Matt Preston: India is bang on trend

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Matt Preston likes to dress and stand out in the crowd, and over the nine seasons of food reality show MasterChef Australia, we've seen his dapper style evolve. A flamboyant dresser, he exuded elegance this season with his well-cut suits and tasteful cravats. The 55-year-old journalist and food writer juggles writing and television with equal élan, calling the former his "happy place". "I love nothing more than sharing my adventures in food, whether from my own kitchen or around the world, in recipes and stories. I worked that out with my newspaper and magazine columns plus five cookbooks, last year I wrote my 2,000,000th word about food! Three million here I come!"

The balance, he says, is simple as there is so much waiting when making a TV show, that it gives him the time to write while filming. "Then I travel for five months when we aren't filming," he tells us in an email interview. Edited excerpts:

Matt Preston
Matt Preston

Your connection with India is strong. Which Indian chefs do you admire? Any particular dish that makes your mouth water?
So much of the great food I've enjoyed around India is from street stalls and holes in the wall, where the chef doesn't have a PR team, a cookbook or his/her own line of branded chutneys! Largely, I enjoy these simpler places better than the fancy ones. I do, however, try and enjoy the company of Manu Chandra whenever I'm
in India.

Where does Indian cooking stand on the global platform?
Indian cuisine in undoubtedly one of the world's great cuisines and stands proudly alongside the likes of French or Italian in that ranking. The way India is embracing unique, indigenous and wild ingredients — like the gongura I enjoyed in Hyderabad or the kachampuli vinegar I fell in love with in the south west — it's bang on trend. Indian cuisine is also receiving new global prominence, thanks to the explosion of interest in vegan and vegetarian food around the world. With this in mind, Gary [Mehigan, fellow judge] came back from his most recent trip to India raving about fresh green chickpeas and green sorghum; something we seldom see here but which could easily find a place in my kitchen.

Tell us about the creative process of setting the challenges on the show.
A crew of over 200, including a department of challenge producers, is responsible for this. We look for challenges that seem impossible but are achievable, so when accomplished, the excitement, pride and pleasure of the contestants is palpable. This means that a pressure-test dish might be cooked a dozen times to ascertain how long the contestant should be given to achieve it.

What are some of the funny off-the-camera incidents that occurred this season?
Our trip to Japan was a lot of fun. As was spending the week with [Israeli-British chef] Yotam Ottolenghi. Most of the anecdotes are scurrilous, so you'll have to wait for my autobiography!

How did you get into food writing?
A friend gave me a restaurant review column as she knew I was a good cook and had written a column back [about life, music, the arts and politics] in the UK.

How different was food writing back then?
Very much. In many ways, I was once like you are now, I was young but I was happy. I'm still happy but much older and wiser!

What was your first job?
I made tea at the offices of the UK's biggest tea importer. I had a rickety trolley and in a radical move, introduced coffee for the first time.

The show airs Monday to Friday at 9 pm on Star World.