Melbourne based restaurateur Gary Mehigan has become a household name with his role as co-judge on Channel 10’s MasterChef Australia. Kate Waterhouse caught up with the 47-year-old to chat about his involvement in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Month, his favourite food and what he won’t eat!
What are you up to at the moment?
I’ve got my two restaurants and my catering company; I launched a book [Gary Mehigan Favourites] last month and the Good Food Month in October and I’m Getting ready for MasterChef Series seven. George and I were talking about it recently, where we thought MasterChef was probably only going to last a year, if we were lucky!
What’s your involvement with the Good Food Month?
I’m the ambassador for the Citibank Dining program. I’ll be at the Noodle Night Markets on the 17th of October, which I’ve been to couple of years in a row now and when you look at the momentum that has gathered, it’s incredible. It’s packed! If you’re the kind of guy that wants to go to a quite restaurant, then the Night Noodle Markets is not for you! [Laughs]
You say you didn’t think MasterChef would last longer than a year, did you really think that?
Yes, because I think the best advice I’ve ever been given in television is that you’re handed a baton and you can hold that baton for a while, but then you’ve got to give it to someone else. And I’m happy with that… [But] this year has seen a nice little resurgence. Whether we lost our way a little bit and moved away from what were core MasterChef values. What it has shown us is that people want a proper cooking competition. We did that this year and I think the audience have come back in spades, which is great to see. People have engaged back with me.
Can you see that?
Yeah. Straightaway. Kids are waving at me again or little groups of giggling girls going, “Oh that’s Gary for MasterChef” or guys picking up a leek in supermarket saying, “What do I do with this?” Just re-engaged again and in a very casual and familiar way.
What’s the strangest thing a fan has ever done?
Oh. No, let’s not go there! We find, especially when you go to very food focused places, so let’s say Good Food Month, everybody that’s there has got some level of interest in food. So they’re very much in your face, “I need a photo.” “I want a photo.” “Could you sign this?” “Could you sign that?” on some weird places too, which we refuse to do! It’s really funny, I go, “You do realise I’m just a chubby middle aged man.” But in their eyes, you’re on TV and I suppose you’re supposed to be a celebrity.
Does it ever get annoying, having people recognise you everywhere you go?
Annoying is not the word, because I think with public recognition comes the fact that there’s a little bit of public ownership too, that they feel that they know you, that you’re nice on TV and they want to chat to you.
At home, do you like being cooked for or do you prefer to be in the kitchen?
I love being cooked for. I love it. It’s lovely for me to take a proper day off and be looked after. My wife is a reluctant cook. So, if I’m lucky she’ll take over the kitchen on my birthday or Christmas. My friends know that I’m happy with anything as long as they’ve had a go.
What would be your biggest advice for someone getting into that industry?
You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to love people. I think unfortunately the business is full of people that don’t love it. Like any job, there are people who go work everyday and hate what they do and they go home.
What is your favourite food?
Is there anything that you don’t eat?
I’m funny when it comes to textures. Like certain textures put me off. I hate under cooked egg without the yolk and raw carrots are a funny thing, they’re interesting for the first few bites but they need something else. But other than that, I’ll try anything once, almost.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?
In Hong Kong, I’ve eaten a few weird things. Things like pig’s throat. I always try to remember that we’re quite sensitive about things that we don’t associate as food, whereas communities that associate it with food have no problem. The Japanese look at us and go, “Blue cheese. It’s disgusting. It’s mouldy, stinky and horrible” Isn’t it? But we love it.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
Travelling through Vietnam for example, they eat dog. And I go, “No, I don’t need to eat it.” Because I’ve drawn a line in the sand between what I treat as a pet versus what I treat as food.
Do you watch MasterChef?
No. When I walk in the house, if I can hear my own voice I go, “Can you turn over?” It’s a strange thing. It’s also the fact that… I’m 47; I’ve got nothing to lose. If I was 27, I might be a bit more self-conscious, but I don’t mind embarrassing myself. I don’t mind putting myself out there.
What’s your favourite restaurant, besides your own?
If we talk about Sydney, I love Porteno, Chiswick, Sake. The list just keeps going on and on.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Ride motorcycles. Walk. I love my dogs. I’ve got a couple of big rescue dogs. They take up a lot of our time. Molly is 40 kilos, Jango is 45 kilos.
WE WENT TO Aqua Dining, Milsons Point
WE ATE Tuna tartare, congo potatoes, rocket aioli, lime, radishes; Quail, puffed quinoa, grapes, onion & cardamom gel; Blue eye cod, vongole, avocado, broccolo romanesco; Lamb backstrap stuffed with mushroom & chestnut, pumpkin, sherry vinegar
WE DRANK Sparking mineral water.
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