Bangalore went into a tizzy recently when the three superstars of Masterchef Australia visited the city as part of World on a Plate (WOAP) food festival. The event took place across two major venues placed side by side - the JW Marriott - Bengaluru and UB City. JW Marriott also played host to Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris for the busy weekend which saw master classes, pop-ups and interactions galore.
I had the pleasure of interacting with each of the three judges at the end of the press conference for WOAP, albeit for a short while. I came away with some interesting observations and thoughts from each one on the culinary scene both in India and internationally.
Naturally the conversation centered on food and all three were unanimous in their praise of Executive Chef Anthony En Yuan Huang and particularly spoke of the Kerala special breakfast he had organized for them by bringing in a chef from the Marriott Kochi. That set the ball rolling for the rest of the conversation.
In fact Gary went on to say, "If the chef who cooked our breakfast were to open a restaurant in Australia, it would be packed. But, at the same time, it couldn't be a traditional Indian restaurant that looks like the Taj Mahal, it needs to have specific theme, an idea and will need to be trendy and new". Which led me to my first question...
Indian Food on the International Spectrum
Gary believes that Indian food just needs to be exported and says that what drives tourism is local stories- where the good restaurants and markets are, and it all comes together to become a foodie experience. "When we come to India, we are lost - it's about wanting to know where the good dosas are, or where the best new Indian food is at and it's about exporting those ideas. Particularly south Indian, because we don't get too much of it. Even when it comes to North Indian food, our exposure is limited".
Gary and George both spoke of the good work that Manish Mehrotra is doing with Indian Accent. "Manish is doing some amazing stuff," says George. "For chefs like Manish and or even I, food is culturally deep in our hearts. To take something culturally embedded and give it a modern twist, can go wrong in many ways. But Manish has managed to keep it on the straight and narrow and is doing a fabulous job". George also went on to speak about his close friend Sat Bains and his restaurant in Britain. "A Punjabi who is not cooking Indian per se, but is doing something spectacularly wonderful".
On this visit to Bengaluru, the trio also visited the Permit Room and were all praises for the young chefs. George recalls, "When they came out, I just grabbed them and had them take me into the kitchen and show me how they make their paratha. We just stood there together as cooks and had a moment, and did what cooks do - discuss, chat and take pictures of how things are done. These boys are taking your (Indian) cuisine and giving it that touch of modernizing that takes it to a new level."
Cooking Reality Shows and Us
We watch the shows, we cheer for participants, some win and some don't. How much does a cooking reality show contribute to building a career in the culinary world I ask Matt? "With our show at least, 75% of the contestants end up in a food-based career. One of them fronts a kids TV food quiz show and we also have a physiotherapist who now cooks at one of the 6 best restaurants in the world. It's all about 'find your dream and follow it'. I recently met Nidhi from our Season 8 show in Adelaide and she is now planning to open a small cook shop serving her specialty curries and it is definitely going to do well".
Matt at 8 years of age.
Such cooking shows have also changed the way we cook at home. We pay more attention to ingredients, seasonality and even plating! Gary agrees and says, "It is also in the usage of words like crema or pâte à bombe or to even consider a croquembouche. People did not know of the different types of foams and crumbles. We have a girl on this year's show, Nicolette, who is 19 years old. She told us that she was 11 years when Masterchef started and it is so obvious from the way she talks about food that she has learned so much. If I look back at my career 20 years ago, I wasn't talking about food the way she is. It is amazing".
When Food Discussions Go Online
Gary agrees that social media has changed the way people think about food. "We can look on our phones and check out what happened at Noma last night or what's on at Huxley in San Francisco for breakfast. You can see them get in pink radishes or a charred and pureed lemon and so on. These are things that you can pick on so easily".
I also had to ask Matt about his thoughts on online review sites and how they fare for restaurants. He says is that the problem with aggregator sites is that you do not know the people who write for them and therefore cannot establish a relationship. With personal blogs and websites you tend to understand the writers better. That being said, as a writer for any outlet, your reputation is on the line each time you put up something because people want to go and have the same experience. It is important to filter out the fluff and look for the good stuff, among the writers".
his passion for food is palpable
This is also what Matt does when steps out - "I put out a request on my social media, because I think social media should be an outward thing where you ask for advice. Based on such advice I visited Karavalli at the Taj Gateway, Bengaluru and my God! What a man Chef Naren is; still going strong for close to 26 years and his food..." Now that is something wonderful that comes out of online media as well.
The three gentlemen were every bit as gracious and affable as you see them on TV. Their knowledge of food and abilities to express those thoughts make you long for more time to converse. Perhaps another day and another time!
Image Credit - Mayur Channagere/Photomojo