CT Interview: Chef Gary Mehigan Finds Butter Chicken Overrated, Wants Himalayan Biking Trip And…

In an exclusive interview with Curly Tales, Gary Mehigan opens up about his learnings from his recent India trips, his affinity for South Indian cuisine and the promises he has made to himself.

by Sanjana Shenoy
CT Interview: Chef Gary Mehigan Finds Butter Chicken Overrated, Wants Himalayan Biking Trip And…

“Food-obsessed traveller who loves long sweeping roads,” reads Chef Gary Mehigan’s Instagram bio, proving his love for food, travel and biking in equal portions. This culinary maestro needs no introduction. A successful restaurateur, a cookbook author, a TV personality and an avid biker, the celebrity chef has many feathers in his chef’s hat. His 11-year journey as a former MasterChef Australia judge and his passion and fascination for all things Indian has won the 57-YO plenty of desi fans.

Chef Gary Mehigan Talks To Curly Tales

Chef Gary Mehigan was at the Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, to showcase his immersive dining experience, “A Dinner to Remember” with Conosh, India’s leading platform for culinary workshops and events. During the two-night gastronomic extravaganza held on April 5th and April 6th at The Market, we devoured the chef’s 7-course degustation showcasing his signatures like Caramelised Mushroom & Onion Tarts, Savoury Basque Cheesecake, Roasted Australian Lamb Cutlet, Confit Duck Leg and Thousand Leaf ‘Alphonso Mango Mousse with exceptional whiskey pairings.

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Savoury Basque Cheesecake; Confit Duck Leg Picture Credits: Sanjana Shenoy

In a tête-à-tête with me, Sanjana Shenoy, Sub-Editor of Curly Tales, Chef Gary spoke to me about his fondness for South Indian cuisine, the promises he made to himself and made no-holds-barred food confessions. Some of which may be controversial for foodies! *wink wink* Certainly a dinner and a conversation to remember!

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Picture Credits: Sanjana Shenoy

Over the past few years, you’ve travelled extensively across India, celebrated festivals, and experienced the cuisines and cultures of different regions. What have been your learnings from your India trips?

Over the past few years, you’ve travelled extensively across India, celebrated festivals, and experienced the cuisines and cultures of different regions. What have been your learnings from your India trips?

The main thing I’ve learnt over the last two years compared to my visits prior is that it’s no longer a touristy interest or a fleeting interest. The experience has been totally different. And when you’re digging your fingers into something like the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland—discovering the cuisine, the culture, learning about the 17 tribes, talking to people, and visiting local markets— it’s like digging into their history.


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My friend uses ChatGPT to get personalised recipes. I’ve cooked one of these dishes and it tasted really good. How do you see the role of AI in the culinary industry? 

When you look at its potential, what is it? It’s a collective intelligence of everything that we know. Isn’t it? For example, I’ve spent 35 years collecting cookbooks. There are over 800 cookbooks on my shelf. But when I’m looking for a recipe, in all honesty, I don’t look at any of those books. I go straight to my phone, search for a Thukpa recipe, short-list five to six recipes and latch on to one I find truly authentic. Many times, it’s not even in English!

So, the ability to be able to search for information is incredible. And AI takes it to another level, doesn’t it?!

However, unlike AI, cookbooks are still beautiful as they are tried, tested and researched by the person who wrote them. But when you search for a recipe on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram, you don’t actually know whether it can be trusted. It’s a bit of trial and error.

At the moment, ChatGPT is not that user-friendly for people like me. Correct? (He asks, awaiting my response.)

( “I think you’ll be pretty comfortable with it. You’ve nailed your Instagram game,” I answer with a smile.)

I don’t know, I’ve just got my head around Instagram and social media. And I don’t monetise my social media handles. I do it because it’s fun. I don’t ever want it to be a chore or a job. There’s not a lot of pleasure in that for me. We’ll see about ChatGTP or is it ChatGPT? (He laughs.)


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Have you prepared any dishes after seeing Instagram reels or videos posted by content creators? 

I don’t refer to them as content creators. More like chefs with a social media presence. I don’t take any recipes posted by people with a really high social media presence. Because most of those recipes are curated to grab attention in flat three to six seconds. Those are not the recipes I’m looking for.

I lean towards cooking videos of Michelin-starred chefs or a grandmother cooking a traditional recipe over a campfire. I don’t search the Internet for fun things to do in 5 minutes in the air fryer or microwave. Rather, I use Instagram for ingredient or dish inspirations from chefs from across the world. I’m fascinated by what they’re doing.

Is there any particular trend that you have noticed in the culinary industry?

Well, obviously, India is becoming an increasingly fascinating source of inspiration for many chefs around the world. There are lots of Indian restaurants popping up in New York, Paris and London. When will Indian cuisine be recognised for its diversity? I think it’s going to happen!

It’s building momentum, which is nice to see. And there are so many young, brilliant Indian chefs in India and outside of India making waves.


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Did you get time to explore any restaurant in Bengaluru? 

This time, no. But last time when Matt (Preston) and George(Colamboris) came over, we went to Rameshwaram and LUPA. But there’s a fine-diner in Bangalore we were talking about and it starts with F.

(Looks at his team to help him with the name. At this time, we all jump in with our guesses. Finally, we crack it!)

Farmlore! Oh yes yes, I’m excited about that! I’ll visit there next time.

( I recommend another Bengaluru restaurant (Moglu) and Chef Gary immediately takes out his phone, finds it on Insta and notes it down.)


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Is there any particular cuisine that you want to but haven’t yet explored? 

I still haven’t visited Kashmir and Lucknow, which is like an epicentre of fabulous food. I don’t know how I’ve managed to skip that amongst all my travels!

But in all honesty, I lean into South Indian cuisine because I love the flavours. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy everything else. While I love stuffing myself with Momos in Leh and devouring food in Calcutta and Nagaland, I always return to South Indian flavours of coconut, curry leaves and rice-based dishes like Appams and Idiyappam and Puttu. I have an affinity for South Indian cuisine.


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How has your journey been since MasterChef Australia? Are you in touch with past contestants?

MasterChef Australia was a really wonderful period in my life. We (Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Colamboris) did it for 11 years. We judged a couple of Junior, All-Stars, Celebrity MasterChef and MasterChef Professional series too.

So it was a really beautiful part of my life. And I think I’m very lucky to have a whole ream of contestants’ phone numbers. Like Poh Ling Yeow, Julie Goodwin—who’s just written a book in Australia—Mandy Hall, Andre Ursini, Rose Adam, Callum Hann and Mindy Woods. These are people I speak to on a regular basis.

I don’t really miss MasterChef because I have these unique one-off experiences with the contestants that I don’t need to repeat. I don’t need to do it again. Some of them competed in the All-Stars show and someone asked me if I missed them. I said no because I think it would be weird to judge them again. Now, they’ve reached a certain league.

It’s a very special family and I still look back at it (MasterChef Australia) fondly. But I also love the fact that I’m doing different things now. If I was still judging the show, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing right now.

And I promised myself, during COVID, to follow the joy. So I just do things that I really want to do. And if I don’t want to do them, I don’t do them.


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What’s next in store for you this year?

I’m doing a lot at the moment. I’m filming in Melbourne for Melbourne Weekender, a local show. Matt Preston and I are collaborating with Luxury Escapes, a tour and travel company. We’re doing four curated travel experiences around the world (India, Vietnam, Japan and Sri Lanka). Also, Matt, George and I are back in India in August to do a tour. We’re hopeful to hit Lucknow, Pune and Chennai this time.

But I want more time at home too. We may go on a family holiday soon as my daughter (Jenna) will be leaving to Europe. She’s 22. (Pauses, and corrects himself) 23 actually! She doesn’t need us anymore (jokes).

I also promised myself a holiday on a motorcycle up to the Himalayas. I want to ride to Delhi and Manali too.

(“Please document it, we’d love to see it,” I quip as an ardent MasterChef Australia and Gary Mehigan fan.)

(He shakes his head and smiles assertively.) No, that’s for me.

Rapid Fire Time With Chef Gary Mehigan

1. Australian restaurants you’d recommend to Indian tourists?

Cumulus Inc. (Melbourne)

Supernormal (Melbourne)

Lee Ho Fook (Melbourne)

Gimlet (Melbourne)

Saint Peter (Paddington NSW)

Quay (Sydney)

2. Favourite food destination?

India, Japan, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

I went to Sri Lanka last year on a holiday with my family. Loved it! Pretty much every holiday I take is just for food.

3. Favourite dessert?


(With a huge grin on his face, anticipating my shock.)

People think I love desserts. But I don’t!

If pushed, something like a really good Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

But even given the choice between caramel and chocolate, I’d still choose cheese. Not Cheddar, but beautiful artisanal cheese. India is making some great artisanal cheese which I’d love to try.

4. A kitchen spice you cannot do without?

Black Pepper

5. A dish you find overrated?

Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani.

These are dishes that I’ve probably eaten enough in India.

I’ll have Dal Tadka over Dal Makhani any day!

When I first came over, people force-fed me these dishes. I felt like a fat baby. (Pats his stomach, eliciting a hearty laugh from me.)

6. A dish you find underrated?

Chaat ( His eyes light up.)

It’s a dish that is overlooked.

The West is discovering it right now. Young chefs are re-imagining chaat. I was lucky enough to taste Garima Arora’s (Michelin starred-chef of Gaa in Bangkok and former MasterChef India judge) menu at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. She served a chaat-inspired dish with a little disc of chilled beetroot jam or gel over the top of what was chaat. So, there was sev, curd and chutney. So, yeah underrated!

7. A dish from Bangalore that has a special place in your heart?

Ghee Roast Dosa.

I had it in Rameshwaram. There’s a lot of ghee in it. Maybe too much ghee. (Imitates the cooks pouring ghee on the dosas)

But yeah, it’s pretty damn good!

8. Your ultimate comfort food?

Roast Chicken

9. Which dish comes to your mind when I say the following?

-Matt Preston

Laksa, Pork Belly, Fried Chicken

-George Calombaris

Anything with Tarama (Greek dip made with fish roe)

-Gary Mehigan

Pepper Fry because it’s spicy and I can wash it down with chilled beer.

10. A single line of advice for budding chefs?

Make sure you love what you do. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

And that’s our takeaway from our beloved food-obsessed traveller and biker, Gary Mehigan!


Cover Image Courtesy: @garymehigan and @conoshofficial/ Instagram

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