MasterChef Australia judge Gary Mehigan's Indian food adventure

Aug 06, 2015, 08:15 IST | Dhara Vora

The affable chef and MasterChef Australia series judge, Gary Mehigan, hit a culinary trail across Asia for his new show, Far Flung with Gary Mehigan. In an email interview with Dhara Vora, he speaks of his gastronomic finds and his passion for bikes

Q. What lessons in cooking have you learnt from the streets?
A. I love Indian cuisine. What I’ve learnt is that there is no such thing as ‘Indian cuisine’ but many glorious regional cuisines, all wrapped up in this vast multi-dimensional continent. Simple dishes born out of necessity are often the best — idli, appam, curds; the clever use of spices, some so unusual, most of the world has never seen them. India’s culinary job is to take this to the world…we are waiting!

Gary Mehigan (left) tries on a pagdi in Jodhpur
Gary Mehigan (left) tries on a pagdi in Jodhpur

Q. Which region did you enjoy eating, exploring and cooking at the most?
A. Kerala is high on the list, because I love the lightness of the flavours down south. In India, it was hard to narrow it down to a few places, but it has given me a reason to go back and see Munnar in Kerala, Jaipur in Rajasthan and maybe, North Sikkim in the Himalayas. Dishes that stood out on my travels are:
India: Masala Dosa and Pani Puri
Vietnam: Hanoi Pho and Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake)
Hong Kong: Roasted goose and noodles and Cheong Fun (steamed rice roll)
South Korea: Bipinbap and Shin Cup Spicy Ramyun
Laos: Crispy Fish Laap and Jeow Mak Kena (grilled eggplant dip)

Mehigan exploring a fish market in Chennai
Mehigan exploring a fish market in Chennai

Q. You explored the tiffin food culture of Mumbai. Could you tell us more about the experience?
A. It is so highly coordinated and efficient, and the fact that many of the dabbawallas are illiterate, makes it even more incredible. People spend so many hours a day travelling to work that they miss a good meal in the morning and evening, means the tiffin box, is more than just food. It is a meal to savour and look forward to.

Q. Could you elaborate on the Indian cooking preparations for meats you discovered?
A. Not just meats, but fish and vegetarian dishes are just as flavourful as red or white meat curries. I think the key to using any meat like lamb, goat or beef in curries, is to pick the right cut. A beautiful piece of eye fillet steak will not work in a slow cooked curry. It needs to be a cut of meat that cooks well in the low and slow method. Cuts of meat like lamb shoulder or chicken thigh are cheaper cuts, but also a better option for cooking a curry.

Q. You visited one of the largest spice markets of Asia in Delhi…
A. The herbs and spices I discovered were fragrant. There were so many grades of quality, and many types that I have never come across — like pine nuts in their shell, and the array of different qualities of cashew nuts, wow! I can’t get anything like it here in Australia.

Q. What was your favourite and most astonishing food discovery from India?
A. Finding out how to make a dosa was a revelation. I make them regularly at home now. And the astonishing bit has to be how fresh the fish was at Chennai’s fish markets. Varieties I have never seen before, the quality and freshness, and the filleting skills of the stallholders were incredible.

Far Flung with Gary Mehigan will premiere on August 15 at 9pm on FOX Life.

When Gary vroom-ed into Chennai

A great way to see a city is on a bike. It makes me feel like a local and gets me to places I might not normally visit.

Mehigan enjoying an auto ride in Jodhpur
Mehigan enjoying an auto ride in Jodhpur

I visited the Royal Enfield factory and it is so clean, organised and efficient.

Mehigan at what he calls his dream place — Royal Enfield factory in Chennai
Mehigan at what he calls his dream place - Royal Enfield factory in Chennai

The gentleman who hand-paints the decals on petrol tanks blew me away.

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