Gary Mehigan, TV HOST, Restaurateur and Chef
My first visit to India was in 2012 – and I have to admit that my perception of Indian cuisine was far different from the reality. I realised that the regional diversity of the cuisine is what makes it unique and stand out from the crowd. The food you savour in south India would not find favour in north India. And the variety of staples available in the west of the country is far different from the east. Recalling my first-ever visit to the Sassoon Docks in Mumbai, I was awestruck by the variety and the quantity of seafood (read: fresh water fish). Moreover, the produce, supplies and quality of food in India has also evolved and improved immensely. Also, young chefs (Indian or of Indian origin) stationed in the USA, Europe or even Australia are now exploring their roots back to India in order to rediscover the local ingredients and indigenous cuisines.
INDIA VS AUSTRALIA
Indians are passionate about politics, entertainment, cricket and last but not the least, their food. Personally, I love Indian food for its texture, spice, crunchiness and freshness, just enough to salivate the palate. However, if we had to compare Australian cuisine with the Indian food culture; then the former is comparatively straightjacketed. I would like to add a point; while local flavours and traditional dishes are the backbone of any cuisine; modernising it or tweaking is what keeps the innovation cycle ticking. Yes, traditionalists might disagree – they insist on leaving the classic butter chicken, paneer masala or even haleem untouched; but I believe that we have to constantly innovate to keep dishes relevant to the changing times. For instance; I would prepare the haleem lighter, younger, add some texture or add chillies. So, you can eat something that looks different, that’s pretty, but inside, it’s like wow! That’s our job as chefs. This is how we perceive it in Australia – lots of innovation, many pretty dishes, scores of dishes that seem familiar but aren’t.
THE ROLE OF SPICES
Spices play a very crucial role in the preparation of any Indian dish. Hence, I was quite intrigued about its use. And through conversations with locals, I have realised that originally, spices were primarily used for medicinal purposes rather than to add flavour to a particular dish.
Whenever I am visiting India I make sure I travel back with a big stock of spices. I am particularly fond of black cardamon or ker sangri, which many cooks are not so fond of. I also carry back lots of smelly things, like flat chilli cakes – you can smash it and use it as seasoning – it’s dried Kashmiri chilli that has been smashed into a paste and then dried in sun. One of the things my Indian friend taught me to do was take the chillies, toss them in yogurt, salt dry them in the sun and you can keep them in the cupboard and snack on them.
Indian cuisine is undergoing a revolution. Hence, India of 2018 is a fabulous place for young, innovative, expressive chefs to create astounding things the world wants to see. The world already doesn’t understand how many different cuisines are available in India. I have learnt that Indian cuisine has thousands of years of history and over the centuries, it has been influenced by migration, partition and through different communities travelling and living together.