Gary Mehigan’s Cooking Up a Literary Storm

Out with his new cookbook, celebrity chef Gary Mehigan believes travel has influenced his culinary style

Chef Gary Mehigan on the streets of India

What spurred you to write your new cookbook Good Food Every Day?

After my last book, I thought the world didn’t need another cookbook, but then I started jotting down ideas and by the end of the day had 450 odd recipes. So I thought it’s time to throw a cookbook together! Also the first pandemic lockdown was the longest professional break I’ve had in the longest time. So I was home, and got stuck in the kitchen and that joy of having more time to cook inspired me. 

Being an England-born, Australia-based chef, how has this multiculturality influenced your style?

Travel for a chef is the holy grail. The joy of sharing recipes by going into people’s homes is unparalleled. I’ve travelled widely now, but there was a time when I didn't know anything. In Singapore, I was eating an Indian thali and there was this big puffy bread and I knew I wanted to eat that. I remember sweating over the plate, mesmerised by the different curries and that bread; it really was baptism by fire. As a young man I trained extensively in French cuisine, but in the last 10-15 years I’ve turned towards exciting flavours. Maybe it’s my jaded palate but now I’m looking for something new. 

Gary Mehigan started writing his new cookbook during the lockdown

How do you recommend someone explore Australia via cuisine?

Food Tourism is now enormous and Australia has a great reputation for it. Our restaurants, cafes and coffee scenes in particular are some of the best in the world, like the Melbourne Food and Wine festival. There is also a second wave of rediscovery of indigenous ingredients here. So I’d recommend avoiding the Australian cliches, and go local. Dig in a little and figure out what the locals eat, maybe a good place for coffee and breakfast. In Melbourne, there is Lune Croissanterie, which has arguably the best croissant in the world. So pick your style, cuisine and just try new local places. 

Australia has found a penchant for Indian cuisine. Why do you think that is?

I think people here have realised that there is a great diversity in the Indian subcontinent. I eat Indian a lot and get my friends to make Dosa, or some Sabzi and they realise that’s different than what they stereotypically imagined Indian food to be. The dishes that I make are a little cliched, but I feel I need to perfect certain things. Each cuisine teaches me something that I need to do properly, like cooking a Nihari, Laal Maas, or Biryani. And I ask chefs to send me recipes, like Seekh Kebab, which is in the book too! But I love South Indian cuisine; I love idlis, sambhar, with a bit of coconut chutney. 

What do you make of the pandemic inspiring a new generation of home cooks?

I believe the pandemic gave people time to discover their passion for a thing, like baking the perfect chocolate cake, becoming a smoke master and so on. And this is interesting because I found people on Instagram who had become Home Experts, spending time perfecting that one food skill. At some level, I recognise that it is better than what you can buy because you’ve tunneled in and become a specialist. 

One Indian culinary experience that has stayed with you

That’s a tough one because there have been so many. Landing in Kolkata and trying out Ilish cooked in mustard oil or going to Jaipur and stopping at Neemrana Fort are ones I hold really close. But I really like stepping out of the big cities and travelling the countryside. A number of years ago I was in Bengaluru and had an opportunity to go on dirt bike riding with off-road racer C.S. Santosh. At the end of the day, we sat under a tamarind tree and ate that sticky sour sweet fruit from the pod with a cold beer. That was really special.