Exclusive! Chef Gary Mehigan On His Love For Indian Cuisine
Image Credit: Chef Gary Mehigan on the streets of Delhi

Indian cuisine is not new to English-Australian celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television host Gary Mehigan, who is best known for his 12-year stint as a judge on MasterChef Australia. He is familiar with Indian food and enjoys experimenting with new dishes from the country. He has now collaborated with Conosh for Masterclass sessions on ‘chocolate indulgence’ in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. Conosh is a community for food lovers that connects home chefs with the chefs they have looked up to for an enriching experience when learning about food and new dishes.

In an exclusive interview with Slurrp, Chef Gary - who was recently spotted at the famous Hornbill Festival in Nagaland - spoke about his passion for Indian food and his favourite Indian chefs, and more. Excerpts: 

Q. You have been an ardent lover of Indian cuisine. What are your favourite dishes from the country?

 A. I am associated with National Geographic, which requires me to travel a lot. While travelling, I have come across Indian chillies, curries, and Nagaland’s locust and redwood worms. In Goa, I came across prawns cooked in semolina and Pork Vindaloo. In Kolkata, I totally fell in love with street food. One dish that I particularly liked was Ilish (or Hilsa) Curry. So, I would say that there is no one name for my favourite dish. I go to different cities and get exposed to different dishes that I have never heard of before. I give them a try, and I love them.

Q. Since you have travelled in India so much, what are the Indian spices that can be found in your kitchen cabinet?

A. Well, my wife gets astonished by my fascination for Indian spices. I have 50 different spices in my pantry from India. Some of them are fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander, red chillies, pepper, and cardamom. However, my favourite among them is the green cardamom. 

Q. The pandemic saw the world shifting to online cooking classes. Tell us about your experience of teaching and connecting with people virtually.

A. It has been an amazing experience. I have been working with Conosh since the pandemic started, and I have taken a lot of classes online. I still remember my first class. We were all locked up in our houses, and the only means to interact with the world was through these classes. One moment before, I was taking this Saturday class with thousands of people connected from India and then when I said bye, there was this strange silence. Not a soul to be heard of apart from mine in the room. So yes, it was a difficult time. 

But with people willing to understand the tenacity of the situations and adapt to them by embracing the vulnerabilities was a beautiful thing to cherish. During my classes, I used to chat with people, listen to their stories, and also do a ‘cook-along’ in one of the sessions. And with that, we had funny instances of devastated home chefs in the kitchen struggling and yet learning. And now, when I am doing these classes physically with Chef Pooja Dhingra, it is a lovely experience of reconnecting.  

Q. Describe your experience of taking the masterclass in person.

A. It is actually mesmerising to watch people put their hearts into the dishes they are cooking. From tarts to salads, Vietnamese prawns, and pomelo, it all forms a basis of conjuncture of having discussions around food. In the classes, we talked about the importance of temperature in chocolate indulgence, and then I was asked to comment on the varieties of flour being used. 

We talked about stone-ground flour, organic flour, and wheat flour, and how, for flatbreads, you might only need wheat flour, but for dishes like Chinese Mantou, you will need white flour. So, we discussed how there is no better than this rule applied in cooking. It depends on what the dish needs. For foodies, this subject of dishes and recipes is limitless. 

Q. You attended the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland this year. Tell us about your experience there and some of the food that you enjoyed at the fest

A. At the festival, I actually loved munching on the dishes made from locusts and redwood worms. I also put up stories on my social media handle with the caption, ‘don’t judge’, as I feel on the internet people just love to jump to conclusions. I requested that the dishes must be understood from the perspective of Nagaland’s population and not from where you or I see them. 

We need to put things in context and then try and analyse them. Meat porridge with rice and crunchy locusts is one such dish that I enjoyed from the close-knit experience. I was at a person’s house during the festival and relished home-cooked meals. I had rice and roti with fermented soybeans, called ‘Akhuni’, which is very delicious. I discovered Nagaland’s people don’t use too many spices. They majorly use ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and chillies. There is not much use of cumin, coriander, and asafoetida. As a whole, it was a wonderful and new experience, I must say. 

Q. Who is your favourite chef(s) in India, and why?

A. Chef Manish Mehrotra is a favourite from India. He is the Corporate Chef at the Indian Accent in New Delhi, which was rated among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants worldwide. The chef is taking Indian food across the globe. He has reworked and reinvented the dishes that are often taken for granted. As for the golgappas, he has curated the dish with different flavours, according to international taste. Chef Avinash Martins (from Cavatina South Goa), Chef Hussain Shahzad (from Bombay Canteen), and popular names like Chef Vikas Khanna and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor are among my other favourites.

Q. What are your thoughts on the concept of cloud kitchens?

A. Well, I feel it is excellent. Even the dabbawalas in Mumbai carry food from home kitchens. Similarly, this concept is going to stay, because we all got back to normal and got busy. With home kitchens and cloud kitchens, we can be assured of the quality of food. I mean, there is no greater feeling than feeding your family with nourishing food. 

Q. Since it’s Christmas time, tell us about your favourite Christmas memory.

A. My favourite memory is when my daughter was younger, and she believed in the folklore of Christmas Father (Santa Claus) coming over to the house at night, eating cookies and drinking milk that she placed for him on the kitchen table, and then used to leave behind a gift for her. I used to do that for her, and then she would wake up excited and joyous. That’s my fondest Christmas memory.