Dish: Tell me a bit about how your involvement with South Australian Tourism Commission came about?
Gary: "I still remember my first visit to South Australia soon after my wife and I arrived in Australia. We drove over in our sky blue Nissan bluebird... hard to believe but it was my pride and joy back then…..we worked our way through Penola, the Coonawarra and Hahndorf to Adelaide, then on around the Barrosa, the Clare, McLaren Vale and Fleurieu to Victor Harbour. A holiday we will never forget and the first of many visits in pursuit of great food, wine and places to stay.
Sometimes, as a local, you take for granted how gorgeous your own back yard really is, as a visitor and a tourist I cherish my stays and always want to come back for more. As a foodie I was delighted when SATC asked me if I’d like them to show me a little of the state and city that they love. After that first meeting we felt there was so much more to say and that maybe I was just the guy to say it. For those that don’t know, MasterChef is aired in over 140 countries around the world, its hugely popular in India, Malaysia, South Africa and Europe and the following is enormous. We think that they would love to hear about my experiences, stories and of course my perspective foodie trails and recommendations."
Is it challenging to balance your MasterChef role, your TV chef persona, with your career off-screen?
"It used to be, when I had several businesses, and a busy media career, but I realised recently, time is too precious to not stop and smell the roses, so I have pulled back on my business commitments and are now enjoying more time with my family. I love the simple things and of course travelling, and eating are high on the agenda!"
What do you think sets the South Australian food scene apart?
"There honestly must be something in the water... South Australia’s commitment to food and wine is outstanding and has been for a very long time. You don’t have to look too far to find some of the world’s best wines, artisans, growers and producers dedicated to their craft and championing their state and region. It has become a hot bed for innovation, creativity and best of all, a genuine and innate sense of great hospitality.
It's hard to choose just a few but some outstanding examples would be: Parwana Afghan Kitchen, Shobosho, The Pot by Emma McCaskill, Africola, The Press Food & Wine, Bistro Blackwood, Andres Polenta Bar, Jam Face by Poh Ling Yeow, Magill Estate, Bistro 1918 and FermentAsian in Tanunda, Hentley Farm Seppeltsfield, and the list goes on and on. We hope the South Australian Pop Up Cellar Door, will inspire you to come and visit SA."
Favourite fine dining experience?
"Jock Zonfrillo’s Restaurant Orana, its an absolute must for anyone visiting Adelaide. The food is obviously delicious but so creative and his use indigenous and local ingredients sets the benchmark for all restaurants in Australia."
Favourite street food experience?
"I love travelling, as you know, I love the street food of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Korea….in fact, I salivate just thinking about it. But India is my mecca at the moment, the sheer variety is overwhelming, texture, flavour and pure mastery of often just one thing beautifully and carefully made. I am a massive fan of all the breads and batters that are woven into delicious dishes, puris, pavs, naan, laacha paratha, rumali roti, uppams and of course, the famous dosa."
Favourite person to cook for and why?
"My wife and daughter. I never tire of serving them great food and enjoying a meal together."
What’s the most challenging part of your role as a TV judge?
"The amount of food we have to taste in a day can be exhausting, and tough to keep the weight off. But let's be honest, I wouldn’t change it for the world. The three of us have to kick ourselves sometimes when we think that this little cooking show is now in its tenth year! I feel very lucky to have the opportunity and a great sense of responsibility to guide our contestants towards their goals."
Who (in your opinion) is the most memorable MasterChef winner?
"Julie Goodwin. Series 1, special, it was a gamechanger, not only for food in Australia, but it changed Australian television."
What can Kiwis expect from the South Australian Pop-Up Cellar Door?
"The South Australian Pop-Up Cellar Door will showcase the State’s gorgeous artisan cheeses, local wines, gin and craft beer to Kiwi foodies – offering a little taste to whet the appetite, and make South Australia a first choice for your next foodie holiday!"
What advice would you give a budding chef at the very start of their career?
"Hospitality can be a wonderful career and the secret is to immerse yourself in it. The love of food and genuine generosity of spirit make that easy. The pleasure of feeding people can't be underestimated, the challenge of learning, travelling and of course eating and drinking great food and wine. The other very simple advice is ‘work hard for the best people and best places, not the average ones.'"
Describe your love of food in three words.
"Generous – Delicious - Obsessive."
The South Australian Tourism Commission and Masterchef Australia judge Gary Mehigan's Pop-Up Cellar Door will be at Mr Toms in Ponsonby, from September 7–9. To learn more, see here.