As we see the top eight contestants of MasterChef Australia season 5 battle it out, celebrity judge Gary Mehigan returns to India, this time, to shoot the pilot for his food travel show. Yoshita Sengupta catches up with the master at the end of his four-city tour and talks to him about life after MasterChef, the formula behind the show’s success and life as a celebrity chef.
You’re working on your own travel show? Tell us more?
I love working on MasterChef but I also love travelling. This show I am working on is about my travels, my take on things. It will mostly be about food in various countries but it will also have occasional detours. For example, I love motorcycles so while shooting the pilot in Chennai, I visited the Royal Enfield factory and actually saw motorcycles being manufactured. It’s a personal journey. We shot in Rajasthan, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and intend to also visit countries like Cambodia, Israel and Argentina.
What happens to MasterChef Australia then?
We have already signed up for season 6 of MasterChef Australia. This show is something on the side. I love being associated with MasterChef. We have all achieved a lot being associated with the show. I feel very blessed to be a part of the team that has delivered such a successful show.
How long before we will be able to see the show?
We are at the very start of the process. The main challenge will be to sell the series of 13 hour-long episodes. But we should hopefully be ready with the show by November or December, 2014. That’ll be perfect, it’ll air immediately after MasterChef Australia ends.
Speaking of travel shows, which is your favourite travel food show?
That has to be Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation and the other is Rick Stein’s travel show. The two of my favourite food travel shows are on the two ends of the spectrum. Anothony Bourdain is a trailblazer and his show is honest, hard and gritty and Rick Stein’s show on the other hand is soft. He is one of the best television presenter in my opinion.
How much harder is it being a ‘celebrity’ chef, than the chef of an award-winning restaurant?
Being a chef in an award winning restaurant is difficult, it’s tough, it’s a lot of hard work. You have to be in closed walls all the time and deliver perfection to the demanding customers every single time. You got to love your job to be a chef at a restaurant. As a celebrity chef, I have met a lot of great chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller and learnt a lot from them. I have also travelled a lot. It has been phenomenal.
What happens to MasterChef contestants after the cameras stop rolling and when they are not in the spotlight?
Throughout the show, we mentor the contestants. We tell them that nobody gets anything on a silver platter and that they have to work very hard and be consistent to do well in the industry. Most contestants become very serious after reaching the top 10. We advise them to not spend their money on opening a restaurant after the show and then losing it all. We instead, ask them to work in the industry, learn, get their experience and then make a big move. Almost all MasterChef contestants are doing very well in the industry. Some work in top restaurants, some have their own TV shows and a few like Julie Goodwin (The winner of the first season of MasterChef Australia) have ended up writing the highest selling cook book with over 3,00,000-4,00,000 copies sold.
MasterChef has been revolutionary. It has transformed the culinary scene in India with housewives attempting and perfecting gourmet dishes and it has resulted to a phenomenal rise of restaurants serving international cuisines and small businesses cropping up in Indian metros. Has it done the same in Australia?
Absolutely. Before MasterChef food shows were consumed by niche audiences who watched lifestyle channels. The shows were only for hardcore foodies. MasterChef managed to reach and appeal to a mass audience. It was a food show that was being telecast on a mass channel on prime time. Most people thought it wouldn’t last for too long.
But it created a huge impact. It opened up a lot of avenues such as food science, nutrition, etc. for people to get involved with the food industry. I have walked into coffee shops and have been told that the reason and inspiration behind setting up the cafe is MasterChef, that’s the kind of impact the show has had.
When you first signed up for it, did you think it would make such an impact?
Not at all.
After 5 years, MasterChef is still as popular, how difficult is it to match up to people’s expectations? What’s the formula?
We have learnt a lot from season 5. The show is all about food and we can’t forget that. The show has to be transparent; if someone or a dish wins then people need to know immediately why the dish or a contestant won. The challenges have to big, bold and exciting and at the same time there need to be a few everyday challenges. There needs to be enough things people can try at home. People should be able to see the potato mash that Gary makes on the show and try it at home. It has to be mix of bold and everyday.