When you have two culinary wizards cooking up a delicious storm at one of the finest dining destinations, what do you get? A memorable evening celebrating the ‘joy of food’. This is exactly what happened when at Le Cirque, the uber chic restaurant of The Leela Palace, New Delhi, Australian MasterChef Gary Mehigan and Executive Chef Adrian Mellor showcased their cooking style, talked about their love for India, and a lot more on the finer aspects of food.
Mehigan was in his best jovial self, riding high for being in India creating special menus for the World on a Plate charity event in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi respectively.
As expected the conversation at the table started with the upcoming MasterChef Season Nine.
‘A Pot of Carrots’ arrives and the diners look at this first course with much curiosity, while Gary is telling, “The upcoming season is going to be special and I am looking forward to the two contestants who are teenagers, aged 18 and 19, who’ve literally grown up watching the show.”
Meanwhile, the dish of slow cooked baby carrot with carrot puree, crumbed black olives and deep fried curry leaves, is being lapped up.
Gary’s love for India is well known and the curry leaves is no surprise for his much wanted “Indian touch”.
“I think youngsters’ desire to experiment is laudable,” Gary was saying. “I would not dare to be so bold with my preparations and would rather play it safe.”
He also mentioned another highlight of the upcoming show and that was cooking on Australia’s picturesque salt plains, which meant setting up a fully functional industrial kitchen among the brine sands.
Both Gary and Adrian love India. Gary has spent time studying about Mumbai’s dabbawalas, walked in Old Delhi by-lanes of Chandni Chowk, commuted in autos, collected spices and eaten street food straight off the hawkers. “I just love the rich variety that Indian food offers and every time I learn something new,” says the effervescent chef who is now an expert on making dosas, appams and potato bhaji at home.
Having joined The Leela Palace recently, Adrian too is happy to be in India. “It is the best time to be in India, people are willing to experiment with cuisines and cultural inspirations on their plate, spending capacity is great and food is one of the foremost gratifying experiences people like to spend on,” he says recalling his wonderful stint at The Oberoi Rajvilas earlier in his career.
Gary gets up to check if his second course of ‘Watermelon and Prawn’ has been plated as he wants and swiftly comes back elated. “Yes, all done,” he beams and starts telling about his younger days when he was growing up in his native south coast of England. “You know I actually wanted to be an engineer like my dad but became a chef like my grandfather probably because I didn’t have that sense of structured discipline you need for engineering but I did have the manic energy you need for the kitchen,” he laughed.
Both maestros have had their rewarding moments. For Adrian, the most rewarding moment in his career has been to cook a Reunion dinner for 150 Chinese guests, who wanted to see the Chinese chef who they thought had prepared their meal and not wanting to believe that the entire meal could be curated and prepared by a non-Chinese chef. Another very rewarding experience was to curate a sit down dinner for 5000 guests in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordon. While for Gary, to run his own Melbourne restaurant, ‘The Boathouse’, working on charity dinners, books and be such a popular face on the TV MasterChef has been really a game changer.
The next two courses are chef Mellor’s – ‘Turbot and Curry’ comprising a grilled fillet of turbot fish with a tempura of courgette flowers and a Thai green curry emulsion with crispy quinoa. Another one ‘Duck and Cherries’ is a plating of a roast fillet of duck cooked on the bone, glazed with acacia honey and black pepper, juice of artichoke, and a little bit of pickled plum to give it a sour taste with confit of duck leg and new season cherries and red wine sauce.
Now at the peak of their career, the two successful chefs can perhaps give mantra on what skills make a good chef. Adrian tells, “Having common sense and a good work ethic is important. Nothing could have prepared me for my journey as there are no text book ready solutions which prepare us to deal with the surprise elements that our job allows us to tackle at all times. But if one derives absolute joy from cooking and curating dining experiences, other aspects are peripheral.”
Gary marks the two Michelin starred restaurants that were the most formative in his early career, as The Connaught Hotel under Michel Bourdan where he worked for almost 4 years and Le Souffle at The Hyde Park Intercontinental under Peter Kromberg. But it is Gary as a food tourist that teaches him what no one can. Gary who loves to go on a bike scouting the city, unravel culture and traditions behind a recipe, cook on the beach in Chennai…. And for him, no better place than India for teachings and soirees like that.
No wonder, this was his sixth visit to the country and he nurtures a dream of exploring India in his way and not come and go on a packed schedule.
‘Joy of Food’ – Exclusive Menu curated by Australian MasterChef Gary Mehigan and Adrian Mellor, Executive Chef of The Leela Palace, New Delhi
‘Little pot of carrots’
Confit of carrots, burnt orange & miso, carrot bark, black olive biscuit
Slow cooked carots, with a carrot puree, black olive crumbs and deep fried curry leaves
‘Watermelon & prawn’
Watermelon, prawn, prawn oil, white tarama, mini prawn crackers
Compressed watermelon with poached prawns, blanched almonds, salted cod roe
‘Turbot & curry’
Fillet of turbot, courgette flower, thai curry emulsion, citrus peel, almonds
Braised fillet of turbot, tempura of the zucchini flower, emulsion of thai green curry, crispy quinoa, tomato shell fish sauce
‘Duck & cherries’
Malabar pepper and acacia honey roasted duck, Jerusalem artichoke soubise, pickled plum, confit fritter
Roast fillet of duck cooked on the bone, glazed with acacia honey and black pepper, juice of artichoke, little bit of pickled plum to give it a sour taste, confit of duck leg and new season cherries and red wine sauce
‘Mango & lavender’
Mango Eton Mess, lavender meringue, white chocolate crumb
Mangoes with mango sorbet, fresh cream infused with lavender meringue and white chocolate crumbs.