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A foodie makes for a better critic: MasterChef Australia judge Gary Mehigan

Popular celebrity chef Gary Mehigan feels a person does not need to be academically qualified to understand food.

more lifestyle Updated: Jun 05, 2017 18:57 IST
Gary Mehigan,MasterChef Judge,MasterChef Australia
Chef Gary Mehigan says the food in India brings him back to the country time and again.

Chef Gary Mehigan’s love for Indian food can’t go unnoticed. This is his sixth visit to the country. Last year, the MasterChef Australia judge was in Mumbai for a one-day dinner, and cooked for some of the top CEOs of the country. In 2015, the celebrity chef studied the workings of Mumbai’s dabbawalas for his food and travel show, Far Flung. Currently on his sixth visit to the country, Mehigan attended the World On A Plate 2 food festival in the city. The chef says what keeps bringing him back to India is the food. “The variety draws me back to India. It is difficult to pick one dish, but I love everything, from the curries in the North to those in the South. It’s all so exciting and mouth-watering,” he says.

Delhi is next on his map, and the chef is determined to take back some flavouring with him. “I won’t leave India without some authentic and aromatic spices,” he says. Before he sets out on the spice trail, HT Café talks to him about his most memorable meal,his relationship with the other judges of MasterChef Australia, and more.

Mehigan feels restaurants deserve a second chance when it comes to reviews.

Who do you think makes for a better food critic: someone who understands food academically or a foodie?
I believe a foodie [is a better critic], because their understanding of food is more genuine.

Internationally, most restaurants are reviewed only once. Do you think this practice should change?
This is not entirely true. Many good restaurants have been visited more than once. The main issue with food guides and blogs are that they all end up covering the same restaurants. A reviewer visits a place and 20 people follow. When I travel, I use food reviews as a reference. I try not to only depend on that. If there is an empty restaurant across the street from a packed restaurant, a reviewer will visit the crowded one. So, are we following the crowd or is it genuinely a good restaurant? I sometimes wonder if these trends are going to change. Restaurants deserve more than one chance. I like that an established guide like the Michelin is regimented and follows strict criteria for selection and ratings.

In an interview, you said that Indian chefs can change the world’s perspective on Indian cuisine. How is Indian food perceived around the world?

I don’t think Indian food enjoys the profile it should. I think that is because India is going through a transition. More and more people are still becoming fascinated with food. Eventually, the country will start exporting a new wave of culinary talents. And the whole world will know about them — chefs like Manish Mehrotra and Gaggan Anand, who make something different and people go, ‘Wow!’

Gary says the three MasterChef judges enjoy a good marriage. They give each other space and respect each other’s opinions. (Instagram)

You have been part of Masterchef Australia for almost nine years. What kind of relationship do you share with the other judges, Matt Preston and George Calombris?

Matt and George are like my brothers. Our views clash at times and we disagree on 10 out of 12 things. However, our disagreements are mainly on principles, a sauce or the style of putting something together. When a dish is put in front of us, we know who will like it and who won’t. We are like a good marriage. We give each other space and respect each other’s opinions. Although it has been nine years, we love being with each other.

What has been your most memorable meal?

My most memorable meal was in Mugaritz in San Sebastian (Spain). Andoni Luis Aduriz is the chef there. It was memorable for several reasons. We [my family and I] were stressed and were trying to find some place to rest. So, we visited this place and sat under the glorious oak trees. We had tiny bites of something that looked like stones, but were potatoes baked in clay and dipped in some aromatic aioli. Every dish matched our first impression. It engraved its memory in our minds. However, I don’t know if I would go back. If I went back and it wasn’t as good, it would spoil my memory.

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First Published: Jun 05, 2017 18:57 IST