Chef Gary Mehigan is no stranger to Indian food. The Melbourne-based chef, best known for his 12-year run as a judge on the cooking competition Masterchef Australia has always had a soft spot for anything spicy. His first actual visit to the country was in 2012, and since then he’s been all across the nation to cities like Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Jodhpur, Jaipur and  Hyderabad sampling the regional fare. He’s often marvelled at the sheer diversity of options, styles and potential that exists within the spectrum of Indian cuisine. 

This month he returned to India after three long years to once again savour new delights in Kerala as he experienced the celebration of Onam. He started out his gastronomic journey with some soft appams with stew and steamed Nendran bananas. He also relished the Kappa Puzhukku (mashed cassava root) to cap off a very traditional meal. 

Also Read: Onam Sadhya: The Massive Vegetarian Feast You Must Try Once In Life 

The next day he hit the Ernakulam market in Kochi bright and early to marvel at the influx of vegetables that were rolling in for the countless Onam Sadhyas that would be taking place around the city. “Every chef loves a market and I’m no different. It seemed like half of Kochi was gathering supplies for Sadhya, the wonder feast [sic] of 20-30 vegetarian dishes every household prepares during Onam.”

He was truly gobsmacked by the scale of Onam preparations with dozens of 50-kilogram bags of rice, huge handis of dal and the industrial-scale production of fresh coconut.  His greatest satisfaction came from the instant puff of the crispy, airy Kerala Papadams as the hot oil worked its magic.

Decked out in a Mundu he enjoyed the traditional Sadhya feast and relished the wide variety of dishes he was able to sample. “I’ve eaten so many different dishes, home-cooked, street stalls, Sadhya of course which can be 30 or more little dishes by itself!” says the Chef on Instagram, “I’ve drank tea on the roadside and watched the traffic hustle by and thought how lucky I am to experience all this.”

He’s currently wrapping up his trip in Kerala by learning some secrets from the chefs at his hotel as they teach him how to make the simple but delicious Kallil Chutta Kozhi Charu, a dish of grilled chicken with fennel, fresh black pepper and shallots. He sounds like a fan saying, “I’m no expert but finished with fresh coconut milk and a little drizzle of coconut oil and it’s next level delicious.”

For this wandering chef, India has always had a special place in his heart and stomach, so although he may be concluding his trip, it surely won’t be his last.