MasterChef Australia: Judge Gary Mehigan Chats About Season 9, Much-awaited Indian Holiday And More
A file photo.
Over the last eight years we've seen him and his two co-judges preside over a variety of meals presented by nervous contestants on MasterChef Australia but Gary Mehigan was cool as a cucumber as he plated out his courses at a meal curated by him and The Leela Palace's Executive Chef Adrian Mellor this past weekend. Mehigan was in the country for a whistle stop tour that saw him creating special menus for the World on a Plate charity event in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi respectively. But obviously the most discussed item at the dinner table was the upcoming MasterChef Season Nine.
"We've got an incredible season coming out this time with some wonderful contestants and some great chefs as guest judges," said Mehigan over his first course of the evening, 'A Pot of Carrots', a combination of slow cooked baby carrot with carrot puree, crumbed black olives and deep fried curry leaves for "an Indian touch". This year's contestants include two teenagers, aged 18 and 19, who've literally grown up watching the show. "I think people under 25, no matter where in the world they're from, have a completely different idea of food from the rest of us older folks. Even as a chef, because I'm from an older generation, I don't have as experimental an approach to food as the kids today. We play it safer, we're a bit more conservative in the way we look at and design meals but the younger generation mix and match flavours and textures throwing caution into the winds. And we'd say you know what this might not work and then be proved wrong when they put out these amazing dishes," he mused. Other highlights from this year include cooking on Australia's picturesque salt plains, an effort which included setting up a fully functional industrial kitchen among the briney sands.
Over a plate of his second course of 'Watermelon and Prawn', the conversation turns to earlier days, of when Mehigan was growing up in his native south coast of England and his desire to be an engineer like his dad but ultimately becoming a chef like his grandfather ("I didn't have that sense of structured discipline you need for engineering but I did have the manic energy you need for the kitchen," he grinned).
After training in some stellar establishments in London, Mehigan and his then girlfriend -- now wife -- were bitten by the travel bug, and after some exploring, found themselves in Australia, ready to be bitten by some real bugs, though Mehigan assures us that the continent's reputation as a haven for all things scary is a bit of an exaggeration and that you're unlikely to find a python in your toilet, no matter what the internet tells us. "Obviously there are lots of critters out in the country but in a city like Melbourne or Sydney you're not going to be coming face to face with them a whole lot," he said.
When he's not shooting for MasterChef Australia, Mehigan's looking after his own Melbourne restaurant, The Boathouse, and working on charity dinners, books and other projects, all of which see him travel around the world. Another show, Far Flung, saw him explore south east Asian countries including India though he couldn't get to go to Myanmar at the time. "But now that it's got a democratic government of sorts and is more open, I'd love to be able to visit there; also Cuba. The thought of going to these countries which were closed off from the world earlier but are now accessible is fascinating," he said. Still though, Mehigan is also trying to take it easy and relax more, remarking, "My schedule is always packed so this year I've purposely given myself the month of August off to just relax, walk the dogs and catch up on some gardening."
The next two courses are chef Mellor's - 'Turbot and Curry' comprising a grilled fillet of turbot fish with a tempura of courgette flowers and a Thai green curry emulsion with some crispy quinoa and 'Duck and Cherries' which is a plating of a roast fillet of duck cooked on the bone, glazed with acacia honey and black pepper, juice of artichoke, and a little bit of pickled plum to give it a sour taste with confit of duck leg and new season cherries and red wine sauce. In the few times the silence was broken over this repast, the conversation centered around India and Gary's frequent visits here, this being his sixth. "I'd love to be able to spend some time in Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of the North East, as well as explore the islands lying off your coasts. Unfortunately, every time I come here, it's on a packed schedule so I've never been able to do a pure holiday in India, something I hope to remedy soon," said Mehigan. Now that his daughter is also growing up and appreciating the idea of traveling, "as opposed to sitting at the resort's pool or in the room with the TV all day," he hopes for some more adventurous outings. Cheers to that, Gary.
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