Nicole Bittar

Restaurateur, MasterChef judge and author Gary Mehigan in his home kitchen. Click for more photos

Kitchen Spy: MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan

Restaurateur, MasterChef judge and author Gary Mehigan in his home kitchen. Photo: Justin McManus

  • Restaurateur, MasterChef judge and author Gary Mehigan in his home kitchen.
  • The staples: Gary keeps his fridge well-stocked with chilli sauce.
  • Turning into a lettuce: Gary has been loading up on vegetables in an attempt to trim down.
  • Inspiration: Gary's cookbook collection.
  • Inspiration: menus Gary has collected from famous restaurants around the world.
  • Saturday night tipple: Gary is a big fan of international and Australian whiskies.
  • Drinking: Torbreck The Gask Shiraz.
  • Toolkit: Gary's very expensive but beautiful Japanese knives.

If you've turned on a television in the past few years, you've probably seen Gary Mehigan, most well known as a judge on MasterChef Australia. What you mightn't know is that the 47-year-old British-born, Australian chef trained in London at the Connaught and Le Souffle in London under the auspices of Michel Bourdin and Peter Kromberg.

He came to Melbourne in 1991, later establishing hatted restaurant Fenix, and the family-friendly Boathouse in Maribyrnong. ''Good food brings us all together and helps us find a common point of view,'' says Mehigan, who has a new cookbook out: Favourites: Over 100 Recipes to Cook at Home. Mehigan lives with his wife and young daughter in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

The staples

The fridge Loads of vegetables and chilli sauce and chilli caramel. I make my own sriracha hot sauce, sambal and sambal tumis.

The pantry Lots of grains, such as quinoa, barley, freekeh and farro. They make for interesting meals and the family loves all of them.

I'm cooking

Lots of vegetables at the moment. I am trying to trim down a bit, and my dietician has advised me to have only 100 grams of protein, but lots and lots of vegetables and fruit. I have poached eggs in the morning, with the rest of the plate full of spinach, fennel, tomato, mushrooms or whatever is in season. I am feeling great; so energised. It is not a diet, just a change of attitude towards portion sizes of protein, but I feel as if I am turning into a lettuce.

Most unforgettable meal

There have been a few, because food is such a big part of my life, and we have had a lot of amazing experiences through our MasterChef travels, but I think the most memorable would have to be sitting in the middle of Tuscany with my family from Britain, my wife and daughter, eating a meal I had just cooked from produce in the area. To top it off, there were the most amazing views across the region.

Inspiration

The privilege of being on MasterChef, travelling and meeting all the people and chefs - David Chang, Rene Redzepi, Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal. How could that not be inspiring? And, of course, George [Calombaris]. It never ceases to amaze me what a dynamo he is, one of the innovators on the Melbourne food scene. I am inspired by people who don't just treat cooking like a job, but a way of life. I'm also inspired by my cookbook collection.

I'm drinking

If it's beer, I like White Rabbit Dark Ale. Torbreck The Gask Shiraz is a favourite. It's one of the biggest shiraz labels from the Barossa. I have been using Veneziano coffee in the restaurants for years and love it.

Saturday night tipple

I'm a big fan of Islay whisky. I'm enjoying a 16-year-old Lagavulin single malt, only because it is aromatic and very strong. It is distinct from most other Scotch whisky. Characteristically, it is peaty, dark and smoky. As for Australian whisky, I love Hellyers Road from Tasmania. By comparison, it is a completely different drink: very fragrant and light, caramel and creamy, not peaty at all. I love the whisky from Lark Distillery, also from Tasmania.

My toolkit

I have two beautiful Japanese knives (Masanobu). They are very expensive. I bought them in New York and paced around the shop a few times before I bought them.

Food discovery

After three trips to India, I love Indian flavours and Indian spices, particularly amchur, asafoetida, black cardamom, and cinnamon leaves.