You will recognize Chef Gary Mehigan as the calmer one on the Masterchef Australia panel, and rightly so. But did you know that the ace chef is also an Indian food enthusiast? And that he absolutely adores Mumbai’s street foodscape? In a recent interview with Verve, Mehigan picks out all his favorite foods from all over India and his list will put even the most hardcore desis to shame? What, like you’ve ever dirt-biked for hours just to eat fresh tamarind!
Food Mapping India
Mehigan has grabbed the best from each region and his ‘favorites’ list goes something like this: “I love Mumbai’s street food like pav bhaji, sev puri and pani puri. South-Indian rice preparations like idlis, dosas and appams are a great exercise in fermenting batters and creating something really different.
“On my list are also some of Kerala’s fish curries with spices and chilies. The curd curry in Rajasthan is a must-try, and I enjoy the strong flavour of asafetida. I also tried Goan sausages, which were delicious. Going up north, I love the unusual spices, dals and the use of the tandoor. They are particularly Indian but induce a flavour you can’t get anywhere else”, he added.
The chef adds that there are a few must-haves that complete his trips to India. “(I cannot leave without) trying out paneer masala, or dosa with the potato filling. I love the thali. Because as a foreigner you get to sample little dishes, especially the puri bread in the middle — they puff up and are so fascinating. And you need to eat with your fingers, which is wonderful”, confesses the Chef who also admits being overly fascinated with Dosas.
“I am just fascinated with dosa! I have seen chefs try so many things with this simple preparation — sometimes they use it like tacos, putting funky things on and with different fillings. Like Chef Manish Mehrotra from Indian Accent treated it with blue cheese, and at first I felt that it’s just not right. But once you eat it, you know it’s totally right!”
If you’re a non-Indian visiting India, you are bound to fly back with more than a few extra kilos (and that’s not just in your luggage). The Indian plethora of herbs and spices even managed to rope in Chef Mehigan’s attention.
“When I visited India for the first time, I took home a lot of herbs and spices. I am growing chilies and curry leaves in my garden (and I worry every time they shed their leaves, praying that they come back to life!). I use a lot of those in my cooking, including mustard oil. I have a big spice collection, and it’s something I would’ve probably never had before.”
Just Can’t Enough
Of course Gary Mehigan has his set of go-to restaurants. And of course Chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent is on that list! “Indian Accent, Manu Chandra’s Toast & Tonic — which is a concept based restaurant. It is fun to see Indian chef’s moving in that direction”, said the otherwise desi street food loving man.
What? You thought he’d leave without a dessert splurge? The Masterchef AU judge has a major sweet tooth – his absolute favorite being jalebis – and Indian menus were more than happy to oblige. “Desserts in India are really very sweet, But I like rabri, and saffron milk puddings with nuts. Gulab jamuns — only when are really beautifully cooked, and are light and fluffy. But I can’t have too many of them!”
The chef, who one day dreams of riding an Enfield from the South all the way to the Himalayas, feels that India’s “addictive” cuisine is different than others in a lot many ways. “Indian food, regardless of where you are (unlike French cuisine which is very subtle, often understated and very refined) is completely different. It’s like an assortment in your palate, and that’s why it is so addictive. I love the riot of colour, flavour and texture.”
On that note, we’ll have another plate of pani puri!
Images: Instagram | garymehigan
Feature Image: Bandt