Buzz with Danu: Gary Mehigan

Dec 20 2023.

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Today on the Buzz, I speak to Gary Mehigan, the renowned British-Australian Michelin Star celebrity chef and famed former original judge of MasterChef Australia, who visited Sri Lanka for a special 3-day culinary extravaganza in collaboration with Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts earlier this month. What a sweetheart he is, full of life and a lot of positivity to share.

I sat down with him for a chat about his time in Sri Lanka, before he flew back home. We discussed about what really touched him on this trip. Read all about it on the Buzz today. All the Photos are taken by Gary and chosen by him for this interview.

How did you first get into the culinary world? My late grandfather was a chef so you could say I was influenced through him to pursue a path in the culinary arts. I started first by working in classic French cuisine, it was a Michelin-starred restaurant in London that provided a structured and hierarchical kitchen experience. I underwent comprehensive training, from pastry and butchery to fish and vegetable sections.

Later, my journey led me to Australia, and I was drawn to explore Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese and Southeast Asian flavours. This played a vital role in shaping different chapters of my career and I ventured to establishing my own restaurant. Reflecting on this, it seems like the experience in diverse kitchens, and the passion for global flavours have all contributed to the chef I am today.

Did you want to treat people to good food or make unique dishes? I was much more basic than that. It was about being a chef and knowing the nuances behind being good at it. When I first entered the culinary world, the idea of being a chef was rooted in craftsmanship and not what the culinary industry is today. In those early days, chefs on television were a rarity.

Over time that transitioned into owning my restaurant which brought a new perspective. It wasn't just about cooking then; and more about managing a business—sales, marketing, accounting, public relations, and more. The shift from being a chef to a business owner was significant, requiring attention to every detail and a holistic understanding of the restaurant's operations. And the various endeavours like podcasts, books, restaurants, judging, hosting shows, and constant travel, all came from my genuine love for what I do.

How has your week of travelling around Sri Lanka been? It's intriguing how people often compare Sri Lanka with India. I've noticed comments, drawing parallels between Sri Lanka's mangroves and those in India.

The distinction is palpable; there's a softer attitude here, a unique sense of place, with people quick to greet and showcase hospitality. Within the Cinnamon Hotels, the staff is impressively eager to please, with its warm and attentive nature. There's an enthusiasm to revive tourism, with everyone putting in the effort.

The momentum is something everyone here is actively supporting. Even at Cinnamon, I've seen the commitment to excellence, with high standards in kitchens, and cleanliness matching up to Australia's stringent regulations.

Sri Lanka has been a revelation, surpassing my expectations. The beaches and the warm-hearted people create a unique blend of experiences. It's like describing a fireworks display, each aspect more beautiful than the last. Culturally, it's different from what I expected, and that's the beauty of it.

Any culinary practices you were taken up by? The culinary practices, especially the hoppers and various sambals, inspired me to try it when I’m back home. The dark, toasty flavour of the pork curry, achieved by pushing the spices was unique to me. The layering of flavours and the art of controlling spice levels, not by quantity, has changed my perspective on how I approach certain dishes.
What struck me the most was the unique way of eating here, the lunch with rice and many dishes. It reminded me of the Korean bibimbap but with a distinct Sri Lankan twist. The variety of rice, especially the local red rice, was outstanding.

If you could say something about your experience here in a few words? I plan to stay at the Cinnamon Bentota Beach Hotel again the next time I visit. I've also heard great things about Trincomalee so want to go there for my next trip. Speaking to the driver on the way down, he mentioned that December through April is the perfect time to visit Trincomalee. Surprisingly, it's not too far away from Habarana, where we stayed as well. When I return, we plan to extend our stay to at least 10 days. This will give us the opportunity to explore different areas and discover hidden culinary stops that I might have missed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danu Innasithamby

Danu is a Jaffna Boy with a Marketing qualification (only because he needed to study, and not because he wanted it). He has been a part of the team for seven years and is the face behind Buzz with Danu, and WTF.


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