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Master Chef Gary Mehigen: ‘I am very partial to Indian food’

I don’t feel that pressure anymore and have been very lucky. I have owned successful restaurants and am in a good space in my life and my career, so I really feel I’m comfortable in my own skin… Gary Mehigen speaks with Tanya Banon

Renowned for being one of the original judges of the highly rated television show, MasterChef Australia, celebrity Masterchef Gary Mehigen is no stranger to food enthusiasts.

The Chambers at Taj Mahal, New Delhi, India’s very first exclusive business club, presented Rendezvous with Chef Gary Mehigan in the Capital at on Tuesday, 20th December 2022. The celebrated chef created an exquisite gastronomic experience designed to engage and entertain members of The Chambers at the iconic landmark hotel located in Lutyens’ Delhi – the heart of the Indian capital, synonymous with renowned, timeless experiences and unparalleled hospitality for over four glorious decades.

At the bespoke evening, patrons of the chef were treated to a five course epicurean odyssey of signature Asian flavours created by the Masterchef himself, thoughtfully paired with a selection of fine beverages. Gary says he feels blessed in his career, as it has allowed him to travel, indulge his passions and meet some extraordinary people. He is captivated by beautiful produce and has a lasting admiration for the people who grow, rear and craft wonderful things treating each ingredient with love and respect. Each flavour was created to cater to the Indian palette while introducing South East Asian inspired delicacies served as beautifully plated fine dine cuisine.

Gary has been part of television since 1997. Since then he has been an integral part of shows like Boys Weekend and of course 12 years of Masterchef Australia, Junior Masterchef, Masterchef Allstars and Celebrity Masterchef. Gary’s TV audience stretches around the globe, and his series Far Flung and Masters of Taste, have well and truly cemented him as one of the most watched TV Chefs in history. Gary recently moved to the Seven Network in Australia, where he has the opportunity to develop new shows with his mate Matt Preston, and host a new TV series called “Plate of Origin” which will launch later in 2020, alongside Matt and Manu Feildel. But there is more to Gary, than television and food, so 2 years ago he started his own Podcast series, “A Plate to call Home.” The series was one of the first original series for Podcast One Australia, when they first launched in Australia, and he has interviewed an array of interesting Chefs, Foodies and Food Producers, from all walks of life.

Born and brought up in the UK, in a little place called Hayling Island on the South Coast of England, his Dad was an Engineer, Mum an artist and grandfather a chef and teacher. Gary marks the two Michelin starred restaurants that were the most formative in his early career, as The Connaught Hotel under Michel Bourdan where he worked for almost 4 years and Le Souffle at The Hyde Park Intercontinental under Peter Kromberg.

He moved to Australia in 1991 where he worked at Burhnam Beeches, Browns Restaurant and Sofitel Melbourne before venturing into business at the age of 31. He then started Fenix Restaurant. Eleven years and 12 series later, Gary became part of our daily viewing, when it comes to food. MasterChef Australia series 2 was the highest rating show on Australian television of all time and the show has inspired a new generation of young cooks to embrace food and cooking.

Recently India has become important territory for Gary. In November 2017 Gary shot his first series for Fox Life called Masters of Taste, and has since hosted a second series that has won Best Cinematography at the Asian Television Awards. IANSlife spoke to the Chef about the Rendezvous and the ultra-exclusive experience he created.

Read excerpts:

You’ve travelled extensively across India, are you partial to the food of any particular region, and which one?

Chef Gary: Yes, I am very partial to Indian food, this is my 6th time visit now, so I think I should be up for honourable citizen. I love cuisine from all over the country, each region has it’s own set of flavours, ingredients and cooking methods, which I now use in my own cooking.

Do you prefer South Indian food more or what you’re served in the North, what do you find is the difference?

Chef Gary: Yes, I do like South Indian food as I spent time in the South recently, I really enjoyed it. I’m exploring the cuisine of Nagaland for my TV series, which is very different from the food I’ve tasted across the country thus far. It was just a absolute thrill, and completely unexpected, but I really enjoyed it, it’s terribly different cuisine, different people, very Nagaland, it was fabulous.

Do you take these flavours back to your own cooking and incorporate them?

Chef Gary: Yes, sure like travel is a great thing about being a Chef, and I’m blessed I get to explore different regions, cultures, cuisines, its now my passion. To get engaged in the food culture of whole new country when I travel for work, it inspires me to keep innovating and creating some great dishes. Its become an essential part of who I am as a chef and as a person and what I cook, it’s a limitless experience of ingredients, techniques and flavours.

With a career spanning four decades, do you feel like as a Chef you have to keep reinventing yourself?

Chef Gary: I don’t feel that pressure anymore and have been very lucky. I have owned successful restaurants and am in a good space in my life and my career, so I really feel I’m comfortable in my own skin. I enjoy travelling, writing cook books, podcasting and I love food experiments and pass-on whatever I learn, that’s the gift I have to share the warmth of food with the world.

I don’t feel any pressure but there is a pleasure in re-inventing and there are many amazing Chefs out there doing a great job. Being a chef requires energy and commendable passion and when you work with youngsters it gives you a youthful mindset and that’s what I love about my job. I love going to a restaurant where the dishes might be familiar but created with a new perspective.

What are your views on the concept of the food metaverse, are you going to venture into it?

Chef Gary: I am still undecided about the world of crypto currency and the metaverse world. People are really excited about the metaverse, people were also very excited about crypto currency, crypto exchange, and it is all running hand-in-hand, food in the metaverse, business in the metaverse, art and fashion in the metaverse, I’m not sure if it’s going to over power the real world, we’ll have to wait and watch.

You are probably the most popular personality when it comes to food on television, how much of it is actually your personality and how much does does performance play a role?

Chef Gary: I have never been a showman and I think the secret with Masterchef is just that, I presented myself as I truly am, true to my own personality, and that has put me up in the map in India and across the world. It is how I’ve found my place amongst a worldwide audience. We were present in 143 countries, India was very popular and some other places too, and I believe it depended entirely on the honesty between ourselves and the contestants. It was genuine to me and I don’t believe in showmanship, I am not an actor.

How important is it upcoming chefs to embrace food trends to be commercially successful?

Chef Gary: I don’t think embracing a food trend is necessarily a bad thing, on the flip side we also worry about those who are puritan and treasure tradition, to protect it so it doesn’t disappear, and that’s fine too. Yes, it is important to keep our traditional recipes and pay homage to that, but it is also important to embrace the mood of the moment. So I think traditional is not something to worry too much about, there are secret recipes that can’t ever disappear and that recipes that are re-invented. It is an essential to keep things interesting.

With Covid we saw the emergence of cloud kitchens and homebakers on the rise, do you think this will last?

Chef Gary: There are many names for them like cloud kitchens, dark kitchens, they are putting lot of pressures on traditional restaurants. Traditional restaurants need a lot of finance and infrastructure but with these kitchens its more about logistics and delivery, so the style of meals are different. I think lockdown did a terrible thing to many people and thankful thing to many people, for many it’s a turning point in life. Cooking for your family and friends is really an investment in your mental health and physical health.

What did you cook up for Rendezvous?

Chef Gary: They got a taste of what I’m enjoying eating right now, what I’m cooking regularly at home South-East Asian cuisine. I love dishes noodles and barbeque chicken, I love to eat a very simple lamb salad put together with some fresh vegetables, the Rendezvous was a little snapshot of what I love eating. It’s like a keema pao, with some Malaysian curry made of jackfruit, great mango peanut salad. We cooked fish and prawns with sauces and pickles, so there was a mix of home ingredients and we kept the heat up to impress the Indian palette.

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