MasterChef star ‘living dream’ four years on

The original judge told he was combining his love of food and travel, a dream he heard time and time again from those competing across 11 seasons on the popular series.

Since the pandemic, the English-Australian chef has spent a lot of time in India hosting National Geographic’s new series India’s Mega Festivals, among other projects.

“I’ve had moments where I might be sitting on the back of a truck as the sun’s going down and there’s incense and smoke filling the air and the noise of people and I just go ‘geez, look at this,’” he said.

Speaking with ahead of the announcement of his latest project with Luxury Escapes, Mehigan said he had promised himself that he would “follow the joy” and only take up projects that he liked.

On Wednesday it was revealed Mehigan and fellow original MasterChef judge Matt Preston would be hosting an exclusive 11-day foodie tour in Vietnam next year.

Mehigan explained while leaving MasterChef in 2019 was a surprise for many, it wasn’t for him, Preston and George Calombaris.

“We all knew that at some point we’d have to pass the baton on and we were kind of getting to the point where ‘Is it time? Is it time?’ So yeah, it happened for a reason,” he said.

“When I’m sitting on the back of that truck or climbing the Himalayas or across the Changtang Plateau, I go ‘I wouldn’t get to do this unless I let MasterChef go and I couldn’t do it unless I did MasterChef.”

Mehigan said one of the great pleasures of being on Aussies’ television screens for so long is that people treat him like they would their postman.

“People still go ‘Hi Gaz, how you going?’” he said. “People always apologise and go ‘I still watch MasterChef, I know you’re not on it anymore’ and I go ‘It’s fine, it’s all fine.’ We love the judges on there now.”

Mehigan said he was “thrilled” about the new line up of judges for 2024, which includes Poh Ling Yeow, who was runner-up on the first season.

Back then, Mehigan said he, Preston and Calombaris were “the luckiest trio alive”.

“You look back at 2009 when they threw the three of us together, and it was great casting but we looked at each other and went ‘gee, we’re not cut from television cloth are we’.

“We were two short overweight guys and a big overweight guy so we felt very privileged and very lucky.”

Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston take on Vietnam

Mehigan and Preston spent five days on the ground in Vietnam researching for their Luxury Escapes foodie tour – eating at Michelin star restaurants and finding the best street food.

“From a foodie perspective we’ve got to balance exhausting people in terms of physically and their palate as well and having a wonderful holiday where they’ve got bragging rights when they get home,” Mehigan said of designing the perfect tour.

They decided to have two “hit lists”. One of the most popular “must tries” and one with more challenging options like a snail soup with turmeric.

“It’s going to be hand ups for full immersion, who wants to start at 6 in the morning and finish at 8 at night? And who wants to sit by the pool and have a martini at some point during the day at the bar?”

Mehigan, a daring foodie, said he was even pushing Preston out of his comfort zone on their research trip.

MasterChef star ‘living dream’ four years on

“We had a little lady that was walking along with a pole on her back with two baskets and a bucket, and she was selling embryo eggs,” he said.

Duck eggs with embryos inside are a delicacy in Vietnam.

“I had one with a bit of shredded ginger and some aromatics and I ate it and it was just delicious.

“You’ve got to put it in context. People find this delicious. It’s normal. It’s not unusual and once you get your head past that it becomes a different culinary experience.”

The egg was too much for Preston who turned it down.

“I’m not letting him off so easy next visit,” Mehigan laughed.

Gary Mehigan’s tips for eating street food

There are three things Mehigan looks for when buying food from a street vendor to avoid getting sick.

He checks there is bottled water around, the person has clean hands and is showing some skill or demonstration of discipline.

“That’s what I always look at and if I’m really worried, no ice in drinks and everything is going to be cooked,” he said.

But Mehigan said tourists can find some of the best and fresh food on the street in Asia.

“You’ll often fine some of these street vendors have been doing it not only all their lives but they’re multi-generational … they’re really damn good at what they do,” he explained.

“You’ll often find people worry because there’s no refrigeration but what’s happening is food is being prepared and sold almost immediately.

“People see seafood not refrigerated but it came out of the sea this morning and it will be sold by lunch time or sold by dinner time.

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“In Australia we’ve got refrigeration and you’ll go to restaurant and the seafood has been in the fridge for three days.”

The Luxury Escapes tour is available to book now with limited places for October 2024.

Guests will travel alongside Mehigan and Preston to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.

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