A heady tempering of curry leaves and dried red chillies, a cauldron full of masalas simmering over a big flame are chef Gary Mehigan’s idea of food heaven. The popular MasterChef Australia judge was in the city for a one-day-only dinner and cooked for some of the top CEOs of the country.
This wasn’t Mehigan’s first trip to the city. The last time he was here, the celebrity chef studied the complex workings of Mumbai’s famous dabbawallas for his food and travel show, Far Flung. “I have travelled up north to Jodhpur in Rajasthan and have been to Chennai down south. I’ve been meaning to visit Kerala. The North East is on my bucket list too. I hear they have incredible food,” he says.
Inspired by India
During his visit to Jodhpur, the 49-year-old chef came across some of the most beautiful sights and sounds, he says. “There was something very spiritual about the place; the blue-coloured city, the forts and watching the moon come up in the desert. I also got a chance to work with chefs at the Mehrangarh Fort. There was a lot of meat marinated in yogurt and asafoetida, big ovens, lots of different dals and curries. I was simply going around tasting everything,” he says.
A self-confessed fan of dosas, Mehigan likes to experiment with Indian ingredients in his kitchen and cauliflower is one of his favourites. “The last time I was in Bengaluru, I saw thousands of cauliflowers stocked in a truck at Russell Market. Cauliflower is quite popular in Australia and I often cook with it at home. I usually roast it — so that it’s caramelised and sweet,” says Mehigan.
The new season
Mehigan has already started prepping for the next edition of MasterChef Australia, which will enter its ninth season this year. “Our food teams are going around scouting for 50 contestants who will fight it out for the top 24. We begin filming by the end of October,” he says.
So, what is it about the show that makes it so popular? “In season 5, we noticed that the numbers started to drop a bit. That’s when we realised that we had changed the formula to make it a bit more about the personalities and characteristics of the contestants. But the audience told us clearly that they want it to be about the food,” he says.
As soon as the strategy was changed, the numbers started to look up. The Season 8 finale witnessed a record 2.5 million viewers in Australia alone. “That’s a huge number in Australia. MasterChef has found its niche. We know we have a cool audience that stays engaged, whether it is through Facebook or the recipe blog, all year long,” he adds.
For Mehigan, too, a dish speaks volumes, not necessarily the person behind it. “When we can’t decide which dish works for us, we ask this question, ‘Will you go back to the restaurant for it?’ The answer is often the most delicious dish. At that moment, nothing else matters, whether the dish is pretty or extravagant,” says Mehigan.