Celebrity chef Gary Mehigan travels the length and breadth of India to discover its mega festivals!
National Geographic India’s brand-new series India’s Mega Festivals journeys with the chef showing him the true heart of the country — our festivals!
India’s incredible culture and festivities have caught the attention of celebrity chef Gary Mehigan of MasterChef Australia fame. While journeying through India, Gary has fallen in love with the country’s traditions and cuisines and National Geographic India’s brand-new series India’s Mega Festivals journeys with him to bring you a six-part series that brings to life our much-loved fetes from the eyes of an Indophilic tourist. We catch up with Gary to find out more…
How was your experience filming India’s Mega Festivals?
This has been a unique and unrepeatable experience for me. I have travelled to all corners of the country and now have a much deeper and more appreciative understanding of all these wonderful, auspicious occasions. From Onam to Durga Puja and Hornbill to Holi and Eid — they’ve all been unique and they’ve all been very different. It’s going to be a snapshot of these different festivals and on a deeper level — what they mean, what they stand for and how important they are to the communities that celebrate them.
What do these festivals now mean to you, personally?
I have experienced Diwali, Holi and Eid in the past, but not in the same way like I did for this show. National Geographic is known for powerful, impactful storytelling and that’s exactly what we did. We’ve dug our fingers into each festival. We tell the story of the gods, the idols, the celebration. We dig into the community and we experience these things on a very personal level and we follow the most important parts of that festival. With Onam, we follow the story of Mahabali and Vamana. We talk about it being a harvest festival and focus on Maveli’s generosity. We follow it through the pookalams all the way to the boat races and we actually row with one of the teams. With Durga Puja, we celebrate her the victory of the goddess over Mahishasura. We celebrate female strength, motherly power. We followed the dhaki drummers, the dhunuchi dancers and we pandal hopped. For me, personally, the submerging of goddess Durga in The Hooghly at sunset was quite a moving experience. With Hornbill, it was all about discovering the Naga tribes. We discovered the history of the brave warriors — the Chakhesang, the Angami and learned about the traditional foods, the foraging, the fermenting, the salting and got the chance to get the know the tribes individually. It was amazing to see all these proud Naga traditions. Holi, however, was a different experience altogether for me. We were in Brajbhoomi and they celebrate Holi for forty days. The kind of Holis I’ve been a part of before this was gatherings of friends and family, getting together, throwing some colour, eating a bit — this was, however, all about devotion. You deep dive into this tradition where people treat Radha and Krishna like they’re a part of their family, their lives and everything else. This is singularly, the most important time of the year for them. It celebrates everything that matters to them in an exuberant playful flirtatious colourful and almost crazy way. Eid for me was also really special because I do not have a deep understanding of Islam, so getting a chance to understand feasting and fasting and be with the community as they break the fasts and journey with them through the festivities, was a very different experience. Oh and yes, the food… the haleem, the kebabs, the kormas, the halwas… all of it has given me a very different perspective towards the festival.
And what about your favourite foods from these festivals and have any of them found their way into your culinary repertoire?
In Onam, the sadya stands out and a particular coconut chutney I tasted there has already found its way into my weekly cooking. I also love all the rice breads — the appam, the idiyappam, the palappam and they make a regular appearance in my kitchen. The aloo tiki from Brajbhoomi, for some reason, became one of my favourites. From Hornbill, I discovered fermented mustard greens, which remind me of Australian Vegemite and fermented beans and bamboo shoots. But one of the secrets I did take back with me was passion fruit leaves which I have in abundance in my garden back home and I now enjoy cooking with them.
Now on National Geographic India and streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.