8 QUESTIONS WITH GARY MEHIGAN

8 Questions with TV chef Gary Mehigan: Asian flavours fascinate him

Gary Mehigan. -- PHOTO: FYI
Gary Mehigan. -- PHOTO: FYI

English-Australian chef Gary Mehigan finds his favourite roast chicken plain in comparison

Tasting Asian food has made English-Australian chef Gary Mehigan question why he likes roast chicken, after relishing "such an assortment of flavours on my palate".

The 47-year-old said: "Asian food has such a variety of flavours - it's hot, sour, bitter, sweet and salty. Roast chicken does seem quite plain in comparison."

He tried a variety of Asian food, including roast goose meat in Hong Kong, while filming his latest television show, Far Flung With Gary Mehigan.

In the show, he heads to India, Laos, Vietnam, South Korea and Hong Kong to try the food and also cook for the people - he prepared food for Laotian monks in one episode.

The motorbike lover, who rides into the mountains outside Melbourne in his free time, can be seen biking on the show. He rode a Royal Enfield Continental GT in India and travelled around Hanoi on a little Honda scooter.

The six episodes of the show will be screened at 9pm on Tuesdays. It premieres tomorrow on American television network FYI (StarHub channel 404), previously known as BIO.

Mehigan is also a judge on Masterchef Australia, which is going into its seventh season. He trained at The Connaught and Le Souffle restaurants in London before moving to Melbourne in 1991. He also owns a catering company, Big Events Kitchen.

He and his wife Mandy, in her 40s, have been married for 24 years and they have a teenaged daughter.

1 How do you think Far Flung sets itself apart from other cooking shows?

I suppose what sets it apart would be that audiences get to see a more informal side of me, compared to my formal self as a Masterchef judge.

I hope viewers will like my take on a dish and hopefully, they will be inspired to turn the TV off and start cooking.

2 What stood out for you while doing the show?

What surprised me was how spices in India are so raw and fresh - the locals just add a pinch of turmeric, star anise or ground fennel seed to a completed dish, as compared to cooking the spices in oil.

Also, I was surprised that bread in southern India is made by fermenting a batter made of daal, lentils and rice.

I was also fascinated by the differences among the places. In Laos, the villagers would sell things laid out on mats - like honey in a bottle, fresh from the honeycomb, or vegetables from their backyard or even bats on a stick. In Delhi, the spice markets were much more commercial and bustling. There were people pushing carts with rice or rock salt.

3 What was the greatest challenge you faced while filming the show?

It would be travelling with over 400kg of filming gear and taking 12 flights in 12 days while visiting Vietnam and Laos. I now have a new appreciation for airports and am much more patient in a queue.

4 What were some of your favourite food?

I liked Vietnamese food such as banh mi, a baguette with fillings that include seasoned pork belly and cucumber slices; and bun cha, which is a dish of grilled fatty pork served over white rice noodles with herbs and a dipping sauce. I also loved the tteokbokki in Korea, which are chewy rice cakes in hot chilli paste.

5 What was the most challenging dish you ate?

It would probably be the skate fish, a fermented delicacy in South Korea, as it had a soft cartilage and so many small bones. It also smelt strongly of ammonia but the Koreans love it. I might give it another go on my next visit there.

6 Do you eat more Asian food now?

I've been eating a lot more curries and rice breads like dosa and appam, as well as duck and fish larb from Laos, as I love their flavours. My fridge looks entirely different these days.

Before filming the show, I always thought that kimchi was just cabbage with hot chilli sauce. However, I have realised that they form a whole sub- section of vegetables, which are salted, fermented and preserved. I'd like to make kimchi myself now.

7 How is your cooking style like?

My cooking style is firmly founded in classic French food. I also like Spanish and Italian cooking, though I'll be cooking more Asian food now. I'm less concerned about my food looking delicate or beautiful. It's more important that it is delicious and heartwarming.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I'd like to be remembered as a happy, engaged, enthusiastic and generous person.

sarahgyx@sph.com.sg

Far Flung With Gary Mehigan premieres tomorrow on FYI (StarHub channel 404). The six episodes of the show will air on Tuesdays at 9pm.