A date with the greats

Culinary giants Matt Preston, George Colambaris and Gary Mehigan get behind the scenes of the World On A Plate food festival and talk about why they love India.

June 06, 2016 05:34 pm | Updated September 16, 2016 11:21 am IST - Bengaluru

Bengaluru’s foodies couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Food, fun and fans came together at The World On A Plate food festival in a gala two-day carnival celebrating the art of cooking. The icing on the feast was celebrity judges of MasterChef Australia fame – Matt Preston, George Colambaris and Gary Mehigan, who not only took time off from the master classes and media bites to take selfies with fans and interact with them but also to dishout three of the world-class signature preparations at their respective pop-up restaurants.

The grand food extravaganza, spread across JW Marriott and UB City, saw gourmet galore as huge crowds thronged the array of food pop-up stalls and food trucks and munched on goodies while waiting to catch a glimpse of the trio.

Nikita Sundar, a die-hard fan and follower of the show, was one among those who wasn’t disappointed. “This is a dream come true. It’s easily the best day of my life after getting to see the three culinary heroes of the food world. Their signature dishes were mind-blowing and the other stalls were also quite fun to hang out at. I got to meet a lot of local chefs too.”

While George cooked out his superbly-cooked soft shell crab soulaki wrapped in Indian bread in a cone, Matt dazzled with his corgi-styled chicken with yummy spiced pumpkin that tingled taste buds. Gary served a white chocolate mousse with a twist that had food lovers craving for more. Meanwhile, the trio also shopped at Russell Market, dug into masala dosas and vadas at Airlines Hotel and interacted with local chefs.

In exclusive interactions with MetroPlus , the three super chefs gave an insight into food, their passion topped with light-hearted humour.

To market, to market

The 49-year-old Gary Mehigan is easily the most excited, among the three, to be in India. With an infectious smile and an evident joy of sharing his love for food, the UK-born Australian chef is delighted to be in Bengaluru and even visited Russell Market in Shivaji Nagar on their first day. “I loved it,” he says wearing a beaming smile while talking in his perfect English accent. “We’d only just touched down and we hopped to the market. It’s a cacophony of activity. I love coming to India’s marketplaces. It’s totally opposite to where I live. It’s crazy and the air is full of life. I did a little video for Instagram. For a chef, to go to a market like that, is basic. From the butchery section to where the birds, the fish and the vegetables are, it’s totally interesting. The quality of fish, for example, was fantastic. It’s nice as a cook to go to the market on the first day we’re here. We get a sense of the community.”

What is it about Indian food that draws you? “It’s the fireworks,” Gary one-lines and goes on to explain: “What India does for me, every time I come, is unfurl something new. It could be the subtlety of a particular gravy, sauce or spice. It could be a clove used in a dish – so simple, yet so beautiful. On the other end, it could be something so complex and hot, like a fish curry Kerala specialty we had this morning with coconut and hot spices. It was very complex. We had it with appam and it was absolutely delicious. The combination of light, fluffy appam with the explosion of spices - you don’t get that kind of expression in many cuisines.”

On the future of food, Gary points out that it’s difficult to predict. “The biggest thing we’ve seen in Australia the last 10 years is the way ideas spread. Social media is allowing chefs and people to watch shows instantaneously around the world. It’s kind of changing the way everyone is thinking about food. They are becoming more creative. You can turn your phone on and inspiration is there. Ten years ago, you’ll have to buy a book or travel. The difference is when you travel to a place like Bengaluru, you can really dig your fingers in and understand, whereas it’s still just an idea in a book or your phone. Of course, in the future, with food becoming more global, I think the biggest benefit is tastier and healthier food.”

His thoughts of the World On A Plate festival? “I hope people come and go with a smile and are happy. I want to meet as many as possible. I hope they love my dessert that I’m doing at the pop-up or come to the masterclass and feel afterwards that they’ve learnt something about me and they feel inspired about food. I hope everyone feels part of the club – a very exclusive club where we all love food. It’s something that we share and have in common with everyone on the planet.”

‘Bengaluru tugs at the heartstrings’

The visibly euphoric George Colambaris is not new to the city, yet the 37-year-old Australian admits he loves coming back. “It sort of resonates with me. I’m obviously an Aussie boy. But the cultures are very similar. We are driven around family and values are important. I feel the same here. Food is the centre point of everything that we do. Our discussions, our laughing, our crying and our angry moments – it’s all food-related,” he says with a grin. “If we are not talking about breakfast, we are talking about lunch and the snack we are going to have between breakfast and lunch, and then we are talking about dinner and what we are going to eat tomorrow. That’s wonderful life. And Indians and we have a very similar culture. I love that.”

On the food festival, he hopes people will come to understand that this is firstly an opportunity for the trio to be in India for the first time at the same time. “Hopefully they’ll love that. And they’ll get a little insight into stuff that they probably didn’t know when they watch us on television. But more importantly, getting the local chefs getting involved is the goal. It’s great to be inspired by what others are doing around the world, but what you do in your home is important as well.”

>First morning in India!! @world_onaplate

A photo posted by George Calombaris (@gcalombaris) on Jun 2, 2016 at 8:38pm PDT

On what he thinks is the future to the way we approach the art of making food, George says that the world is recognising the fact that we need to be more sustainable and ethical. “We’re concerned about wastage. We don’t want to waste food. Ethically, we’re becoming a lot more religious in our food. Food is also becoming tastier and the way we are eating has become lighter. We’re conscious about what we eat and how we eat. We are driven to thinking healthy and remove ing processed.”

How important is it to discover the marketplace of a city? George affirms that the market tells you a lot about the place. “The most important thing we do when we come to a new city is check with the taxi driver where the best market places are and good places to eat. Bengaluru is a lovely city. It’s so different when compared to Mumbai and Delhi. It’s a city I keep wanting to come back to. It must be doing something to my heartstrings to pull me back again.”

The good food guide

Good food is the key to a good life is the mantra that journalist-turned-author-turned-MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston likes to live by. Decked in his best pink suit and purple cravat, he explains that he loves to experiment with different coloured suits. “I decided to pick pink for this season,” pointing out that he has one for every season.

On being in India for the first time together, he says this is a country where you always discover something new. “You get to sample different cuisines from across the country. You can discover 50 different varieties to cook a simple gourd dish.

We went to the Russell Market and were blown away by the multitude of vegetables, fruits and meats on offer. My favourite Indian food would have to be the kubani ka meetha.”

Starting off as a journalist covering TV, Preston’s foray into writing about food was accidental. “A friend used to run a food magazine and wanted me to write some articles on food, since I loved to eat and cook food. I have enjoyed it thoroughly.”

He adds, “The producers of Masterchef Australia roped me in to find good chefs to host the show, since I was in touch with most of the popular chefs. They tweaked the format and managed to fit me in also. It has been a life-changing experience. I knew my co-hosts Gary and George. We have tried our best to do an honest job.” “It has been a huge success. We have been topping the ratings scale and have managed to discover extremely talented folks, who are making their mark in the culinary world. You do not have to necessarily win the competition to make a mark. We have people finishing 18th in the show and going on to run very successful restaurants, butcheries etc. “

Is plating a dish as important as the taste and flavouring? “I am not great at plating. At Masterchef, we judge food on the basis of whether you would want to eat it again. The food, the innovative ideas behind it, the uniqueness of flavours all play an important role. It is essential to a have an array of skills when you compete in something like Masterchef Australia. It will ensure that you are comfortable doing something outside your comfort zone.”

Matt is pleased at the new batch of Indian chefs making their mark in the world.

“It is great that you have people like the Bengaluru-based Manu Chandra, who runs a string of restaurants across India and Gaggan Anand, the executive chef at Gaggan, a popular Indian restaurant in Thailand. They are sure to go a long way.”

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