Gary Mehigan’s Indian Love Affair With The Tandoor, The Spice Box & Nicobar

Most of the amazing things made by mankind have been the result of cultural cross-pollination of some sort. As transcontinental links accelerated and proliferated via land, sea, air and online, they created exotic new species of craft. A recent example of this cultural exchange resulted in tea and banter with the charmingly effervescent, Gary Mehigan, and the wildly observant, Raul Rai.

On the last Saturday of a surprisingly pleasant September, the Australian High Commissioner, Ms. Harinder Sidhu, hosted the preview of the much-awaited Gary Mehigan x Nicobar collection. Yes, you read that right. India’s poster child of  highly collectible contemporary decor & fashion is dropping their first international edit. Not one to embrace the generic or ordinary, they continue to remain mindful with their latest collection, inspired by the magnificent Indian Ocean. Say hello to the other half of this collaboration: Gary Mehigan. Restaurateur, knife-collector, Masterchef Australia judge, telly’s darling, roast-chicken connoisseur.

Over high tea, Gary and his partner (in life, and on this project), Mandy Mehigan, spoke about amalgamating creative energies and fostering cross-culture thinking that blends the best of both worlds – the rich traditions of India and the hip new age culinary culture of Australia. “When I’m at home, I love to cook and, together with Mandy, we also love to entertain our friends. Mandy has created a beautiful atmosphere in our home with different design elements, mixing contemporary and traditional. Those refined and sophisticated influences shine through in our first lifestyle collaboration for Nicobar, which also draws inspiration from Indian home cooking”, he shares with his trademark infectious smile.

Nicobar, founded by Simran Lal and Raul Rai, is known for its patient brand building, attention to detail, and forward-thinking brand narrative. It’s fresh, it’s cool, it’s hip, it’s classic, it’s contemporary, it’s effortless. All these organisation adjectives derive heavily from the founders’ work ethic, design vision, and take on urban India. A glorious example of the phrase “I got it from my mama!”, Lal is known within the circuit for her warm hospitality, mission to transform houses to homes, and eye for design. “I was introduced to Gary on Masterchef by my sister, who absolutely loves the show. Watching episodes together, over delicious food, are some of my favourite memories, so when we heard about this collaboration it brought those happy memories of food, laughter, chatter right back.”

As we browse through the collection, we observe the cultural cross-currents & versatility running through every aspect of its design, craft, and application. The collection is for cooks, kitchens, homes, dinner tables, everything in between. It is inspired by India, Australia, and the between that joins the two shores – the Indian Ocean. The aboriginal art motifs on vessels designed to mix Indian spices; brass star-kissed lassi makers that are equally adept as cocktail shakers; re-engineered spice boxes; and modern bakeware with balanced aesthetics and engineering that can sail straight from the kitchen to the table sans change. Channelling the easy buoyancy of Nicobar’s tropical vibe, and engraved with motifs that traverse the Indian Ocean, this collection of homeware will seamlessly figure into kitchen cabinets, ours included.

With our cuppa refilled with a steaming brew, we get chatting about the three main things on this mind – food, design, and family.

You’ve travelled across India very many times in the past. However, this trip holds more value and is closer to your heart! Tell us more?

Gary: Absolutely! This is the first time in India for my family, who are finally seeing and eating everything I talk about at the dinner table from my adventures here. It’s also special, because this is the first time Mandy and I have collaborated to build a product range that marries India and Australia so seamlessly. We’ve been discussing this for a long time now, and to finally see it take form is special for both us, and our friends at Nicobar.

How did you and the folks from Nicobar decide upon this? Why home-kitchen-ware, why India?

Gary: It was a natural kind of progression. The only way I was willing to agree to a collaboration, was if it was well researched, allowed me to dig deeper and get closer to India, have a greater connect with the artisans, the final product truly represented what we loved, and what we would have in our own home.

Mandy absolutely loves Nicobar, and what it stands for. At our first meeting with Simran & Raul, we didn’t talk about business, we exchanged stories. I was drawn to their philosophy, story, and the meeting of minds made us jump on board immediately. We were lucky to have found the perfect partners in Simran & Raul.

Mandy, with this being your first time in India, what drew you to the country and project?

Other than the riot of colours and food? The Nicobar team has a very holistic view on work, work life balance, importance of family – all things I hold very dear to my heart. I love the way the team is so involved, they are truly treated like family. Their ethic comes across via their work, food, design, and beliefs. The heart and core of this collaboration is the people behind it, not just the design and product. The mood board come from our home in Australia, and everyone brought something unique and new to this project. Everyone’s inputs flowed towards the success of the final product.

What were your key factors that went into the process of picking, eliminating, and finalising the collection?

Mandy: 3 simple things! My gut feeling, my eye for design, and whether we would place the product in our homes or gift to our friends. Simple!

Gary: At this stage of my career, I feel like I have the liberty to choose and curate the kind of things I want to be associated with. There’s a lot of pleasure in working on projects I have a deeper connect with, which is why I love intelligent and meaningful collaborations. We all seemed to click, get along, and hence have unexpectedly great results!

What is your favourite piece from the collection?

Mandy: The plates with the dot art. It has great relevance in both countries: the rich aboriginal art in Australia and the powerful bindu in India.

Gary: The spice box. It’s practical, it’s functional, it’s beautiful, and every house should have this! I feel it will be the number one product for gifting.

With an artist mum and engineer dad, you chose to follow in the footsteps of your grandfather. What was the early days like?

Gary: My father had the foresight that I’d never have the patience to be a good engineer! Even though I read chemistry & physics in school, it was my father who recognised the spontaneous and artistic side in me. He encouraged me to spend more time with my grand dad, who taught me the ways around the kitchen. I got my first job, on the weekends, in a local hotel. I absolutely loved it and instantly knew this is what I want to do! I’m a stickler for process, courtesy Dad. But my experimentation and creativity in the kitchen comes from my mum, grand dad, and that first job!

Like design, taste and palate is extremely subjective. Things are very fickle and relative in the food business. What are your observations of the trade?

Gary: As a chef and restaurateur, its very hard. Not everyone loves your food. People vote with their feet. If you have a busy restaurant, surely you’re doing something quite right. Often I see restaurants with the perfect delivery but imperfect experience. We forget that an experience is built by the little things, the comforting service, the smile at the door. Most times, the best food is at home and sometimes, the best restaurants have an indifferent experience. Customers gravitate towards a strong concept and story.

As we reach the last sips of our double espressos (no milk, no sugar), we sign off with the signature DSSC Rapid Fire with Mandy & Gary Mehigan.

Q: Your favourite tipple?

Mandy: A glass of Pinot Noir

Gary: Gin & Tonic

Q: Your favourite Indian dish?

Mandy: Gulab Jamun & Ras Malai!

Gary: Anything from the tandoor – it’s absolutely beautiful.

Q: George or Matt? (We were cheeky and expected a rap on our knuckles… till…)

Gary: George!

Mandy: I can not believe you didn’t say Matt! I pick Matt!

Gary: Ha! Tricked into this! The three of us genuinely get on like a house of fire. Shooting with the two is one of the most enjoyable experiences, and rarely feels like work!

 

Gary Mehigan x Nicobar pre-orders begin in December 2018 for the collection arriving in Nicobar stores across India and available for sales in India and worldwide on www.nicobar.com. Feature image credit: Lucas Dawson/Facebook

 

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.