The Aussie food ambassador

MasterChef Australia judge, chef Gary Mehigan, is back in India to unravel the mystery behind some more local ingredients

He is known for putting people at ease immediately with his disarming smile and cheerful demeanour. And Gary Mehigan, TV host, restaurateur and chef, does just that at Mumbai’s Magazine Street Kitchen, at the MasterChef Australia-inspired Mystery Box Challenge curated by the NGO, Foundation for Mother and Child Health India (FMCH).

In India as ambassador for Australia Fest, he urges the contestants to “have fun and enjoy what they cook”.

But he had a second job to do as well. Armed with ingredients from Australia — like lemon myrtle, caper leaves and more — Gary was here to showcase the ‘Taste of Australia’. He gushed excitedly about it, “Australia boasts of so many unique ingredients which are intrinsic to the food, and we are attempting to display those through my cooking at the various Master classes, demonstrations and curated dinners, which I am conducting.”

Indian cuisine, according to him, similarly boasts of a lot of ingredients in each dish. “It is the inherent love for flavours and textures that defines Indian food. Australians too are similar, as they also enjoy variety and crunch in their food,” analyses Gary.

Fan of Indian cuisine and now the ‘tandoor’

Fascinated by India and Indian ingredients, Gary has been travelling to this country frequently since 2012. On each trip, he says, “I discover something new.” If it was winter foods like sarson ka saag , hara chana and ponkh that kept him immersed on his last trip, currently, he is enamoured by the flavours of thetandoor . He is even trying hard to put together one for himself back home in Australia, by watching YouTube videos, although he admits he is “not a DIY person”.

The kulcha, too, has caught his fancy. He relished a recent breakfast of kulcha s with chana and agrees that this combination is pure ecstasy. “Anything that goes into the tandoor is so delicious, with distinct flavours,” notes Gary.

Ingredients apart, some of the skills that chefs in India possess intrigue him. He elaborates, “Making a laccha paratha, or even piping jalebi batter into hot oil, is an art. It all looks so simple, but it isn’t.” While the chef in him has spurred him to learn how to fold the layers of the complex laccha paratha and get it right, the foodie in him loves to simply devour it with butter on top.

Mumbai is familiar and comforting

He reminisces about his first-ever visit to Sassoon Docks in Mumbai years ago, when he was awe-struck by the variety of seafood. “The supply chain in Mumbai has grown by leaps and bounds and it is heartening to see,” states Gary.

Given his fetish for Indian ingredients, one wonders if he travels back with a suitcase full to Australia. “I tried taking ker sangri from Rajasthan once, but was not allowed to do so, hence I have stopped. It is only a few spices, which I love, that I take back in small quantities. But yes, I take back lots of ideas,” quips Gary with a smile.

With multiple trips to India, especially Mumbai, he is getting increasingly comfortable and familiar with the city. “On my last trip I was living in Bandra like a local and was pleased when I could even direct the driver which way to go,” he chuckles.

Using his knowledge of Mumbai, Gary Mehigan is busy guiding his wife Mandy and 16-year-old daughter Jenna, who are here for the first time, on what to see and eat in the city.

“ Pani puri , samosa chaat , ras malai and boondi ladoo are what I have strongly recommended. And yes, they must go to the Gateway of India. The Delhi recommendations will follow, when we get there later this week,” Gary signs off with his famous grin.

He is trying hard to put together a tandoor for himself back home in Australia, by watching YouTube videos, although he admits he is “not a DIY person”.

Old as time

Damper, also known as bush bread, is an Australian aboriginal soda bread, traditionally baked over coals or flames.