Chef Gary Mehigan is most well-known for his role as a judge on the hit reality TV show Masterchef Australia, but that’s only half the story. He is an author, biker—he hints at a plan to bike from the south to the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield—and, more recently, a podcast host.
Mehigan talks about his latest TV show Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan and why he is repeatedly drawn to India’s regional cuisines. Edited excerpts:
What are your earliest memories of travelling and exploring new food?
When I was a child, travel and holidays were always in and around the U.K. Camping was the order of the day—trips to Devon, Cornwall and Wales were favourites. Cornish cream and ice cream, blackberries picked at the roadside, or an afternoon spent strawberry picking, fish and chips by the sea and long treks and drives through the gorgeous countryside…
My first big adventure was backpacking around Canada in my early 20s. I was working in London at the time and I had an idea of working in Canada or the States. However, those big breakfasts, steaks the size of dinner plates, Caesar salad and the odd fine dining experience showed me that, at that time, it wasn’t for me. But it was one of those moments in life when you realise that there is a big wide world out there and I wanted to be in it!
A part of your previous show, Far Flung with Gary Mehigan, focused on India. What’s different about Masters of Taste?
The culinary diversity (of India) is on another scale. I haven’t even scratched the surface but it has me hooked. Masters of Taste gave me the chance to meet a new generation of foodies, chefs and shared ideas. I had the privilege of digging my fingers into the local culinary scene in Delhi and Mumbai. I met people from many walks of life doing amazing things with food… India is in the middle of a food revolution! (I cooked with) chefs like Kelvin Cheung, Thomas Zacharias, Ranveer Brar and Manish Mehrotra who are on their own paths, confident in creating and innovating in a uniquely Indian way. I was pleased to find a tremendous interest in local and indigenous produce, improved supply, and organic, biodynamic and artisan produce.
The greatest lesson you learnt while on the road?
Dedication, humility and the authenticity of what the chefs and cooks I met are doing. The Danda Food Project team was so passionate and engaged in food—a bottle of fermenting cocoa beans on the fridge top and cupboards full of every conceivable spice and condiment and a jar of yak ghee that Addie, a cheese and dairy consultant, was thrilled to talk about… You can’t buy that kind of experience.
How has travelling influenced your cooking?
I am classically trained in French cuisine and this still underpins much of what I do, but my style and what I love to eat has changed immeasurably. I love the contrast in techniques, textures and flavours from different cuisines. My favourite sources of inspiration tend to come from Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Israeli, Moroccan and so on. Since my first visit to the old spice markets in Delhi, my pantry of spices has changed and I use so many different spices, aromatics, nuts and fruits in my everyday cooking.
Your most memorable trip?
Every trip for me is memorable, and is signposted by food experiences. Dining at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in England with Matt (Preston) and George (Calombaris), for instance, really was a once in a lifetime experience. My trip to Laos, especially Luang Prabang, was so totally different than my other visits to Asia. I still love France. Paris melts my food heart and the produce of the south and southwest, particularly the cheese, is my definition of heaven.
How do you get the best out of your vacations abroad?
I send out requests on my social media for places to visit, hit the food blogs and Instagram. When I am on the ground, I use my professional connections and ask the locals. A certain amount of planning is crucial; however, if you plan too much it will spoil the experience. Taking time to be a local is essential.
You hope to visit India with your family. How would you introduce it to them?
A quick visit to Mumbai is a wonderful introduction to the India I love. Then, jump on a plane and go to places that are completely different. Kerala and Rajasthan would be on the list and then for me, a trip on the motorbike out of Manali for a week would be perfect.
Have you tried biking here?
I’m keen to explore some trails up in the north into the Himalayas. I did have the pleasure of spending the day dirt bike riding with (off-road racer) C.S. Santosh around Kolar about 80 kilometres from Bengaluru—a fabulous experience made better at the end of the day, sitting under a tamarind tree, eating fruit from the pod and having a cold beer.
Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan goes on air on 26 February at 9 p.m. on FOXlife India.
Anu Prabhakar is an astronomy nerd and die-hard Agatha Christie fan who, someday, hopes to solve a crime mystery à la Hercule Poirot before shooting off to the moon. Until then, she is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.