Matt Moran is one part of the quartet of chefs who make up what is arguably the most famous food show judging panel on television right now. And while the other three MasterChef Australia judges — Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Garry Mehigan — have been to India in the past, this is Moran’s first visit. “I’m ashamed it took me this long to come here. And I’m only here for four nights,” he says. But the chef is determined to make the most of his brief Mumbai-Goa trip.
He spent a considerable part of his first day in the city trying the local cuisine: “Seafood at Highway Gomantak, paani puri at Elco... I’ve been eating all morning. I feel like Matt Preston,” he told a small group at the dinner table later that evening. “You do get Indian food in Australia, but it’s not the same; it’s spicier, more fragrant here. That’s because the ingredients are fresher,” he said of his food adventure so far.
Savouring the flavour and cooking with local produce is a mantra Moran swears by. “You shouldn’t be buying broccoli from Brazil to cook with in Australia. Also, when mangoes first hit the market, they are expensive but c**p. They are at their best when they are abundant and cheaper,” he says, adding, “Seasonality and sustainability are important, and that’s here to stay.” No wonder Moran’s signature restaurant, Aria, back in Brisbane, Australia, is all about local food. His new establishment, Chiswick, has an on-site vegetable and herb garden.
But Moran’s fame came with TV shows, the biggest of which, of course, is MasterChef. And while he hasn’t been in India long enough to realise just how well-known he is here, he does concede to being recognised in places as far-flung as “Singapore, Netherlands. And I once got stopped on the streets of Croatia”.
But while TV shows promote food, Moran feels that, “It makes people want to become chefs for the wrong reasons. There’s nothing glamorous about cooking. A contestant once asked me, ‘How long will it take to learn everything?’ I told her, ‘I’ve been doing it for 20 years, for 100 hours a week and I’m still learning.’”
Moran himself started out young: “I didn’t like school, school didn’t like me. So, at 15, we decided to quit each other. I wanted to become a baker.” He landed an apprenticeship at a restaurant and after just seven years, he bought his first restaurant at the age of 22. Now, he has eight.
And as we talk about the lack of Indian fine-dining restaurants in the country, he jokes, saying, “Maybe I should come to India and open a fine-dining restaurant. What do you reckon?” Spotting Moran veggie shopping at Crawford Market, or walking out of a kitchen to see how you like the food? We reckon it’s a great idea.