‘Food lets you be a child every day’

Coming to India since the year 2010, the chef who currently filming the series ‘Mega Festivals’ says that it is here that one realises how diverse food is, not only regional but sub-regional as well…reports Sukant Deepak

It can be really interesting when someone who eats only to survive has a more than one-hour relaxed conversation with celebrity chef Gary Mehigan, one of the original judges of the series ‘MasterChef Australia’.

And he plays sport — talking about the absolute satisfaction of sitting at a roadside kiosk in India and having a cup of chai — watching the world go by and not letting its pace disturb him. Not even once he takes the easy way out of talking about world cuisine.

“I simply love bhelpuri, papri chaat, and panipuri,” ensuring the subaltern interviewer can now almost put his feet on the couch.

It has been quite a trajectory for someone who wanted to be an engineer like his father but realised at the age of 15 that he was creative, and not very patient, thus deciding to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“I loved how my grandad lived, and could not get enough of the buzz when I worked in a local hotel. It is tough to think of anything more rewarding than food. Food lets you be a child every day,” says Mehigan, who headed the kitchen in some of Melbourne’s most prominent restaurants, including Browns, Burnham Beeches Country House, and Hotel Sofitel, before starting the award-winning Fenix in the year 2000.

For someone who was selected as one of the entrants to the 2012 edition of ‘Who’s Who in Australia’ and travels extensively stresses that visiting new places promises peculiar experiences and new ideas.

“As a new chef, who works several hours in the kitchen one may not get to travel too much, and thus not see outside that space. But it is only when you step out, the realisation hits — how different and similar food is — and how it binds us together.”

Coming to India since the year 2010, the chef who currently filming the series ‘Mega Festivals’ says that it is here that one realises how diverse food is, not only regional but sub-regional as well.

“And also household to household. There are climatic differences and there’s a passion that Indian people have for food — which I love,” says Mehigan, who was recently in Chandigarh to hold the Conosh Classified Masterclass.

Admitting that social media has brought about a powerful shift and ‘democratisation’ in the food writers’ space, he adds, “Yes, I have witnessed the same in my restaurant. Now, before going to a new eating house, the first thing I most probably do is plug it into Instagram and look at people’s comments. It is an amazing transfer of knowledge.”

Considering the pandemic sent the food industry into a rude shock, the chef feels that the way forward is to reinvent.

“We formed a community with Comosh, a platform run by foodies for foodies that encourage entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and bring their culture to food. Cloud kitchens make a lot of sense in India. Look at the Mumbai dabbawallahs, they have been around for so long.”

Vaibhav Bahl, the Co-founder of Conosh adds, “‘Indian stories with Gary and friends’ is the next project of Conosh. Simply put, it will be a platform to promote regional Indian cuisines and Gary’s dishes — a great fusion. It will be launched from April 2023.”

Someone who has been on television since the year 1997 says he has gone from opening two restaurants and a catering company to now travelling and eating.

“It is true the media takes you away from the kitchen for too long. I still think the best restaurants in the world and run by people who want to be in the kitchen and cook for their customers.”

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