Michael Weldon in Kolkata | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Michael Weldon has come to India with a suitcase full of native Australian spices. This, he says, is to give diners here a taste of cuisine from Down Under.
“My favourite is the mountain pepper that has a warm and fruity undertone, with the same effect as schezwan pepper. I’ve also brought wattle seed that I’m using in a pumpkin dish, and the lemon myrtle that is going into a fish preparation,” says the chef and two-time MasterChef Australia contestant, who is touring India as a part of the Australian Government’s Taste of Australia campaign. Part of which, he is hosting a series of interactive food and beverage demonstrations, masterclasses and curated dinners, to showcase Australia’s cooking with an Indian twist. 
I caught up with Michael over a call in the middle of dinner prep for a pop-up at The Oberoi in Mumbai. “I’m really happy with the food, and it’s coming out well. I’ve literally taken a 12 hour flight just to cook! The chefs are great, and they are teaching me how to make Australian cuisine more friendly for the Indian palette — a bit more spicy,” says the chef who has just completed pop-up dinners at New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai over the past week, and will wrap up the tour in Bengaluru on September 16 and 17.
The menu, Michael says, is evolving with each city. “I’m serving roast chicken with grilled baby lettuce, and a native Australian masala jus. This masala differs in each city: New Delhi had more garam masala, and in Kolkata I used more fennel and mustard — spices found in the panch phoran. For the cauliflower steak, I was influenced by Kolkata and I added a turmeric pickled cauli element,” says the chef who co-hosts popular travel food show, Farm to Fork Australia
Learning about regional cuisine helps, and Michael is letting that lead some of the dishes. The Mumbai and Bengaluru menus, for instance, feature more seafood. “For Bengaluru in particular, I’m creating a surprise dish: a wattleseed crusted roasted eggplant with a creamy sauce and spicy tomato chutney.” There is also a mountain pepper squid with saltbush; and banana leaf naked fish with lemon myrtle butter, burnt leeks and salsa verde, that he’s excited about.
A first-timer to India, Michael says he has “enjoyed getting to see the food and culture”, and believes the country shares similarities with Australia.“It’s not just cricket and the food, but the people are warm and caring. People have sent me such lovely messages after MasterChef, and it is great to meet them in person and spread the word about Australian food and ingredients,” he says, adding, “Hopefully this is the beginning of other Australian chefs spending time here – cooking and sharing what we love.”
For him, India’s flavour-packed street food “is among the best in the world”. “In Old Delhi, the Aslam Chicken, samosa and chai at Karim’s, were amazing. As were the puchkas and kathi rolls in Kolkata. I was told I will get in trouble if I call it a pani puri there,” he laughs. 
For someone who spends a lot of time in Aussie farms and their growers, Michael says his food philosophy is pretty simple: creating produce-driven food that tells a story. “It’s not about just making a dish pretty on a plate. I am quite minimalist and choose a few ingredients that work with each other. For example, I’ll have a piece of meat, or fish or a vegetable with a puree, sauce or a garnish, and then a couple of little flourishes and pickles. I like to let the ingredients do the talking, and I am just there to celebrate the farmers.” 
And his menu for Bengaluru highlights several such stories: the yellow tail nammas with cucumber, coriander and chilli, an entrée, is inspired by North Australia’s cuisine where locals have the nammas as a snack; and the spiced lamb pie with pea puree draws from the Adelaide classic, pie floater. 
His mission, says Michael, is to “show Indian restaurants how good Australian food can be”. “Hopefully, soon we could get to see some of our great produce like the lamb, veggies available here. I am looking forward to inspiring Indians to cook in an Australian or Michael Weldon way,” says the chef, adding how he borrows from cuisines he is exposed to on his travels. “Once I go back, I will probably have panch phoran in my dishes!” 
The market tours, in particular, have been an eye opener. “I have seen many new things like the drumstick, for example. At Chandni Chowk’s spice market, the black cardamom was so smoky, and I also learnt how to dry coriander seeds.” As for his suitcase with spices, it will have to go back empty as Australia doesn’t permit the entry of spices. But, Michael has a plan in place for his next home-cooked Indian meal: “When I grow my next batch of coriander, I’m definitely going to dry my own coriander seeds!”
September 16 and 17 at The Oberoi, Bengaluru. ₹4,500+ tax per person; ₹6,500+ tax including wine. For reservations, call 8893456104.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2022 4:23:57 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/masterchef-australia-michael-weldon-india-tour-bengaluru-popup/article65882132.ece


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