Dish It Out: Celebrity Chef Gary Mehigan

Nov 30 2023.

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How do our food experts cook and eat? This week, the internationally acclaimed celebrity chef and former MasterChef Australia judge, Gary Mehigan, takes our Q&A as he arrives in Sri Lanka for a highly anticipated three-day culinary extravaganza presented in partnership with Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts!

What’s your exposure to  Sri Lankan food? I’ve got many Sri Lankan friends and I’m a big fan. There’s a big Sri Lankan community all over the world and wherever they end up, they use local ingredients, and the recipes tend to stay the same from when they brought them to a new country – even if it is from the 60’s and 70’s. So I’m really looking forward to getting a proper experience of Sri Lankan cuisine and the ingredients.

We heard you were excited about our seafood. Oh yes, I’m really looking forward to working with local crab, lagoon crab, lobster and prawns. The seafood here is insane, we’ve already checked in on most of our ingredients this morning and I’m really excited about it – especially for the crab. I’m doing a crab dish inspired by Thai cuisine with crispy fish and sweet local mango and lots of small, small ingredients. Kind of like a Korean bibimbap!

Given the close history between Sri Lanka and India, do you see our cuisines as similar or different? I know that there are differences, but I also know there are bound to be some synergies in the cuisines. I think when people tend to think their cuisine is wholly unique, it’s often far from the truth!

What makes food memorable? Food memories are always time, place and the people you are with. Say you buy a bottle of wine in Italy and you are sipping it overlooking the Tuscan vineyards while eating prosciutto and that wine is the best wine you’ve ever had. You take a bottle of it home, it’s not the same because you are missing all the other elements that made it so great.

You are hosting The Master Table with Gary Mehigan at Cinnamon Hotels, what can we expect? Dishes that are an expression of my own experience and my travels that are quite firmly rooted in classic French food. I’m not trying to put Sri Lankan flavours on the menu because people are not coming to eat Sri Lankan food, they are coming to eat my food. What I want to use are great ingredients and what I’m enjoying already is that I just jumped into the kitchen here and already I’m finding lots of beautiful local ingredients to use!       

What’s your favourite childhood meal? I have lots of them. My mom was a very simple but good cook. She never gave us anything out of a packet or fast food. So maybe a big plate of spaghetti bolognese or my mom’s cheesecake, that was - honest to god - different every time she made it, sometimes it would set and sometimes it wouldn’t, but we didn’t really care!

Is there anything you won’t eat? I’ll eat anything within….no, that’s not true. I’ll eat pretty much anything. I love spicy food; I love funky food but often the texture of a food can put me off or even foods that are sulphurous. When I went to Korea, I ate this preserved fish which was so powerful and strong in ammonia, eating it was like putting a spoonful of wasabi in your mouth – it really burns your nose!

You just wrapped up a tour in India. Rumour has it that you’ve been there fifteen times already. What brings you back every time? I think it’s more! It’s always the food that keeps me coming back.       

Where will your trip to Sri Lanka take you over the next couple of days? I’m looking forward to meeting and feeding a lot of people. It’s a dual journey for me really – you eat my food, and I eat yours! I have already asked one of the chefs in the kitchen for a recipe so if I go home without a few recipes in my pocket I’ll be upset. Once the events are done, I’m just relaxing and heading around the country. I’ve heard many great things, it’s ridiculous I haven’t been to Sri Lanka already!      

What exotic food have you eaten in your travels without really knowing exactly what it was? The most exotic food that I ate without knowing was pigs throat which was in soup. I was just eating this and thought it was too chewy because it felt like I was eating a rubber balloon and I didn’t like it. When they told me what it was, I was like “Mhm, that makes sense”.    

Beyond food and cooking, I know you are a proud dog dad and you’ve got a green thumb working on your garden – where would we find you on an ‘off’ day? Doing exactly that! I love motorcycles, I’ve been riding since I was 16. I have got a couple of dogs, and I love pottering around my garden and I’m so proud of the produce that comes from it! The simple things make my day.


Panchali Illankoon

Law Graduate, food and travel enthusiast and full time dog mom..


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