An exclusive interview with MasterChef Australia Judges
If there is one TV show that I watch season on season without fail it is Masterchef Australia. The whole format of the show, the culinary techniques they explore, the warmth between the judges and the contestants, makes the show a stellar watch. For me personally it has also been a journey over years, a journey of learning with Masterchef, so many times I have gone back to read up on something that I heard of in the show, so many times tried to recreate the dishes they made. I started watching the show 4-5 years ago and I don't think I have missed a single episode till date. If I can't watch it on TV, I watch the streaming or record it but every single episode has been watched, some of them more than once.
Last week, the three judges of the show who need no introductions whatsoever were in Bangalore, I have said it again and I repeat, I am an out and out fan girl and have no qualms about admitting it, so when there was an opportunity to interact with them during a press conference, followed by short 1:1 (in my case 1:2 since me and buddy Ruth did it together) interviews, I but naturally lapped it up.
The first thing that strikes you about the three judges is the wonderful equation they have with each other, it is like three best buddies hanging out and doing the stuff they love to do. The camaraderie is heartwarming and inspiring at the same time, I guess it is one of the reasons everyone connects with the show so much. The other things that stands out is honesty and humility, they aren't hesitant to answer anything you ask them, do not expect that adulation or being put on a pedestal by the crowd. Infact, I joked with Matt on a matter of seating and he laughed right back giving me a hug which I hadn't dreamt of. While they were here, they also said that they want to cook and feed the underprivileged kids and they want to do this when the media is not around. So much respect for them.
So without boring you much with my fan girl ramblings, here is the conversation we had. Some as a part of press conference and some as exclusive bits from the interview. All three of them were delight to talk to, passionate about whatever they were sharing. Hope you enjoy reading as well.
Ques : What excites you in Indian food and for all of you it is not the first visit to India, so what brings you back?
George : Oh I love the loud laughter in the park early morning (he means the laughter yoga club at Cubbon Park) but on a serious note, I love how the food scene in Bangalore is. The local chefs are pushing the envelopes and trying such interesting stuff. I also love the variety of spice and experiences you have in India, where else would I sit behind Gary in a motorbike and have to hold him tight because we are passing through the thinnest of streets checking out the spices and food of old Delhi. We have also recognized the big love for Masterchef Australia that exists in India and it does excites us.
Gary : The flavour of Indian food, that's the thing that keeps me coming back. Last visit I had an appam and a dosa, I am a massive massive fan, I try replicated them as well, though I am not very good at it but I try. This morning I was just walking around Russell market amazed by how vibrant everything looks. It's almost hypnotic. When we travelled for our show Far Flung, we covered Rajasthan and tasted some amazing curries that we had never heard about before. The use of spice like asafoetida, lentils and various flours is amazing.
Ques (to Matt) : You are among some of the world's most influential food writers. Do you think India is ready to go international?
Matt : I think India has already gone international, Indian food is in every Australian suburb now, what I think you are really asking is food in India ready to take it to a gastronomic tourist destination, I think there is a big argument that all the Indian chefs that have made it big be it Vikas Khana or Vineet Bhatia, have done it outside India so may be it's a question you need to ask yourself that how do you celebrate your own Chef's and give them space to grow. With Gagan opening in Mumbai it will be interesting to see that curve, however we also need to focus more on local chefs like Chef Chandra who are doing equally great work
Gary (adding on) : I think Indian food in its true form needs to be exported, to be honest we had a wave of Indian immigrants in the 70's and 40 years later people are cooking the same food and then there was another wave of immigration where we had a lot of young folks coming into to study to become qualified chefs, but they didn't bring in their own flavours, when you ask them about Indian dishes they would go "oh I don't know any Indian dishes" because none of them have cooked with their mothers or their grandmothers. I think that is what needs to change and then it needs to be taken to the world. Also at the same time we must remember that when we take these flavours to the world how we present them is important right from the dish to the way the restaurant looks like.
Ques : As a food critic, what do you think of the whole wave of online food writing and reviewing. Specifically the blogs and also the food review websites like Zomato and the likes
Matt : I love the online wave, there is a whole new generation of female online writers coming in Australia. It is so exciting. They come from such a vibrant place and look at food in a whole new different perspective. The point with the social media is that you find your universe of people you trust, you make your circle, I think that is what is exciting. To be honest when I need to eat out, I tweet and ask my circle, like last time I was here I went to Karavalli. The problem with aggregator websites is that you don't know who is writing that review or their credentials. I think at the end of the day there still is space for the critic we love or our favorite blogger, those are here to stay and the essential need is to be able to trust the person who is writing and their judgement.
Ques : People now look up to you almost food heroes, sometimes even as food gods. How do you feel about that?
Gary : Oh yes people respect our opinion when it comes to food but we are very much a part of community, We aren't heroes or Gods.
Ques : But in India, we do tend to look up to people, like when Nidhi was eliminated she touched your feet and even in Australia,as a part of community there will always a certain set of people who will put you up on the pedestal specially the contestants in the show. How do you deal with that?
Matt : I think we feel like we are mentors and teachers to them more than anything else. It is like you have been coaching an under 11 team and then one of them goes and does stuff at the international level. We feel the pride and happiness in a similar way.
Ques : We always see one contestant with an Indian background in the show but more often than not we don't see them reaching far, what do you think is the reason?
Matt : No just look at Rishi, I think he did some phenomenal stuff. I think the problem arises when you come with a set expectation to the show. You have a few dishes that you make brilliantly well and have judges licking their fingers like Nidhi's lemon pepper chicken, Marco loved it, but Masterchef is not about cooking a few dishes or even many dishes well. Masterchef is about pushing your boundaries and trying something new everyday. About rediscovering what you know and if you fail to do that it is the end of the Masterchef journey.
Ques : Do you think reality cooking shows and Masterchef have changed homecooking and the way people look at it now? If yes, how?
Gary : Oh I think immensely, In Australia and in a way all across the world as well. Firstly social media has changed the way we look at food, the way we perceive it, how trends catch on. We look at instagram on our phones and know who is eating what all over the world, you see pickled pink radishes, charred lemons and other small things that you pick cues from and add on to your table. And two, the shows like Masterchef generate a wave of interest around food and change the conversations around them specially for the younger crowd.
Ques : But do you also think, owing to Masterchef homecooks are experimenting with more cooking techniques?
Gary : Oh yes, mums tell me young kids are telling them how to plate up. My daughter comes and tells me how to plate up. It's hilarious. Words like pâte à bombe, foam , these were the things not known to people before and now they are pretty much household knowledge. We have a young girl on the show who is now 19 and she told us when she started watching the show when she was 11 and the way she talks about food, it's amazing. This all in a way a result to the exposure and change happening in home cooking
Ques : This is your third visit to Bangalore, so what are some of your favorites till now?
George : Oh I loved my breakfast at Airlines and this morning the chef at JW Marriott made us this beautiful dosa like thing from Kerala (appam) and served with various chutneys. It was amazing. I specially liked the pineapple chutney and some of the spice powder mixed with ghee and then you dip your appam in it, man delicious.
Ques : What is your take on modernization of a cuisine, what do you think about it? How much of playing around you think is fine.
George : You gotta modernise, your past has to show way to future. We are all creators, we need to drive forward and create. Without creativity nothing around us would exist but at the crux of it as long as it holds on to the essence of the cuisine, we are good just like what may be Manish from Indian Accent is doing. It is very difficult to take something which has deep cultural roots, is set deep in your hearts, the homely motherly cooking which is deep rooted in generations, because one can go horribly wrong there. But Manish has managed to crack it, to hold on to the essence of the cuisine yet keep play around with it and what he creates is delicious stuff.
Ques : It is all over the place but what to you is "Food Porn", what is Matt's idea of food porn
Matt : Ohhhhh, have a look at my instagram feed there is so much of it but at the end of the day I rather have sex than look at it. (and with this we all had a hearty laugh)
And on the happy note, that is all from me. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed interacting with them and then penning this down. For a fan girl, it really was a dream come true
PS: Pictures by the fantastic Mayur Channagere of PhotoMojo, if you need any photography work done your search should end with him
Gary's and George's videos credit Ruth