanding of how we cook and the reasons foods behave the way do when we cook them. The good stuff has stayed and we’ve left the bad stuff behind. Honestly, if I could pick the trends I’d be a very wealthy man indeed. I hope to see Indian food coming of age on the world culinary stage and championing Indigenous ingredients, techniques and a new wave of young creative chefs.
What next, after this show?
I am now back on the MasterChef Australia set, shooting series 10 would you believe. then back in India for the launch of Masters of Taste in February, and if you all love it, then hopefully back again later in the year to discover more of India and your Masters of Taste.
What tips will you give to the ones planning on becoming chefs?
You have to have a natural generosity of spirit and you must honestly love cooking and feeding people. It can be a thankless job, especially in the early years, when you are paid the least and work the most. Thankfully the industry has and is continually changing. Specialisation is very popular these days this has created enormous opportunities and encourages young chefs to become entrepreneurs. But it is still a job you need to be truly passionate about. “Always working always playing” is my motto.
(Gary Mehigan will be seen in the new show ‘Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan’ Which Channel which goes on air from February 26).