Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris — known around the world, and especially in India, for MasterChef Australia and yet being popular even beyond — are back together, but not on screen. The former judges of the superhit culinary competition show recently hosted a series of special dinners in select cities in India, courtesy Conosh (a community of food connoisseurs who host dinners, masterclasses and pop-ups). t2 caught up with the popular trio for a chat.
First, congratulations on Australia’s cricket World Cup win. Did you watch the game?
Matt Preston: George (Calombaris) and I are fans and Gary (Mehigan) was for the day! We were on set shooting the finale of a cooking competition in Delhi and watched it with the Indian crew. They were all great sports and it was a fun day. We were very happy.
What is it like being back in India each time? Did anything new strike you about the country the last few times you have touched down?
Gary Mehigan: That young chefs and restaurateurs are actually champions of Indian food, rather than trying to do French or Italian. They are discovering and showing modern takes on dishes and unique indigenous ingredients that India should be proud of showcasing to the world.
You have been hosting a series of dinners in India. What have been the highlights, especially since it has brought back the three of you together?
George: Definitely spending time together again. This trip has been a joy, and we have loved the opportunity to spend this much time together. We catch up regularly at home, but being on the road for Conosh has really reminded us how genuine and natural our friendship and mutual love of food is.Gary: The theme of these dinners is our favourite things to eat! We sat in Matt’s back garden four months ago and discussed the menu, and on this tour, we have tweaked the dishes after each dinner, to refine portion sizes, how we plate it and even swapped out ingredients.Matt: We were also excited that there is a crack team of young Indian chefs from across the country that has been assembled to travel with us and cook with us across these dinners. This also allows us to mentor some of the best young culinary talent in this country, which is an honour for all three of us.
Is it a party every time the three of you get together? What would you say is the basis of this long-lasting friendship?
Matt: We are not as young as we used to be, so it is not so much a party! But we definitely love our food and like trying out different restaurants. We have definitely over-indulged on some wonderful food and cocktails on this trip.
Are you still surprised by the huge fan following you have in India?
George: For Gary not so much, as he has been here constantly for the past year, but for Matt and I, it has been a lovely surprise, and the three of us together seem to really elevate the response from our fans.Matt: I love the fact that the reaction has been more about familiarity than fame. It’s like meeting old friends every time!
I know that all three of you are big on Indian cuisine. Gary spends a lot of time in India. How have you seen Indian food evolve over the years and do you have any new favourites that you tried and loved recently?
Gary: In the last few years, restaurants like Bombay Canteen — with Hussain (Shahzad, executive chef) at the helm — Masque, Ekaa, Cavatina, Naar have really hit their straps with exciting modern Indian cuisine and that has been exhilarating. Matt: The next wave of young chefs with pride in their heritage and a desire to champion indigenous ingredients and flavours makes me very excited about the future, as well as the present, for Indian restaurants. The last time I was here, people were more interested in talking about NRI cuisine in New York and London.
MasterChef Australia is still a rage in India. What do you think makes the show popular even now, breaking geographical boundaries?
Matt: The joy of watching people following their passion for food and cooking is very powerful. Plus, people enjoy the positivity of the show and the supportive relationship between the contestants. This is a place where people are not judged on their looks or personality but on the dish they put up to be tasted. Plus, we are united — regardless of location — by the healing power of the family table. That is what we have always tried to instil in our shows.
If you could settle in any one city in India, or at least spend a few months in it, which would it be?
Gary: Leh-Ladakh for the amazing scenery and food.Matt: Kochi for the lifestyle or Goa for the beach and the party.George: Mumbai, for the panipuri and the cricket.