It was Day 2 of the Masterchef Australia judges’ whirlwind tour of Bengaluru in association with Gold Rush Entertainment for The World on a Plate Festival. “The jetlag has just kicked in for them," whispered one of their many minders. “We may not be able to do the interview we’d promised. See, it’d have been no problem if you’d come yesterday, they were in great form."

Pictorial evidence of the great form was already plastered all over my social media timelines: Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris in their chef’s whites and Matt Preston resplendent in his magenta frock coat and double-breasted waistcoat with gold buttons, an indigo shirt and an indigo-printed cravat. They’d hugged, kissed and posed with all but six people in Bengaluru, it seemed; on Day 2, I would see for myself their graciousness in the face of, well, scores of besotted fans who had paid good money to see them in action in a masterclass and considered a photo with their icon part of the package.

And that was when it happened: Preston boomed from across the room, “We’ve met, haven’t we?" I remembered the evening at Olive Beach, Bengaluru, where Preston was being treated to dinner by a friend, but whew, for the world’s most famous food critic to remember a journo whose name was probably a bit of a tongue-twister and appearance considerably altered?

Obviously tired after a gruelling hour-long masterclass session in front of bright lights and eager fans, Preston still gamely submitted to a quick Q&A:

So are you the most famous food critic in the world?

Actually, no. I ceased to be a food critic about four years ago. It became very hard for me to be a critic once we started shooting Masterchef Australia... being on TV complicates things, restaurants get freaked out (when a recognizable face walks in). I had been writing recipes for a while, so I decided to concentrate on that, and on being a food writer. Also, my decision to go back from reviewing coincided with the growth in social media. So now when I go to a restaurant, I write 140 characters on Twitter and tell people why they should go there—and it reaches lots of people.

Besides, everyone’s a critic now, right, anyone with a smartphone and an opinion?

I love (how social media enables) a two-way conversation. The first time I came to Bengaluru in 2011, I put out a tweet (asking for recommendations) and I got a great selection of restaurants: Olive Beach, Karavalli... and that was really good. People who eat at one place a lot tend to be better critics than someone who’s eaten there twice.

What is bad food to you?

Food without salt, food without ethics, food that’s lazy—in a bad way, because I’m all for food that calls for five minutes preparation and two hours in the oven—and also food that is designed to show off how smart the cook is. You should never cook to impress, you should cook to feed.

And on the show? How do you judge food?

It’s very simple: We put one question to ourselves: If we were going to the restaurant again tomorrow, which is the dish we’d order again? Do it the next time you go out—if there are five dishes across the table, ask yourselves the question. There will always be a clear winner.

Critiquing, reading, writing, reviewing, being on television... it’s been years since you’ve been immersed in the food industry. Do you still enjoy it? Or is it simply work?

This is all I’ve ever dreamed about. I get to turn up, I get to talk about food, I get to steer a dish in the right direction, I get to eat food, talk about it... it’s not hard. Yes, it’s been a long time, but it’s not a hard job. But also, I’ve maintained my writing. I still write a column every week in the papers, there are two other monthlies as well. Writing is my happy place. That is where I’m truly myself. I figure my job is to connect people with better food experiences, whether it’s through travel or recipes or, as it was, through criticism—really, it’s about helping people to eat better in all the senses of the term.

Could you explain that?

It’s about asking questions, asking why do we do that? And there’s always a reason. For instance, tomorrow I’m going to demonstrate a mayonnaise. Now, usually, for a mayonnaise, you get egg yolk and salt and lemon juice and you slowly whisk it and then you drizzle in the olive oil. I discovered a hack: If you use a stick blender on a whole egg, salt, lemon, mustard and oil, all at once, and ensure the blade covers the yolk, and you draw the blender up through the mayo to incorporate all the oil, it emulsifies faster as the yolk binds the oil molecules. It’s just so easy.

One last question. You were in bright pink yesterday and today you’re in a dark shirt (though the cravat’s there, of course).

When I cook, I make a conscious decision to dress down. A man in a three-piece suit cooking... it’s not quite... On TV, I have a role of authority and we dress up as we would for dinner. So far as (the charge of amping it up on this season of) the show is concerned, I went through three years of wearing tartans and checks, then I went through a period of wearing browns and pastels and so it was like, what are we going to do next. And I’ve been doing this show for so long, by now I’ve got an amazing wardrobe! People love it.

Close