Much on his plate

MasterChef Australia judge Andy Allen, during his recent Delhi visit, talks about his love for meals Indian over an Australian meal, and why there is no ‘perfect’ recipe for any dish, life and marriage
Chilli glazed pumpkin
Chilli glazed pumpkin

On a delightful evening at the Australian High Commission, guests from India and Australia arrived for an evening of fine wine and dining. The star of the day was the spirited, MasterChef Australia Season 4 winner and judge since 2020, Andy Allen, who had come to India for a weeklong visit as part of Tourism Australia’s Friends of Australia programme.

The 36-year-old beamed with pride as he introduced the guests to produce from home — a spongy, tangy citrus caviar in bright shades of yellow and red; a succulent herb, Karkalla, which is found amid sand dunes and cliffs facing the Australian coastline, and which adds saltiness to fish dishes, salads and fried savouries; and a unique paperbark from the Melaleucas trees, that adds a smoky flavour to Australian dishes. Food, for Allen, is happiness.

“Early on in life, I realised that food brings people together. Unlike the nightly family gatherings common in Indian households, Australian culture has a different rhythm, yet the impact of a shared meal remains profound,” he told TMS, recalling how fulfilling he felt while calling his friends and family over to a BBQ in the backyard of his Maitland home in New South Wales.

An Aussie food trail

A parade of Andy’s culinary marvels, popular in Australia, took us eagerly towards our table. The avocado on toast was a crusty snack, layered with fresh avocado paste and sprinkled with a tingling touch of Indianness lent by chaat masala! Next up was a burnt eggplant tart. The smoky essence of the charred eggplant surprisingly complemented the sweet punch of pomegranate and the nutty taste of crushed walnut on top.

Masterchef Andy Allen
Masterchef Andy Allen

As Australia is famous for its seafood — tuna, crabs, lobster, scallops and more — we tasted the BBQ butter prawns next. This bite-sized bounty indulged our senses with the goodness of buttery prawns and sautéd onions with a gentle garnish of coriander, which made it a gourmet’s favourite. It gave stiff competition to the Fermented chilli glazed chicken skewer, which had a saucy and fiery flavour profile. We felt they could be best served with Indian bread, for which Allen shares an interest. “I love the variety of Indian breads — naans, rotis, kulchas, parathas and lots more. They are a dish in their own right,” he said.

The India love

This was Allen’s third visit to India in the last six months. He wrote in an Instagram post last year that he has waited 10 years to visit India and that the country “does people, culture and food as good as anywhere”. We asked him what he loved about Indian cuisine and he replied with a twinkle in his eyes: “Pani puri and Dal Bukhara have become my new favourites. I can’t wait to dive deeper into Indian cooking and bring my own twist to it back in Australia. I feel that in both India and Australia there is this vibrant buzz around food that is hard to miss. Whether it is the bustling street food scene or top-notch fine dining, there is a shared energy and passion for fresh and seasonal ingredients, bold flavours, and a sense of community.”

When life is a recipe

Allen grew up in a family where food was not a major focus. His mother could not cook, and his father, being busy with work, would “batch-cook” a few dishes that the family would eat for a month, he told us. That sparked his curiosity about different cuisines. He not only went on to win and later judge MasterChef Australia, but published his cookbook, The Next Element (New Holland Publishers), and now runs a five-outlet restaurant, Three Blue Ducks Rosebery, in Byron Bay, Rosebery, Melbourne, Nimbo and Bellingen. The recent addition to his work kitty was co-creating Travla, a low-carb beer, with Australian actor-model Travis Fimmel, launched in 2023.

With so much on his plate, quite literally, Allen does not miss out on living life to the fullest. When he can, he heads for the countryside with his wife Alex Davey and family for a hike, to explore nature and indulge in sports. “Believe it or not, I’m training for a marathon at the moment!,” he says cheerfully, adding that he has signed up for the Gold Coast Marathon 2024 in July.

“It’s been difficult over here in India because you guys fed me at every single moment of the day! Despite the temptations, I have managed to run about 30 km during my stay, maybe even more! The fact that I’m getting up at 7.30 am after big, long days and doing some exercise, does clear my mind. Exercise is the most important part of my mental health. It makes me feel more positive about the day and life in general.” Allen often posts his adventures with his wife on social media. Is there a recipe for a happy married life too? “Just like cooking without a recipe, marriage is about improvising and adapting. It’s about understanding and flowing with your partner, recognising that each day might need a different aproach,” he said.

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The New Indian Express