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INTERVIEW: Gary Mehigan arrives for Dubai Food Festival

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We’re in the age of the celebrity chef, where culinary experts who make their way onto our TV screens are revered in the same way as sports stars. Gary Mehigan is enjoying life in the spotlight, having found fame as a judge on MasterChef Australia, which is aired across the world, as well as stints as co-host on other popular Australian foodie shows.

He’s one of a troupe of big-name chefs descending on the emirate for Dubai Food Festival, and he’ll even be teaching a masterclass at Dubai’s School of Culinary Finishing Arts on Friday, February 26. Here, he tells us about the global flavours of Australian cooking, and how he plans to eat his way around the world.

How are you coping with new level of fame?
It’s actually not that new, and I think that it’s been very organic over the last seven or eight years. We’re into our 8th season of MasterChef but George and I have done other derivatives of the show as well including Junior MasterChef and All Stars. It’s been slow and steady but as the show has been distributed worldwide for some time now, our profiles have grown.

I heard a funny story recently, where a guy from Venezuela said, “We all learn to speak English from MasterChef!” and I said, “Why’s that?” and he replied, “Because it’s all very practical. It’s about things, and ingredients, so they use a lot of adjectives and they describe what they’re doing.” It’s a very practical way to learn English – and I thought it was really funny.

Why has Australia become such a hub for foodies?
It’s the perfect storm in Australia. We’ve had enormous amounts of immigration over the years, and let’s be honest, we’re a relatively wealthy country, in terms of the rest of the world, so we enjoy a certain standard of living. We’re great travellers. Australians travel all over the world, far and wide, and when they come back to Australia, I think that they live their travels through food, they romanticise the places they’ve been.

Australians are lovers of the outdoors, which lends itself well to cooking outside, sharing food at outside tables, and sitting on tables outside café sipping coffees on the sidewalk. We love going out for light lunches in the sun. Bars and clubs are very much part of the fabric that makes Australia interesting.

What do you know about the food scene in Dubai? Are you a regular visitor?
I have only spent one visit of two weeks in Dubai. Most of the time I’m in transit, so my knowledge is limited. I’ve eaten in a few of the big name restaurants, which were all very good, but nothing local or uniquely Emirati. If I am lucky I’ll get a real taste of Dubai on my visit this time.

A lot of celebrity chefs have opened places in Dubai, from Gordon Ramsay to Sanjeev Kapoor. Is it something you’d consider?
I’ve been approached to do a number of projects over the years but never in Dubai. I’m not sure it’s one of my career ambitions to run an empire of restaurants spanning the globe but I’ll keep you posted… Now, eating in restaurants all over the world is another matter…!

What can we expect from the Dubai Food Festival?
There is a fantastic line-up of international and local chefs and events to keep foodies of all types grinning from ear to ear. Dinners, masterclasses and unique experiences abound. There is a ground swell of fascination worldwide and Dubai is adding fuel to the fire. We are there to inspire, entertain and pass on our experience and love of food, and I can’t wait.

When: 12pm to 1.30pm, Friday, February 26
Where: Dubai School of Culinary and Finishing Arts, www.dubaifoodfestival.com

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