When Gary Mehigan And Matt Preston Decided To Confess

In Bengaluru to host a popup, the two MasterChef Australia judges talked about everything but work – from their first food memory to people they wish they’d met.

Published On Nov 28, 2023 | Updated On Feb 27, 2024

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“Do you know how many pairs of suits he’s brought to India? Just suits?” That was celebrity chef Gary Mehigan with the most pointed question as he looked at food critic and writer, Matt Preston. 

“Five suits,” Preston admitted, “And eight shoes. I brought three pairs of running shoes. Well, my luggage was 50 kilos. And I did not forget my famous pink suit. The colour goes so well with the light here in India.” He did not bat an eyelid while admitting to it. 

“I am Carrie Bradshaw! Almost as much time has gone into planning what I was going to wear while planning the three dishes,” he added with a laugh. 

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That’s Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan for you. Put them in a room and one thing is guaranteed, you’d be plenty entertained. It’s rather interesting to watch how they are almost always on the same page, which probably comes from the years they’ve been friends and colleagues, and most importantly how they never quite try to overshadow one another. Not in the open at least. 

The two MasterChef Australia judges (we missed George Calombaris because he had to fly back to Australia) were in Bengaluru recently to host a popup organised by a Bengaluru-based community of food lovers, a dinner that they said was going to be “rather interesting”. The event saw the two put together a delightful meal amid conversations and serious food talk. But our interest, for a change, was more in the two men than the food. 

In all fairness, they come with more stories that one can be satisfied with in an hour, and an hour with them will be over in minutes. Between light banter and deep discussion about being in a professional kitchen and culinary experiences, we put the two through a rapid-fire test, which they cleared with a great score. So, let’s go: 

Preston: Eating a really bad white nougat bar. It was made to commemorate the 1966 World Cup in London. And it had a lion with a beetle's haircut printed, like, a cartoon character, on the front. It was rubbish. I could draw you a picture of the Nougat Bar. I could draw you a picture or I could go on Google Maps, show you the corner, where the store was where I bought it. I even saved up my pocket money to buy it. I was about five years old at the time. 

Mehigan: Mine would be the bubble-gum. I would have been about three years old and we used to live in a little street that you had to walk out onto a main road, it was a cul-de-sac with a road like a roundabout in the middle, you used to have to walk out onto a main road which wasn't busy but my mother told me never to walk out on the main road because I would be run over. I had like two pence, and I ran down to the shops and I bought it. And I remember them being massive but they weren't because I had a teeny tiny mouth. 

Preston: The whites of eggs. It’s horrible because of two things – it’s bouncy and it’s springy, especially as a kid you cannot like that. And the worst is when it’s under-cooked and when someone would give you a fried egg and the top is all snotty. Now I love set egg whites. I am not a fan of kidneys either. 

Mehigan: Baked and cooked carrots. I used to hate them. Oh, and bones. Mum used to do a lamb stew with lots of carrots and bones in it. Now I love bones and carrots. 

Mehigan: What I really love to do is those Chinese hand-pulled noodles, it frustrates the hell out of me. It’s same as seviyaan. And it exists in Italy as well. You just have to find the perfect momentum to capture that elastic movement of the noodle. It is something you have to feel, and just when I think I can do it, I cannot. 

Preston: See, Gary here is a chef. He’s all about professionalism and working hard. If there’s something I cannot make, I buy it. I can try and make a Peking Duck, but I need the special oven etc etc, so I’ll just go buy it. Now, if all the Chinese restaurants in Australia shut down, maybe then I’ll learn how to make it.

Mehigan: Hing overwhelms me. This is a difficult one. I get frustrated more than I could do well and now I don’t. It’s called skill fade, and it’s common in many industries. You have to re-skill yourself. I did a couple of pastry courses, bread courses etc. I have lost, in a sense, some of the pleasure I could do without thinking about it. It could be anything like making puff pastry. 

Preston: As a food writer, I’d just make what I want to eat, not like a chef who has to cook for others. I’ll spend hours making gnocchi, because I can make it, and it will be delicious. If I had to make something like a Croquembouche, I simply wouldn’t. In terms of ingredients what would overwhelm me are dishes I don’t like, and those I won’t eat, kidneys for instance. 

Preston: Mexico City. It was amazing. The fresh cheese and everything. Anywhere you go where there’s a preconceived image and get surprised is always memorable. For instance, the steaks at Buenos Aires. They are delicious and well-done, quite the anti-thesis what’s globally popular. And I’ll never forget the mint and ricotta sausages. You go somewhere that’s known for all its meat-eating and leave with the memory of a vegetarian mint and ricotta sausage, it’s priceless. 

Mehigan: This is an impossible question. I cannot commit to it. 

Preston: What about when we first went to Tokyo? 

Mehigan: Oh yes, the first Yakitori place we went to. Everything was grilled so beautifully. It was written all over our faces. We left buzzing, it was just so atmospheric. The joy of being a traveller and a chef – the pleasure of stumbling upon hidden gems. Or the first time we went to Little India in Singapore and we ate our first thali with a big puri in the middle and just went ‘oh my god!’ A life for me without travelling and eating would be a sad one.

Preston: Or the first time we ate fresh mango with chilli powder on it, and chaat masala with lime. That’s the joy of discovering small places, there are no signboards, no hype. You get curious and you walk in. The real memories are the surprise places. 

Mehigan: I love Chef with John Favreau. It’s a cute movie and it’s not really about chefs, but at the end, during the end titles, when Favreau was being taught to make a toasted cheese sandwich by chef Roy Choi is priceless. It was to put John in that zone where he could act the part. So, in this particular snippet, Roy turns the sandwich and goes ‘everything else is this. Right now, everything is about the cheese sandwich’. The way he was describing the focus on a tiny tiny thing, the crust of the bread, the cheese… I have watched that part on repeat. And I also kind of think of life like that. 

Preston: It's not a movie but the last four episodes of season 2 of The Bear. There is no better food TV series. And the Maître D’ episode is the most compelling argument of fine dining and how and why it’s relevant and when is it rubbish and when its actual fine dining.  

Gary: I suppose it would be Auguste Escoffier, and purely out of curiosity. I’d have liked to know the man he was, what motivated him. My grandad was born around 1908 and he told me this story, not sure how true it is, but when he worked in London he was at the Savoy and I asked him if he had ever met him and he said no but Escoffier had once tried to run him over with his bicycle. 

Matt: If I could, I would have liked to be in the kitchen when Thomas Jefferson and Count Rumford were experimenting with pasta and ice cream and insulated property of whipped egg whites and therefore inventing Baked Alaska. Thomas was a keen foodie, had his own ice cream machines etc and knew how to chill out. Rumford also started the food reclamation business in Germany; he was a very interesting character. So yes, I’d pick these two. 


Photo: Priyadarshini Nandy

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