t’s not every day that reality TV’s biggest faces visit India. And when it’s the grand reunion of MasterChef Australia’s former judges–Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston, and George Calombaris, there’s bound to be much noise. The three chefs recently spent a generous amount of time in India across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, hosting sit-down dinners and masterclasses in collaboration with Conosh, a Bengaluru-based community of food enthusiasts focused on curated dining experiences, cooking workshops, and more. When off-duty, they were busy gallivanting around the cities in search of new food adventures.
From savouring succulent kebabs at Rajinder Da Dhaba in Delhi to relishing ‘proper dosa at Rameshwaram Cafe in Bengaluru–their itinerary included it all. Mehigan’s previous association with Conosh convinced both Preston and Calombaris to join hands for their much-awaited reunion. Previously, the three had also done an online cookathon with the platform to raise funds during Covid-19 in India. It’s common knowledge that Mehigan has a soft spot for India, having traversed the country on several food expeditions. His association with National Geographic’s India’s Mega Festivals with Gary Mehigan also keeps him coming back to the country. Preston chips in, “Soon, we are going to lose Gary to India…”. The trio have their individual standing today, far beyond their MasterChef lineage. But it’s interesting to witness that camaraderie intact, much like how it was on screen.
While Mehigan and Preston were chatty, Calombaris maintained a reserved stance. However, the trio were in perfect sync with each other (well, most of the time), not leaving any opportunity to joke around and burst into laughter. (From L to R) Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris, and Matt Preston 1463 people loved this story Pho, Bahn Mi, Egg Coffee: Vietnam Borrows Food From Everywhere And Hanoi Makes It Its Own Their shared love for Indian food was equally visible––since the conversation ranged from jalebi to pani puri and palak paneer to kasoori methi. Is that why they chose to reunite in India, offering an opportunity to their loyalists to meet and greet them? “India is obsessed with food; it’s so important here. It’s increasingly become a matter of regional and cultural pride and we love that,” says Preston. Mehigan believes the audience in India is unique in so many ways. “We couldn’t have done something like this anywhere else. There’s no denying that we have a large audience in some other countries too, but Indian people are more receptive to international cuisine today, while embracing the diversity of their own food. It’s fantastic,” he tells YS Life. It’s not just the people but also the variety and quality of indigenous ingredients that have left them stumped. While the pop-up with Conosh primarily showcased international flavours, there was a conscious decision to use as much local produce as possible.
For instance, Calombaris’ course part of the ‘Snack Attack’ was Vegemite Scroll that used caper leaves from Ishka Farms. “Previously, there was more use of flour in dishes here, say about two decades ago. Keeping in view the transition in tastes today, with health as the centrepiece, we have used khapli wheat and ragi in our dishes. It’s also the year of the millets; we have used four millets. We have also got kalari cheese from Jammu and capers from Ishka Farms in Karnataka,” says Mehigan. The team also brought in finger lime from Australia that was a part of Preston’s course that included Arabian Gulf Prawns. “It’s all about painting with a new box of colours; there are some colours from our country and some we’ve got from India,” Preston says. “Sometimes, because we travel so much…we see certain elements and take back little ideas. You may find a slight resemblance to something you’ve already tasted before…it may serve as a point of reference,” he adds. Apart from the dinner service, the trio also organised masterclasses to give their patrons a sneak peek into their recipes. In Gurugram’s Grand Hyatt hotel, the three chefs whipped up eggless desserts–Baklava Ice Cream Sandwich (Calombaris), Roasted White Chocolate Tart (Preston), and Australian Lamingtons (Mehigan).
Since India’s population is largely vegetarian, this may or may not have been a conscious decision for the trio. “It’s a learning curve for the team and you think of things in a different way,” says Preston. However, the three of them agree on how Indian food is not just having a moment, but is a part of the culinary movement today. Calombaris recalls his visit to India in 2011-2012 when the three of them went to a culinary school to address young apprentices who were trying to impress them with international food. “Gary and I were like…why are you doing this? Embrace your culture and be proud of it. I understand as a young chef, one aspires to be a certain way..but it’s important to be yourself,” he chips in, adding that it’s incredible to see several chefs in London and Bangkok today doing interesting stuff with local Indian cuisine. “There is a certain confidence in Indian chefs today, which wasn’t visible earlier.
For instance, Varun Totlani of Masque…his seabuckthorn pani puri is brilliant. I saw him pop pani puri on an open fire…some other techniques were also bloody clever. That’s the joy of young innovative minds,” reiterates Mehigan. However, Preston, who shares his love for the pani puri says, “It can’t be clever for the sake of being clever if it doesn’t taste like what you get at the Juhu beach in Mumbai.” With that, the conversation deviated towards street food. Mehigan, with a glint in his eye, spoke of the famous bun parotta of Madurai—a cross between flaky parantha and a soft bun—had him sold. It is generally paired with non-vegetarian curries. “And I sat there and kept thinking, if this was around the corner, we would have serious trouble,” laughs Mehigan.
For Calombaris, sweet potato in tamarind or shakarkandi chaat is his absolute favourite that he had almost 15 years ago in India. It has stayed on in his mind. “The headlines are just dominated by Taj Mahal or Varanasi, but when you go deeper, there are a million places to explore in India. And they have all got these unique cuisines that leave you bamboozled,” says Preston excitedly. “But India has always been fascinating. I can imagine the first Portuguese who would have hit the shores in Goa and what they left behind…how the local community has integrated those aspects into their culture,” Mehigan cites an example. With so much talk of Indian cuisine, it’s but natural to be curious of the three opening up a restaurant in India. Are they? “I don’t think that’s happening. It may require a few discussions,” concludes the trio.
Source : YS Life