Al­most every wak­ing mo­ment in the life of MasterChef’s Gary Me­hi­gan is re­lated to food – even when he trav­els

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - HOT SEAT - MasterChef airs Sun­day to Thurs­day at 7.30pm on Ten. Me­hi­gan and fel­low judges Matt Pre­ston and Ge­orge Calom­baris are pre­sen­ters at Re­gional Flavours at South Bank on July 16, re­gion­alflavours.com.au ALI­SON WALSH


Af­ter be­gin­ning his ca­reer as a chef in Lon­don, Me­hi­gan moved to Melbourne in 1991. He worked at var­i­ous restau­rants, then opened his own, Fenix, in 2000, fol­lowed by The Boathouse five years later. He has been a co-judge on MasterChef Aus­tralia since it de­buted in 2009. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Mandy and daugh­ter Jenna, 15.

I grew up … on Hayling Is­land, off the south coast of Eng­land. It’s not very big – you can drive around it in about 15 min­utes. It was a lovely place to grow up with fields and back tracks and the fore­shore and the beach. My dad is an en­gi­neer and then taught en­gi­neer­ing; my mother is a cal­ligraphist, and has been the pres­i­dent of The Scribes and Il­lu­mi­na­tors Guild of Eng­land. They refuse to leave the is­land and some of my best friends still live there.

I thought I would be … My grand­fa­ther was a chef based in Lon­don and my dad pointed out that be­com­ing a chef or go­ing into hospi­tal­ity might suit me. I went to col­lege for three years do­ing a diploma in pro­fes­sional cook­ery, then I went to Lon­don and got my­self a job at the Con­naught. At the time it was one of the best ho­tels.

My most trea­sured pos­ses­sion is … a lit­tle col­lec­tion of re­ally old menus and cook­books that my grand­mother gave me. I keep them in the bot­tom drawer of my desk.

The word that best de­scribes me is … I’d love to think of my­self as be­ing an op­ti­mist and hav­ing em­pa­thy and be­ing happy. But at 49 I oc­ca­sion­ally get grumpy. So one of those three and oc­ca­sion­ally grumpy.

My favourite smell is … I love cit­rus, I love or­ange, le­mon and lime zest, vanilla is mes­meris­ing and I love hard herbs like rose­mary, pro­vin­cial herbs that are big and bold. On a hot day it takes you to a place like the south of France.

A book I re­ally en­joyed re­cently is … My daugh­ter is read­ing for school Ge­orge Or­well’s An­i­mal Farm and Al­dous Hux­ley’s Brave New World. I re-read them and loved them. As a kid I read a lot of sci­ence fic­tion – Isaac Asi­mov, Philip K. Dick, Greg Bear. I loved astron­omy as a teenager; I used to lie and look up at the stars. I don’t read a lot of fic­tion but I have a mas­sive cook­book col­lec­tion. A song that I can’t help singing along to is … as an ut­ter dag, Katy Perry’s Hot n Cold, the theme tune of MasterChef. It should be The Cure’s Fri­day I’m in Love; I love that song. The ques­tion I’m most of­ten asked is … is the food cold when you eat it on MasterChef? Quite of­ten, but it never changes a de­li­cious dish.

For a Sun­day lunch at home, I cook … I love Viet­namese food and the fam­ily loves things like rice-pa­per rolls. I’m a big tex­ture junkie, I love crunch – deep-fried shal­lots and gar­lic and crispy el­e­ments and pickly things. The kind of restau­rants I like with my fam­ily are … I al­ways go back to ones where I feel most com­fort­able, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the best food but were the most wel­com­ing. I go to a lit­tle place called Thirty Eight Chairs (in South Yarra, Melbourne) and they’re charm­ing. I love that; here, take my money and make me feel a mil­lion bucks.

I also eat out at … for pro­fes­sional in­ter­est in the top restau­rants, some­times with Matt (Pre­ston) and Ge­orge (Calom­baris). What you en­joy is about time and place. You can eat a $1.25 taco and it can be the best thing right there and then. You can have an ex­pen­sive meal when you’re not in the right mood: per­fect de­liv­ery, im­per­fect ex­pe­ri­ence. Lots of restau­rants for­get that the cus­tomer is num­ber one. The ques­tion is, would you go back? It can be that every­thing was done beau­ti­fully but there was noth­ing that drew you in.

An in­gre­di­ent I’m lov­ing at the mo­ment is … all chilli condi­ments, I’m a chilli freak – crunchy chilli sauce, sam­bal oelek, lots of dif­fer­ent In­done­sian sam­bals that I’ve made and stored, pick­led chill­ies, chilli and soy, sriracha, it goes on and on. The whole top shelf in my fridge is ded­i­cated to them and has spread to a door shelf full of chilli condi­ments.

I re­lax by … go­ing out to eat. Every­thing in my life re­volves around food. I go on hol­i­days to Italy not to see the Pan­theon or Colos­seum but for the food. I want to go to Viet­nam but I’ll go in rainy sea­son, it doesn’t mat­ter; street food’s the same as in the dry sea­son.

My worst habit is … I’m ha­bit­u­ally on time, I find, even frus­trat­ing my­self. Of­ten I find my­self hav­ing to kill half an hour be­cause I am so on time.

My great­est fear is … not liv­ing a good life; none of us wants to lie on our death bed think­ing should have, could have. And heights.

What you en­joy is about time and place. You can eat a $1.25 taco and it can be the best thing right there and then

Gary Me­hi­gan, whose dad sug­gested ‘be­com­ing a chef might suit me’. Pic­ture: David Kelly

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