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Updated: September 28, 2013 13:06 IST

‘I make a mean sev puri’

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Gary Mehigan - Cooking up delicacies
Special Arrangement Gary Mehigan - Cooking up delicacies

Co-host of MasterChef Australia Gary Mehigan says the television show opened up opportunities to travel to places such as India, where he has fallen in love with the cuisine

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Tourism Victoria definitely played its cards right by having Gary Mehigan promote Melbourne and Victoria with his food.

The man who made his way into our home and hearts as the judge and co-host of MasterChef Australia, had the media in rapt attention as he stirred, chopped, blended, rolled and roasted food during the Media Master Class organised recently at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai. Living and working in Melbourne, Victoria, Gary shared insights on food and culture, laced with his trademark humour. “Indian food in Australia is what immigrated into the country 30 years ago — it’s old and adjusted. We need something new. Besides, we don’t have anything of South Indian cuisine,” said Gary, adding how our road-side pani puri served gourmet-style in restaurants in Australia was getting critical acclaim!

Gary, who is part of a trade mission to the UAE and India organised by Tourism Victoria, talks about being a celebrity chef and promoting Melbourne, in an email interaction.

How much harder is it being a ‘celebrity’ chef, than the chef of an award-winning restaurant?

I think both have their difficulties. In the kitchen, it’s a long slow-burn all day. And then the intensity of service, the hours can be unsociable… but it is an amazing, creative environment, and it is wonderful to be part of a kitchen team that is tight. I hate the term ‘celebrity chef’, but doing television and media takes you to amazing places and you get to meet lots of interesting people. But the days on set can be long and challenging. The loss of anonymity can also take its toll, especially on my family.

What makes the trio of Gary, George and Matt click?

We are very like-minded people, in that, we all love food, and have become great friends. George and I knew each other previously — he was my apprentice and a good friend, and we both knew Matt as he reviewed our restaurants, and we crossed paths both through work and our children’s kindergarten. We have a healthy debate sometimes, but a common goal to find the best possible contestants and help them on their food journey. It is such a privilege to work with them both.

Why aren’t there restaurants exclusively serving Australian cuisine in India?

It will happen. It’s all about opportunity and timing, and certainly there is a growing interest in Indian food in Australia, and vice-versa. We need good Indian chefs doing modern Indian food in Australia. And maybe I will have to open my Big Kitchen here.

Which Indian dishes do you find difficult to cook? And the easiest?

Difficult — I do love all the breads, dosa… And although they seem simple, it’s quite an art. Also the complex and subtle spices can be hard to balance. Easiest — I make a mean sev puri and I love it.

How has your experience as a host, judge and ambassador impacted your cooking?

It has opened my eyes to so many creative ideas from the contestants, the guest chefs from around Australia and the world. It has opened up opportunities to travel to places such as India, where I have fallen in love with the cuisine.

What aspects of Australia, Melbourne in particular, do you think are being under-promoted and deserve to be showcased to the world?

Well, you may think that Australia is all about the Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s so much to Australia than meets the eye. Having lived in Melbourne for a major part of my life, I can safely say that it is the true heart of Australia. Melbourne has a vibrant cafe scene and amazing markets and produce. You can get anything, anywhere, anytime — from the Vietnamese grocers in Victoria Street to the Queen Victoria market or the stunning Farmer’s Markets around the city on any given weekend. It is truly a foodie’s paradise.

Though famous for being the culinary capital of Australia, part of Melbourne’s charm is navigating and uncovering the city’s little-known corners and laneways. The city centre boasts the iconic Bourke Street Mall, Collins Street and Little Collins Street, the renowned hub of retail and commerce.

Elsewhere, the artistic laneways and alleys are a hive of activity, while Flinders Street and Flinders Lane are considered the creative precinct with galleries, arts and craft. Experience the outdoors too, with a day spent at the Docklands, Harbour City, along the Yarra River, Southbank or amid the beautiful gardens along St. Kilda Road. Adventure waits on the city fringe, where visitors can hop onto a bike and cycle around the streets discovering hidden bars, cafes, vintage fashion and galleries. Melbourne is also famous for its live music scene, with more than 3,000 performances each week — from rock, pop and techno to jazz, classical and blues. These are the things Australia should be known for.

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