The Mas­ters of Plates

Masterchef Aus­tralia judge Gary Me­hi­gan and The Leela Palace, Delhi’s Chef Adrian Mel­lor cu­rate a menu that’s high on in­spi­ra­tion

India Today - - FACE OFF - By PRACHI BHUCHAR Pho­to­graphs By YASIR IQBAL

THERE’S A BIT OF BOTH OF them on each plate even though they own sep­a­rate cour­ses. The lit­tle pot of car­rots ly­ing on a soil of black olives served as first course kicks up a giddy storm as it harks back to a dish (or a few) rem­i­nis­cent of the show our host for the evening is syn­ony­mous with. Chef Gary Me­hi­gan is less known as a chef, more cov­eted as an eight-time judge of Masterchef Aus­tralia, the show that brought flavours from around the world into our homes when it de­buted in 1998. The Aus­tralian way of life, the bon­homie on the show, the bro-code per­fected by the judges and the fairy­tale-like end­ing for an or­di­nary con­tes­tant liv­ing his food dream ap­pealed to the In­dian au­di­ence that lapped it all up and is still do­ing so, nine years on.

At Le Cirque at The Leela Palace, Delhi, for the chef’s ta­ble that Me­hi­gan is host­ing, the sec­ond course of water­melon and prawn is helmed by Bri­tish chef Adrian Mel­lor, the man who runs the show here.

At first glance the two chefs seem to have noth­ing in com­mon, but scratch the surface and they are es­sen­tially bound by their love of cre­ation. As the ex­ec­u­tive chef of the restau­rant, Mel­lor is used to putting dishes to­gether that re­flect the ethos and in­tegrity of the ho­tel brand. The two stars come to­gether to cre­ate a five-course menu that breathes fire and honey, throws colour onto tex­ture, com­bines silli­ness with oomph and gen­eros­ity with cut­ting-edge style. In con­ver­sa­tion with In­dia To­day Spice, the food­ies dis­cuss their work, the world of In­stafood and the art of do­ing good food right.

What is your ear­li­est food mem­ory?

Gary Me­hi­gan My ear­li­est food mem­ory probably re­volves around my grand­fa­ther who was a chef and a big in­spi­ra­tion. He used to keep choco­late in the cup­board wrapped in wax pa­per. There was al­ways a mas­sive block there and my sis­ter and I would nib­ble at it and wrap it back up, com­plete with our teeth marks. It was only later that we re­alised that he put it there just for us. I re­mem­ber how it tasted till date. It was a cou­ver­ture and at that age I didn’t have the palate for it but I know I loved it.

Adrian Mel­lor I grew up in Eng­land and I re­mem­ber my mum making cheese and onion pie, pea soup with lamb shank. I used to live on cheese and ketchup sand­wiches at one stage as well be­cause both my par­ents were work­ing full time. Even to­day, I love those cheese and ketchup sand­wiches.

De­scribe your style of cook­ing

GM When I was work­ing in Lon­don I had a mod­ern French and clas­sic food back­ground and with that I ar­rived in Aus­tralia which was deeply in­flu­enced by its im­mi­gra­tion. There were all th­ese new flavours pop­ping out and I found my­self pick­ing up things like rice rolls, lily buds, man­darin that I had not ever seen or touched. I love see­ing and smelling new food and ask­ing na­tives how to cook with it. I am big on cre­at­ing com­fort food with the dial turned up so that it is so­phis­ti­cated. I ab­so­lutely love big flavours and good sauces. I be­lieve that with food the heart of it has got to have a de­li­cious el­e­ment that can carry the en­tire dish. A smart pop of flavour is the bench­mark.

AM I be­lieve that your style changes all the time and de­pends on who you are cook­ing for. Chefs to­day have to be adapt­able and un­less you run your own place, in a multi-cui­sine en­vi­ron­ment like a ho­tel, you

have to be able to do any­thing and every­thing. There are de­mands in an or­gan­i­sa­tion and by the cus­tomer as well. While I learnt clas­si­cal French and then mod­ern Euro­pean in my early days I am quite ver­sa­tile and don’t have any one dis­tinct style of cook­ing. When in doubt I al­ways go back to clas­sics. I avoid stuff that I am not con­fi­dent with.

What is your take on food trends? What are some of the top trends we are see­ing?

GM I love food trends and I be­lieve that what we are left with once they fall away are ac­tu­ally the best bits. I think you need in­no­va­tors to risk every­thing to follow a dream and as a far as trends go, as a chef I am pleased that overtly molec­u­lar food is gone but what’s left works. If we look at current trends I think chefs to­day have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of lo­cal and na­tive in­gre­di­ents. In Aus­tralia we went through an un­cer­tain pe­riod as chefs didn’t un­der­stand how to work th­ese na­tive in­gre­di­ents but that has changed. Peo­ple are also eating more veg­gies, so there is less of an em­pha­sis on meat. We have been through a pe­riod of sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of cui­sine where we cel­e­brated prove­nance but to­day chefs are wrestling back tem­po­rar­ily parked ideas and bring­ing back lots of tech­ni­cal and con­cep­tual dishes. The other big trend I see is that so­cial me­dia feeds food in­ter­est be it In­sta­gram or videos or shar­ing of recipes. I also think con­cep­tual desserts are big.

AM All trends serve a pur­pose at the time. For it to be­come a trend it has to be pop­u­lar. Noth­ing is over­rated be­cause I think at core of it is a good idea. Peo­ple are im­pa­tient and get bored of some of th­ese trends hence they get pushed into the over­rated zone. Take molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy. We have got so many good things out of it so one re­ally can’t say that all of it was worthless. As far as current trends go, I think there is a move to do more veg­e­tar­ian food glob­ally as very lit­tle is avail­able.

Does the world need Miche­lin stars?

GM I think we use what­ever medium we have to bench­mark how well we are do­ing, be it in the form of lo­cal food guides, Top 50, so­cial me­dia, food blog­gers, hats or stars. In the food in­dus­try, we need an ac­co­lade that is a trusted source and the Miche­lin does that for Europe and Amer­ica and is slowly making its way to other parts of the world as well. I think Miche­lin stars are im­por­tant be­cause the award is trusted world­wide.

AM I think food needs a trusted body it can keep go­ing back to. I grew up in a Miche­lin era when it was very tough to get stars. It is now more spread out and le­nient but none­the­less some­thing chefs as­pire to get and es­pe­cially in Europe it is highly revered.

What’s bet­ter, lo­cal or im­ported in­gre­di­ents?

AM If you want things to be made in In­dia there has to be a level of trust about the source of your in­gre­di­ents. Un­for­tu­nately given the sup­ply chain and weather con­di­tions, by the time pro­duce comes in through my door, it is not al­ways us­able. We un­doubt­edly have to look lo­cal but I also get my share of Euro­pean in­gre­di­ents. We are still not fully lo­cal.

GM In Aus­tralia at least, lo­cal in­gre­di­ents have been big for the last few years as prove­nance is key. As a re­sult peo­ple are dis­cov­er­ing in­gre­di­ents that were off the radar for ages. Most chefs the world over are turn­ing to lo­cal, sea­sonal pro­duce as it is the eas­i­est way to cook and makes plan­ning menus sim­ple.

OF GELS AND FOAMS The gim­micky molec­u­lar food has been re­placed by stuff that works

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