From the spice markets of Delhi to the street stalls of Vietnam, MasterChef Australia judge Gary Mehigan is excited about taking the viewers through the cooking methods across Asia, championing food artisans, producers and stall holders in markets around the world on a new show, Far Flung with Gary Mehigan, premiering tonight at 9pm on FOX Life. Excerpts from an interaction:
What’s it like to be ‘food obsessed’ in a world that seems to be going the ‘fitness obsessed’ way?
The trend that everybody should be taking to heart is “wholefood” – taking a little extra notice of what you are popping in the weekly shopping basket and cooking at home. Avoid refined foods, which contain ingredients such as fats, sugars and preservatives that are often disguised by confusing labelling. It’s important to understand that takeaway meals and fast food, in particular, should be a rare treat.
If you had to pick the best of Asia in terms of food, what would your list comprise?
It’s almost impossible to pick favourites – a different day or time of day calls for many different dishes. It’s a mood thing, right? Dishes that stood out on my travels as favourites are:Vietnam – Hanoi pho and Banhxeo (Vietnamese pancake), India – Masala dosa and Pani puri, Hong Kong – Roasted goose and noodles and Cheong fun (steamed rice roll), South Korea – Bipimbap and Shin cup spicy Ramyun, Loa – Crispy fish laap and Jeowmakkena (grilled eggplant dip).
For someone on an Australian holiday, what’s your culinary recommendation?
I am not the type of tourist who has much interest in museums and cathedrals, so I will visit a place because of its famous chocolate factory or gin distillery. There are some great walking tours around the capital cities, and if you are confident enough, hire a car and get out of town to some of our regional centres like the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Margaret River in Western Australia, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Noosa in Queensland or the Hunter in New South Wales. There are some amazing artisan producers and wineries with incredible food offerings in these regions, and the countryside is diverse and breathtaking.
How do we embrace new trends in the Indian way of cooking?
There are a few trailblazers changing the traditional face of Indian food. The secret, I think, is not to be bound by tradition, but to respect it and evolve. The heart of the dish, the flavour and familiarity should remain, but everything else is up for grabs. The success of Masterchef Australia contestants, for example, is in losing the fear of failure and being able to create and play with new ideas - sometimes with extraordinary results. Embrace different cuisines from around the world.
Do you have a word of advice for aspiring chefs?
It’s a tough industry, but one that can be incredibly rewarding. If you are passionate about food and love making people smile, then hospitality is for you. Become a specialist in something and set your mind free and explore the possibilities.
Do men make better chefs?
It is a very physical job in a commercial kitchen, which is perhaps why it hasn’t been the choice of industry for many women in the past. But the home cook and the chef have both bought great developments to our worldwide cuisines. Some of my best chefs in the restaurants have been and are women. A mixed team, as in life, makes a great kitchen.
How did you get into cooking?
My grandfather was a chef, and my father suggested I consider it as a choice of career. I am so humbled by the amazing chefs I get to work alongside with Master-Chef, and also those I met on my travels for Far Flung. I think I am an open-minded chef who never wants to stop learning.
What’s your comfort food? And are there any signature dishes?
Comfort food is a whole-roasted chicken with crispy roasted potatoes. Simple but heartwarming. My signature dish depends on what mood I am in. I love so many different cuisines; it is hard to choose just one.
When eating at a restaurant, what’s your idea of value for money?
A big bowl of noodles, ramen or pho – you can’t go wrong. Cheap, filling and delicious.
What are the good and not-so-good aspects of Indian food?
I love Indian cuisine and, personally, I don’t see the negatives. 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, curd, 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!