Chef Gary Mehigan is an esteemed Australian chef, renowned for his culinary expertise and engaging presence. With a wealth of experience, he gained widespread recognition as a co-host on the popular television series “MasterChef Australia.” His journey in the culinary world began in the United Kingdom, where he trained under Michelin-starred chefs. Gary’s passion for food extends beyond cooking; he is a devoted advocate for sustainable practices and authentic culinary experiences. His warm personality and genuine love for exploration have made him a beloved figure in the global food scene.
Chef Gary Mehigan serves as a cultural ambassador to the world through his culinary ventures. With his deep appreciation for diverse cuisines, he bridges cultures by showcasing how food embodies the essence of a nation’s heritage. As he explores global flavors and techniques, he not only celebrates the deliciousness of each dish but also promotes cross-cultural understanding. By delving into local ingredients, traditions, and cooking methods, Gary highlights the inseparable link between food and culture. His culinary explorations serve as a medium to connect people worldwide, fostering appreciation for the richness and diversity of global culinary traditions.
Tell us more about what you have been doing these past few months.
In recent months, I’ve prioritized a successful collaboration with Conosh, a federal company, conducting impactful online classes amid India’s lockdown. Notably, a Sardo cuisine class drew an unexpected engagement of around a thousand participants. This partnership has thrived since last September, featuring eleven dinners and evolving into master classes, with an exciting upcoming collaboration at Dubai’s Versace Hotel. Conosh operates as an order and delivery platform, educational hub, and special events platform, showcasing diverse culinary talents. Aligned with my Masterchef background, I’m committed to fostering culinary dreams and small-scale enterprises. Looking ahead, a Dubai dinner collaboration and National Geographic’s “India’s Mega Festivals” series filming in October await, solidifying my connection with India.
Why are you the right person to be featuring in India’s Mega Festivals” when you are Australian yourself?
The decision to feature an Australian chef heading up a series on India’s mega festivals might raise questions, yet there are specific reasons why I am the right fit for this role. When initially approached with this concept, I wondered why they would want an Australian for an Indian-focused series. However, having previously collaborated with the same producer, her insight shed light on the matter. She emphasized my genuine fascination with India, evident in my enthusiasm for its cuisine and travel experiences.
The producer believed that my unique perspective and fervor for India could create a compelling narrative. This series ventures beyond my culinary expertise, delving into travel and culture. As I immerse myself in each festival, it becomes evident that these celebrations are inseparable from their culinary traditions. From witnessing thousands praying at dawn to observing the making of local delicacies like Savion on Hyderabad’s streets, the connection between food and festivals is undeniable.
The producer appreciated the genuine interest I bring to the table, and I’m humbled by her remarks about the “sparkle in my eyes.” The journey of filming mega festivals has been transformative. While I’ve always found India captivating, this experience has deepened my appreciation for each auspicious occasion. Sitting amidst the crowd during rituals or festivities, I’ve encountered a diverse range of people—those attending for tradition, community, connection, or simply a sense of belonging. This human element resonates profoundly with me.
What has truly resonated throughout this journey is the human connection—the intricate layers of celebration, devotion, and the profound impact these festivals have on people’s lives. Despite being an Australian in an Indian context, my passion for discovery and connection has enabled me to bridge cultural gaps and celebrate the universal aspects of these experiences.
Have you also filmed in Mathura in India?
During my time spent filming in Mathura, India, over a span of ten to twelve days, I witnessed a profound and intricate connection that the locals share with the 40 days of holiness, dedicated to Radha and Krishna, their revered deities. What struck me was the authentic and palpable manner in which these figures are woven into the very fabric of their lives, akin to cherished family members. The devotion exhibited is not merely a superficial practice; it’s a constant presence in their daily existence. From morning conversations to continuous engagement throughout the day, this relationship is sustained every day of the year.
While Mathura’s vibrant atmosphere might appear to tourists as a colorful spectacle filled with exuberant celebrations, my experience delved much deeper. In conversations with one of the line producers, who had worked in Mumbai, I gained insights into the profound significance of Mathura’s devotion. He revealed that his return to Mathura was driven by the absence of this connection and devotion he had felt in Mumbai. This authentic relationship with the deities and the unbreakable connection with the rituals had led him back to Mathura, and he expressed his intention to remain connected. Such stories resonate deeply with me, evoking a powerful emotional response.
Indeed, these encounters in Mathura have left an indelible impression on me. The genuine devotion and intricate ties that individuals nurture with their spiritual beliefs transcend the surface level of festivities, stirring a profound sense of awe and reverence within me.
How can the food industry be more sustainable?
Well, that’s certainly a substantial question, one that resonates deeply with me. In my perspective, the path towards a more sustainable food industry involves collective efforts, even if they appear modest at first glance. The crucial starting point is fostering awareness regarding the origin of our food. When we select items at the market or supermarket, having an understanding of their source, cultivation methods, and seasonal availability is paramount.
For instance, I’ve observed that in Australia, despite the middle of winter, cherries from California are available in supermarkets due to the demand, challenging the concept of eating seasonally. Encouraging small changes is pivotal. Opting for free-range eggs or embracing the local bounty in accordance with each region’s seasonal produce are examples of such steps.
Looking at the bigger picture, we must acknowledge the repercussions of the global green revolution. While it initially averted widespread starvation, it led to an industrialized food system that demands revisiting. Our focus should shift towards rediscovering our historical dietary patterns that have sustained us for millennia with minimal environmental impact.
This shift is already manifesting through various avenues. Chefs in India are revitalizing forgotten indigenous foods, cultivating unique strains of crops like millets and championing sustainable practices. Social media and television wield significant influence in shaping perceptions, and major corporations are recognizing their role in steering consumer choices towards more sustainable options.
While the subject is expansive, it underscores our shared responsibility. Small changes can have far-reaching impacts if we collectively commit to them. Choosing products that adhere to sustainability standards and supporting companies that foster change are meaningful steps. I understand that shifts made by large corporations can reshape entire supply chains, even as chefs and individuals also contribute in their own ways.
In essence, the journey towards a sustainable food industry involves weaving together the threads of awareness, choice, and responsibility. As we ponder the foods we consume, we are not just making choices for the present, but also shaping the future for generations to come.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My journey into the culinary world was subtly guided by my grandfather, a retired chef. Observing his vibrant interactions within our community, I gradually grasped the profound impact of his people-centered approach to life. As I participated in his culinary endeavors, I recognized the immediate satisfaction of crafting flavors and sharing them with others. This realization, coupled with my inherent inclination to nurture, ignited a passion for cooking. The joy of giving and the delight of creating something delectable became my calling. From my grandfather’s legacy to my innate desire to connect through food, my path as a chef was forged.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Certainly, I’d like to emphasize my current state of contentment and fulfillment in my journey. These days, I find myself truly relishing the present moments and appreciating every facet of my experiences. My visits to India have been particularly transformative, aligning perfectly with my career and personal evolution. I’m at a juncture where I can fully immerse myself in the intricacies of interactions and connections, a luxury I treasure.
One poignant memory that encapsulates this phase occurred during the filming of mega festivals in Kolkata. I was perched atop a truck, surrounded by the essence of the goddess Durga’s procession—the rhythmic drum beats, the aroma of incense, and a sea of devoted souls. The profound connection I felt with the people and the culture was beyond words. Such instances highlight the depth of my relationship with India and its people.
This phase of life brings an immense sense of satisfaction, as I continue to explore new culinary landscapes and form meaningful connections. If you happen to see me on the streets, please feel free to say hello. Sharing moments with fellow enthusiasts who appreciate the wonders of travel and food is always a delight. The mutual joy that these experiences bring serves as a common thread that unites us all.