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On Monday, the Australian Consulate General that’s hosting Oz Fest in Mumbai, invited MasterChef Australia celebrity judges Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris to judge the cooking of Indian culinary students at Hotel Kohinoor Elite in Kurla.

Being a huge MasterChef fan, I did not want to miss out on a chance of seeing the duo do what they do best – give constructive criticism without being hurtful and always signing off with a positive comment.

The event was supposed to start at 11am, so I dutifully showed up 20 minutes earlier, as did members of the press and students of Kohinoor International Management Institute – School of Hospitality Management in Khandala. But we ended up waiting for a little over an hour as we were informed that George and Gary were stuck in traffic after an accident had taken place somewhere along their route.

The students in the kitchen, however, were glad they had some extra time to spruce up their dishes. The tension was rife in the kitchen of the Kohinoor hotel as the young, budding chefs moved about with utter precision. True to the MasterChef spirit, the students seemed keen on showing off their skills and making sure their dishes had that special wow factor to stand out before the judges.

George and Gary seemed equally excited about tasting the students’ dishes as they made their way directly into the kitchen the moment they entered the venue. Everyone was almost relieved by how friendly the two were. It was quite evident these were not VIP guests, just two guys who love to cook and eat!

Watch the video above to see them interact with the students in the kitchen and try out some jalebis (an Indian version of pretzels) as Gary, after giving a big grin of approval, wonders whether eating too many will make him fat. Can we expect a jalebi challenge in the next season of MasterChef Australia?

The duo even moved on to helping one of the students who was running a bit behind. They rolled out some tandoori rotis much to the glee of the press photographers who were hovering around the two desperate for a money shot. They definitely got one.

Then it was time to interact with the press. A very friendly Gary – definitely the more charismatic of the two, I think George was struggling not to let his jetlag show – talked about their meal the night before at Soam in Girgaon Chowpatty, which is a pure vegetarian restaurant. Gary was especially impressed with a plate of malpua (sugar syrup-soaked pancakes ) he tried – watch his cute reaction in the video below. George commented on being surprised to see MasterChef All Stars on TV at his hotel room. They obviously don’t know how popular the cooking contest is in India!

Watch the video above as I get a chance to ask Gary and George some questions about whether they feel Indian cooking misses out on retaining the authentic flavor of its ingredients by being too heavy-handed with its curries and gravies. I was pleasantly surprised by their responses!

Once the tasting began, George and Gary went right into judging mode as Australia’s Consul General to Mumbai, Steve Waters accompanied them. MasterChef fans got to watch in person the characteristic way in which the duo eats on the show, especially George. There’s definitely an element of performance in the way he nibbles at his food, while Gary is a more of a wholesome, licking-fingers type!

The first sign that the judges were not too impressed with the dishes put before them was in the way the two exchanged looks, wondering who should begin. Overall, they were pretty kind to the students, making sure they highlighted what they liked first before moving on to their critique. However, the judges were served some undercooked chicken which they don’t take very kindly to on the show. But the students should be commended for taking the negative comments with a smile on their faces. One important lesson they learned and one I feel many more Indian chefs need to inculcate is what George pointed to – if it’s not needed on the plate, get rid of it. Fancy decorations, foil that’s wrapped around chicken legs – not needed! It’s the food that counts, not the embellishments!

The event was a great experience if one doesn’t take into account the biggest faux pas of the afternoon – the lunch that was served after the event. It was disappointingly limited and completely lacking in any flavor or pizzazz. Might be good enough for undiscriminating members of the press – although even some among them complained – but definitely not for MasterChef judges!

We asked George whether he liked lunch, and he sweetly replied that his favourite was the paneer makhani. I had some of it too and to be honest, the paneer was slightly chewy and bland. Big disappointment.

If the judges took that lunch as a marker of the standard of cooking in professional Indian restaurants, they’ll be leaving Mumbai not very impressed. Let’s hope they have better meals as they travel across India in the coming week.

2 Responses

  1. Shreya

    oooh, Gary is so cute. and George isn’t really that pudgy. But yeah, Gary’s definitely the charmer. :p

    Reply

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