Former Masterchef host Gary Mehigan talks to The Carousel about Indian curry, the finer points of coffee and the ingredients that make for a wonderful family dinner.
Former Masterchef host and Plate of Origin star Gary Mehigan spends most of his professional life in the kitchen so when it comes to cooking for his family, he prefers to keep the meals quick but big on flavour.
“When I’m cooking at home I get a little frustrated if I’m still in the kitchen after about 45 minutes or so,” says Gary, 53. “I have always been in love with spice so I cook a lot of curries simply because they are quick and pack a lot of punch in terms of flavour.”
Gary, who began his working life as an apprentice at The Connaught, one of London’s swankiest five-star hotels, is a classically trained chef with an award-winning background in French cuisine and all the luscious, indulgent dishes that come from it.
That’s why his rule of thumb for a family meal is simple but delicious. “It’s got to be family friendly for a start,” says Gary, who is married to his wife of 30 years, Mandy. “Everybody assumes that because I am a professional chef then I don’t cook at home, but I have always cooked at home. But everything I do has to be simple just because I don’t want to be in the kitchen. I want to be at the table with my wife and daughter. That’s why Asian food is a favourite at home because it is quick and delivers big time in flavour.”
Gary says he has always had a spice shelf in the family fridge. “I think I have brainwashed my daughter Jenna,” he says. “If I suggest having a steak for dinner, she gives me this kind of look that suggests, ‘That’s not interesting’.
“In fact, that spice shelf in the fridge played a big part in developing Jenna’s palate. Almost every night, something would come out to go into the family meal. So, something spicy such as chilli became integral to our cooking. I always try to have a home-made chilli sauce on the table and that way she can add as much or as little as she likes. When she was little, I would always put something in the dish, be it chilli or oil or something and over the years, she gradually started to add extra spice herself.”
For Gary, however, the food on the table is only a part of the equation. The success of a family meal isn’t just about the food but rather the interaction that goes on around the table as it is consumed.
“I have always been very particular over the years about making sure that regardless of how busy everybody is, we always sit down together each night around the dining table,” says Gary. “The idea of sitting in front of the Tv not saying anything to each other has never been for me. The family meal is a time to sit down without distractions and grab some social time with each other.
“Let’s face it, the world moves so fast these days that it’s hard to find time for each other in the whirlwind of business and school and everything else that we deal with. It’s special time to be shared with each other.”
Gary, who came in Australia from England in 1991, says he has witnessed a lot of changes in the way Australians think about their food during the past 30 years. “When I first came out here to Australia, lots of people put their faith in quite traditional dishes, things such as mac and cheese and roast chicken for a Sunday lunch,” he says. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, they are great dishes. But along the way Australia’s palate has changed and I think that is partly because of where we are on the rim of Southeast Asia.
“Breakfast, for example used to be bacon and eggs but somewhere along the way we have discovered that we can also have noodles for breakfast or a salad if we prefer. And I think that’s great.”
Part of that maturity, says Gary, is Australia’s café culture that has emerged during the past few decades to become one of the richest and most sophisticated café cultures in the world, capable of rivalling even the mature old world café cultures of Paris and Rome.
“Coffee and how we drink it here in Australia has now become second nature to us today, but 30 years ago, that wasn’t the case,” says Gary, who has partnered with the award-winning Veneziano Coffee Roasters to create a the Gary Mehigan Specialty Coffee Range.
“That said, however, there is still a huge variation in the quality of takeaway coffee across the country. Sometimes you can get a takeaway that’s perfect but most of the time it’s not quite there, not enough to satisfy a sophisticated palate. I’ve been drinking coffee all my adult life, so I like something that’s perfect, and that’s why a few years ago I started making my own coffee at home. Because that’s the best way to make sure you get the coffee you want.”
Gary’s speciality coffee range includes three unique coffee blends that he has helped create in conjunction with Veneziano Coffee Roasters: The Dawn, The Everyday, and The Weekend. Each has its own distinct flavour and robustness to suit the situation.
The Dawn blend is a traditional darker roast with robust flavour, an intense coffee for the early riser that cuts through milk very well.
The Everyday blend is an all-rounder. It’s a smooth coffee that stands up well in milk but can also be enjoyed black.
And then there is The Weekend, which also happens to be Gary’s personal favourite. It is a fruit-driven blend with high acidity and sweetness. With dominant berry flavours, stone fruit and green apple acidity. Gary says this blend is a great weekend treat, or in his case, a daily one.
“With the COVID situation, I think there has been a rediscovery of some of the simple things in life and making coffee at home is one of them,” says Gary. “Making coffee at home makes a lot of sense right now. It just takes a couple of minutes and you can enjoy the process, too. It can become a part of your ritual and a satisfying one at that. And it’s a habit I’m going to keep.”
More about Veneziano Coffee Roasters
Gary has partnered with the local, award-winning team at Veneziano Coffee Roasters to launch a decadent new range, GaryMehigan Specialty Coffee.
Available online for caffeine-fiends across Australia and NZ, the eponymous range caters to a wide range of tastebuds with three unique blends — ‘The Dawn’, ‘The Everyday’ and ‘The Weekend’ .