Mehigan, back in India after a three-year break, is working on a new project for NatGeo India, and additionally for Discovery Kids. "I think I’ve barely scratched the surface [of Indian cuisine]," he says, explaining what keeps bringing him here.
Celebrity chef and former Masterchef Australia judge Gary Mehigan is a familiar sight in India. Familiar in the sense that he is widely known, yes, and also that he is a frequent visitor. A self-professed Indian cuisine enthusiast, he is always seeking out authentic flavours and cooking, on his trips to the country. This time round, it’s a mix of business and pleasure that brings Mehigan here.
Mehigan has been filming a project for NatGeo India and also for Disney Kids. He’s also made time to sample Onam sadhya in Kerala before heading to Mumbai, then travelling with his wife (once again) to Kerala and Goa — since “experiencing the South has been on my bucket list for a while”. Kolkata is next on the itinerary, as part of his filing schedule, and then Mehigan flies back home to Australia.
That seems a lot to pack in, but Mehigan is making the most of his latest visit, three years after the last one, courtesy the pandemic. “The diversity of Indian food from different parts of the country is what keeps me coming back,” he says. “I think I’ve barely scratched the surface.” He’s making up for it in part, by trying fare like appams and stew, and nendrapazham (the large Kerala banana). Indian food, Mehigan says, “continues to surprise and delight”.
From anyone else, those may seem like boilerplate catchphrases or buzzwords, but with Mehigan, you know it’s coming from a genuine appreciation and desire to know more. It was this aspect of his persona that made him such a beloved Masterchef judge, and has worked in favour of his other screen appearances, like My Kitchen Rules and Good Chef, Bad Chef.
His steady discovery of Indian food mirrors the one occurring in Australia in parallel. “Food is a conduit, and many Australians have curry or Indian bread in their weekly meal repertoire,” Mehigan shares. “Initially, most of the immigration happening from India was from the North, so there were lots of curries from Punjab. But now we’re seeing more [influences] from the South — so lighter, more fragrant dishes.”
Mehigan is all praise for Indian chefs in Australia who are making greater use of indigenous ingredients, like Helly Raichura of Enter Via Laundry (lemon myrtles and finger limes are just two of the Aussie stars to feature in Raichura’s food). “The pandemic has certainly made us all appreciate the need to source food locally,” he observes.
As the COVID era eases its stranglehold on the world, Mehigan believes that there are other food lessons we’ve learnt during that time that we should be holding on to as well.
For instance, pandemic lockdowns prompted more people to frequent the kitchen and explore recipes for from-scratch dishes. “If you know what goes into your food in the form of sugar, salt, fats, and preservatives, you are more likely to take control of what is good for you and what is not,” says Mehigan, endorsing the trend.
Another one he approves of is the uptick in eating meals together. “I hope that it will continue in people’s habits going forward…” he notes. “The best conversations with your kids happen around the dinner table.”