Gary Mehigan grew up on the South Coast of England, where he studied to be a chef at Highbury College of Technology. After this, Gary left for London to take up his first full time position. The restaurants that made the difference in Gary’s early development as a chef were The Connaught Hotel under Michel Bourdan where he worked for almost 4 years and Le Souffle at The Hyde Park Intercontinental under Peter Kromberg; both recognised with Michelin stars. In 1991, Gary Mehigan moved to Australia to work at Burhnam Beeches, browns Restaurant and Sofitel Melbourne, before going into business himself – with the Fenix Restaurant & Events, which he’d go on to own for 14 years. Gary would then open the Maribyrnong Boathouse in 2007, which he still owns today. Most of you will recognise Gary Mehigan from his career as a TV chef; this started with regular appearances on Good Morning Australia with Bert Newton. His first stand-alone series was Good Chef, Bad Chef, which aired on Channel 7 and the Lifestyle Channel for two seasons. However, Gary Mehigan is perhaps most recognised for his long stint on MasterChef Australia, ten years and 12 series to be exact! MasterChef Australia series 2 was the highest rating show on Australian television of all time, and has continued to be hugely popular. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many successful chefs about books, and Gary is from that very top drawer. Please enjoy my interview with the wonderfully talented Gary Mehigan…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
First response is “restaurateur”, and “Chef”, essentially eat for a living, delicious huh!
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
I think of lots of sci-fi books, like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell, books by Isaac Asimov and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be all sorts; Fireman, Policeman, Pilot, Engineer, Architect, and then a Chef.
As a child, what were your favourite meals?
Mum’s home cooking, her lamb stew & dumplings, spaghetti bolognese and lasagne – still love lasagne.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
Strange, unlikely and old!
Can you remember the first meal you cooked by yourself?
I remember cooking a wonderful chicken with tarragon, with a little help from my Grandad (he was a chef), I was very proud.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Impossible, but I do like Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson – lessons well learned and often practised.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
Quick moments – before bed and on holiday to relax. I am however always working and playing with cookbooks.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
That would be Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons by Raymond Blanc, beautiful, artful, precise & technical.
What two pieces of advice would you give to someone aspiring for a career in food?
You have to love to eat and experience the pleasure of feeding others. It also helps to have an insatiable interest in food and travel.
If you could only own three cookbooks, which would you pick and why?
That is too hard, too many favourites. One I would pick however would be Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
I have a few old cookbooks of my Grandfathers. They are very special – I miss him.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
The book I’ve recommended most is The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander, a compendium of great recipes.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I prefer non-fiction.
Do you think reading is important?
In my professions its essential, broadening your horizons, ideas and fuelling your creativity – in leisure I suppose it’s important for the same reasons.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
If you weren’t in food, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would still love to be a pilot or in travel and recreation at the very least.
Name a book that you feel everyone would benefit from reading and explain why.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. The world is changing so very fast and we lost sight of what’s important.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Its hard to pin it down to one, but in business it would be The E-myth by Michael E. Gerber. I also read the story of a concentration camp in WWII and a man’s story – lest we forget, and I never will forget the sacrifice made so we can live a better life.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I will be reading books on making wine – because I want to have a go, and making cheese – I need something to go with the wine!
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?