There is something truly infectious about Gary Mehigan’s love of food. From his successful restaurants Fenix and The Boathouse, to nine years judging MasterChef Australia, Gary’s utter joy for food carries through everything he does with one distinct end goal: to share the pleasure of eating with others.
Where did your passion for food come from?
I think from eating – that’s the short answer for that! Honestly, it’s the pure pleasure of food and eating, and I became a chef because I enjoy feeding other people. If you want to really go back to my roots, my grandfather was a chef. That’s the initial reason why I became a chef. He was retired by the time I made sense of what he would cook at home and how delicious his food was, and all those little touches that made the difference. I remember eating cabbage that he would cook, compared to the cabbage that my mother would cook – they were chalk and cheese! He would bake bread, he had an incredible garden full of produce, and I fondly remember all of that. Whenever we went to his house, we were fed very well.
You moved from the UK to Australia in 1991 and we’ve been lucky enough to keep you! What inspired you to move here?
Travel! My girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I backpacked around Canada. Australia, New Zealand and Asia were all on our hit list. I had the intention of coming for a year or two, but we landed and fell in love with it very, very quickly.
You’ve had a truly incredible career, from owning the hatted Fenix restaurant for 14 years, to your long-standing restaurant The Boathouse, television shows such as Good Chef Bad Chef, Boys Weekend and of course MasterChef Australia. What would you say has been been your greatest achievement thus far?
I’m not dead yet, so I can’t necessarily say I have had my greatest achievement. But now, I really think I would put MasterChef up there as one of my greatest achievements. I feel very lucky and I think for a long time the three of us were almost in denial about it. We thought it was a prime-time food show, it was never going to last longer than a couple of years. But now this is the ninth season! It has contributed in a very real way to Australia’s food landscape, touching a different, younger generation who have learnt a lot from it. I am very proud to be part of that.
What has been your most memorable culinary experience?
The list goes on! I’m going to give you a chalk and cheese. One would have to be Mugaritz in San Sebastián in Spain. We got lost on the way there, we were an hour late, we were stressed, arguing and not looking forward to it by that point. Then when we got there, we were sitting under this giant oak tree in the garden, eating what looked like little pebbles but were in fact little baked potatoes in clay with a very intense garlic aioli, sipping a couple of aperitifs – and suddenly we realised life’s not so bad. On the flip side, one of my other fondest memories is travelling through Laos. I fell in love with the town of Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Just eating street food there
was unbelievable. I ate deep-fried locusts, I ate duck off charcoal, I ate wasp larvae. One experience was very expensive, and one was very cheap, but they are equally as memorable and delicious.
You’ll be heading up to Brisbane again this year for Regional Flavours. What keeps drawing you back to the event?
I think it’s a great foodie event. It showcases Brisbane and Queensland, its top chefs and best producers. Brisbane has changed enormously over the last decade. South Bank has been instrumental in reinvigorating Brisbane’s lifestyle and given it a foodie edge that we wouldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. Plus, I always look forward to discovering new incredible local producers!
Do you have any fond memories of dining at South Bank?
Stokehouse Q is always a fantastic experience. Also GOMA Restaurant is absolutely amazing – we had chef Josue Lopez on the show this year. He is a true star, doing some amazing things.