My Observations of Gary Mehigan

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Photo courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

Gary Mehigan is my favourite of the three judges on Masterchef Australia. I also think that he is the key to
winning the show, if only people would follow what he says and what he likes. For instance, if you watch closely you will see that if you can make the perfect pork crackling the way that Gary likes it, then you’re safe from elimination and probably well on your way to stardom. Thankfully I don’t have to please Gary each time I cook, but I do want to improve the way I cook so I’ve been observing Gary, his likes and dislikes, and taking in his advice so that I can take on board as much as I can without having to sign up to a cooking class.

Hey, it’s worked so far. Three years on and I can now say I cook, and I do it pretty damn well!
Here are a few of my observations about Gary. These will keep you safe on Masterchef or just help you with some background food knowledge:
  • Gary doesn’t like his meat undercooked or overcooked. He might forgive a slight undercook, but he will eliminate you the second you bring him overcooked meat – and it doesn’t matter whether its beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, quail or anything else. Be especially careful of overcooking your seafood though, because this is sin upon sin to Gary. In this respect, Gary and I don’t see eye to eye. I want my meat as dead as possible, but I’m learning about respecting the product and producing greater quality dishes from this observation.

  •  Gary likes Asian food, including South East Asia especially, but also sub-continent Asian too (in other words, Indian). He loves curries and laksas and anything reminiscent of Rick Stein (i.e. with a Malaysian twist). He likes his sauces with bold flavours and he loves a bit of heat so be sure to add chilli to your Asian inspired food, cause without it you’re walking the plank this week. I’m using this observation to make sure I pay attention to flavours and their combinations and its working really well.

  • Gary likes traditional foods cooked in traditional ways. He’s not much into the deconstructed foods that fellow Masterchef judge George Calombaris is a fan of. Gary likes his meat pies rustic like in the country, and his lamb heartily cooked. I suspect he’s the driving force behind the reappearance of Maggie Beer for each season of Masterchef. Check out his Beef Onion and Guinness Pie from Masterchef 2012. Hopefully you’ve got plenty of time to make this one cause you’ll need around 3 hours, but it’ll be totally worth it in the end. I agree with traditional and hearty meals, but I’ve already got traditional views so I haven’t really learnt much from this observation myself, other than hearty foods bring satisfied smiles all around the table.

  • Gary has a sweet tooth when it comes to desserts. He will happily lap up anything that has a good cream, ice cream or crème anglaise with it. Forget the creamy accompaniment and forget the title. Make that ice cream full of flavour, make sure that custard doesn’t split and don’t overbeat the cream and you’re onto a winner. Don’t forget to make a smashing dessert to accompany the cream or it wasn’t worth presenting it in the first place.

  • Gary likes his pasta al dente. Never ever overcook pasta or he will say it doesn’t have enough flavour or that it’s stodgy and never ever mix your pasta with tongs, especially when it’s overcooked, as you’ll destroy the delicate body and shape of the pasta. Liliana learnt this mistake this year with her pasta entre in one of the early episodes. Since observing this gem I have made a conscious decision to make sure I cook the pasta better and I don’t just throw any old pasta in any old sauce and just toss it back anymore. I make it quality pasta and quality sauce (homemade by me) and I think about how to cook it and how I can combine the foods together for the best results.

  • Gary loves his butter. He’ll add it to mashed potatoes and use it to cook with in so many dishes. It adds flavour where olive oil wont. It’s essential in the pastry dishes Gary makes, and Gary does love a tart or a torte or a quiche. This is one observation I have struggled with. I grew up in the low-fat world and didn’t try butter until I was an adult. I have since swapped to using it rather than margarine because its less processed and I always use it when cooking white fish as it gives a better flavour than oil. I still haven’t been game enough to try my own pastry making, but I’m almost there!

  • Gary’s expression says it all, and if it doesn’t, he’ll voice his opinion loud and clear. He will roll each flavour over his lips and tongue, he’ll savour each bite and he’ll think carefully about the combinations of foods or flavours on the plate. He is a genuine connoisseur of food and he genuinely loves his food and wants it to be the best. He won’t take something that has no flavour or hasn’t had any thought put into it. Creative is good to Gary, and ingenuity is best. I cherish this observation and have made it my own. I taste everything I make, except the red meat, and I make sure the food is prepared to my tastes before I serve it. I want flavourful foods and I don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve been given a bland bowl of mush to eat when they come to my house. And just like Gary, my husband also voices his opinion loud and clear, and thankfully its usually in the positive after he’s tasted each meal I make.

I’ve also read a few of Gary’s cookbooks and I love his homemade traditional meals. I feel like I can connect with them and replicate them at home. His recipes are not too hard, nor too fancy, and usually I don’t have to search through exotic spice markets or Indian and Asian grocers to find the ingredients. It’s just a simple trip to the grocery store.
I really loved Gary’s cookbook ‘Comfort Food’ and I even made a few of the recipes. I found the recipe for the raspberry muffins interesting. I made these and quite enjoyed them. I also looked at Gary’s cookbook with George Calombaris called ‘Your Place or Mine’. I definitely favoured Gary’s food over George’s in this one, but I was pushed for time when I borrowed this cookbook from the library and never had a chance to make anything from it. I’ll have to rectify that.
I’ve been to Gary’s restaurant ‘Boathouse’ in Melbourne and I really loved it. I’ve been three times: for coffee, for breakfast and for dinner. Breakfast was the standout of the three for me. We rushed over one morning because we’d called ahead to book a table and we could only get one for half an hour until the brunch crowd turned up. It was a really busy place, but the waiters are great, the food was wonderful and I loved the atmosphere – though it could have been because I was sitting next to the lovely warm wood fire!
Gary has also appeared on Boys Weekend, a show where he and three other Australian celebrity chefs went camping and shared the cooking. Some really great ideas came out of that show, with Gary’s stewed fruit being my favourite. The twist is that he makes it from dried fruit because it’s much easier to carry that while camping.
My version of Gary’s Pita Kofta recipe

Gary appeared on The Living Room a few weeks back and made a really wonderful Pita Kofta. I replicated the dish last week, swapping the pita for a homemade pizza base and the lamb mince for thin slices of lamb fillet and my husband went nuts with happiness. Perhaps you’ll want to try it too?
Whether you’re interested in Masterchef or not, you can learn a lot by watching and listening to what a celebrity chef can tell you. Gary Mehigan gets his hands dirty and he knows what he’s talking about because he does it himself. For me, that’s a really important part of my cooking adventures and its helped me to learn some very valuable skills.
If you love Gary, or have observed something else Gary does, leave a comment. Likewise, if you can’t stand him, tell me why.
Good luck!

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