Reality TV show judges are not, as a species, known for their cheerful and helpful personae — at least, not the popular ones. So it came as no surprise that when Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris joined these ranks as the judges of the hugely popular Masterchef Australia, what struck most viewers was just how nice they were. When the two visited Mumbai recently, as part of the Australian culture festival Oz Fest, they maintained that popularity, despite showing up an hour late for a press conference. “Sorry guys,” Gary said, looking contrite. “We were busy experiencing your city — you know, the traffic.” The two then entered into a gossipy discussion about their dinner last night. “We had dosas. God, I love malpua,” said George.
Gary and George are, expectedly, quizzed keenly on their opinions on Indian food and its popularity – or lack thereof. Is Indian food not innovative enough for the world stage, asks one person from the back rows. “Well no... it can be difficult to get past tradition which can sometimes bind you,” says Gary slowly and carefully. “But the basics should be kept intact while still innovating for the world stage. That is something that Spain has done very well.”
They also judge the food prepared by a nervous-looking bunch of hospitality students. The students’ attempts at innovation are met with a somewhat quizzical reception. “Why are these vegetables here? And this fish?” says Gary between mouthfuls. “If it’s not really needed, take it off the plate.” At one point George asks the students: “What would you eat with this korma at home?”
Potatoes and onions, says one in a near whisper. “So put potatoes and onions,” the judge says bluntly. “There’s so much you can do with an onion — fry it, cook it slowly or fast, caramelise it, purée it, roast it, or cook it in an oven for 12 hours on very low heat so that it melts in your mouth.”
“How popular is Indian food internationally,” pipes up another person at the end of the press conference. Gary and George exchange the briefest glance before turning back to the question with a mixture of honesty and politeness that will be familiar to any fan of their show. “In the UK, Indian food was very popular because Indian restaurants would stay open very late, and they would be where people would go eat after a night of drinking,” says Gary. In Australia, however, the scenario is not so bright. “There are some places that serve really bad Indian food, and so Australians think that, okay, this is what Indian food is like. Now that I’ve come here and tasted this,” says George, waving his fork with a chunk of chicken stabbed on it, “I know Indian food is a lot better than that. This, this sings in my mouth!”