Gary on cooking

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On his tour of India, Alys Francis got Gary Mehigan to spill the beans on his new travel show, the 11th serving of the Masterchef, and why he has an appetite for appams

MasterChef Australia judge Gary Mehigan went on a whirlwind tour of India in October to film a new travel cooking show.
Tentatively named Far Flung, the show will see Mehigan exploring different countries, meeting the people living there and, of course, learning about and cooking different cuisines.

The celebrity chef visited Mumbai, Jodhpur, Delhi and Chennai to film the pilot episode, which he then hopes to sell to the TV bigwigs back home before it goes into production, and other episodes are shot.

We caught up with Mehigan at the Australian High Commission in Delhi – where he was cooking as past of the Oz Fest cultural festival – to chat about MasterChef, his new pilot, and why he thinks Indian cuisine is poorly represented in Australia.

On filming his pilot in India:

We spent four or five hours at the spice markets in Delhi. That was incredible… I’ve just never seen so many people, and because (the Muslim festival) Eid had just finished and Diwali is around the corner, it was just insane.

In Chennai, I went to the fish markets to cook there, a prawn curry, my version of Indian. And then headed off to the Royal Enfield motorcycle factory because I’m a bit of a motorcycle fan.

On why he wants to work on a new TV show after six years as a judge on MasterChef Australia:

I don’t feel restricted in MasterChef – it’s a wonderful experience, and it’s a shared experience, and you know I wouldn’t sign up to do it again if I didn’t love it – but I also want to do more, I want to travel.

Coming to India and going to South Africa and all the other destinations that we’ve been to with the show, and outside of that, I’ve just got the (travel) bug at the moment.

When I come to a place like India, it’s all new. I’m like a food tourist. So I want to take that and (use it in the pilot to) be a food tourist and a human tourist as well.

On the future of MasterChef Australia:

I’m hoping the show’s still rocking. This series for us in Australia is going to be interesting, because it will be the 11th series, and every series has an end point.

It will be interesting to see how we can keep the Australian public engaged because it underpins the other 30-40 countries that Australian MasterChef is broadcast in – so I hope it’s still popular.

On last season’s MasterChef critics:

When we’re looking for contestants, we’re looking like you would do for an employee. We want people that you’d want to work with, people where you see a little germination of a new kind of life, they’ve got to be go-getters and they’ve got be passionate about food.

In the last year or so we’ve had a bit of criticism about the fact that this year the cooks haven’t been as good, but it doesn’t matter, it’s about the journey.

By the time you get to the finale you get to see the amazing food that they’re cooking. And don’t forget they’re amateur cooks, home cooks.

On the ‘poor representation’ of Indian food in Australia:

Most of the food that we’ve got in Australia came with a wave of immigration, which is mainly northern Indian, after all the trouble with Pakistan and India.

That wave of immigration, that went to the UK and other countries and Australia, brought very northern food – Punjabi and a lot of Pakistani food as well – that morphed into sort of this westernized food.

Other than a couple of restaurants – like in Melbourne Bhoj, there’s a place called Ginger Garlic that’s really good, up in Sydney, Kumar Mahadevan has Abhi’s and Akis’s, which are two really good Indian restaurants – they’re really the only ones that people know that are at the top end of the market.

Everybody else tends to associate Indian food with takeaway, cheap food, heavily spiced, westernized dishes – things like rogan josh and tikka masala.

There needs to be a wave of Indian innovation that comes to Australia, and we’d be very keen – I think it would fit with the way we’re eating at the moment, especially in the big cities and the capitals.

There’s a restaurant called Chin Chin (in Melbourne), which is very funky. It’s really ‘Melbourne cool’, it’s doing Thai food and people go in and share and get little dishes – no one’s doing an Indian version of that. So I’d love to do that, but I just don’t think I have the time. But if somebody wants to do it, just give me a call — they’ll have to work hard though, I’ll put the money in.

His favourite Indian dish:

The style that I love now is South Indian.

I love the use of rice in the appams, in the idli, all of these sorts of things – and I love curry leaves.

I think for Australians too, because we’ve got a hot climate – from Mediterranean to tropical –those flavours and the textures actually are really familiar, but they’re represented in other cuisines in Australia, like Thai and Vietnamese.

On his Indian fans (Masterchef Australia is bizarrely more popular in India than the local Indian version of the reality TV show):

The Delhi tour wasn’t really announced, so people weren’t expecting me to be there.

But we were sitting in a little, you know one of the bicycles that go around – we were in rickshaws – trying to get through the traffic, and people were actually walking past us and going ‘Hey Gary!’

That was a surprise, I didn’t expect that.

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