Matt Preston is in Bangalore as part of the ‘World on a Plate’ event in the city. He is part of a jury that will taste and judge dishes created by pop-ups in Bangalore and also conduct a Masterclass. He spoke to The Indian Express about his ideal Saturday night dinner, Indian cuisine and his sense of style.
Who was the best cook in your home? What did you learn to cook from her/him?
A number of different people influenced me. My mother, my two grandmothers – one was a really good cook and one was a terrible cook. Bizarrely, looking at my recipe books, the grandmother who was the bad cook has more recipes in there (laughs). Because, you know, food is sometimes more than just about the dish, it is also about the emotional connection. I have friends, I pick up inspiration from restaurants I go and see. Today, I had a powder of chilies that had been marinated in yogurt, then dried and then ground. It was just ‘Oh My Gosh!’
What are five things that you will always have in your pantry?
You will always find lemon, then cucumber. You will always find a cheese of some form, a feta or a parmesan. You will probably always find chocolate (laughs). You have to find chocolate! And probably, iceberg lettuce. I love that and I love limes as well. For me, one of the things that I brought back from my first time in India in 1989 was a love for the salty lime soda. That’s my go-to drink at home. I come back from playing tennis, salty lime-soda, perfect.
What according to you, would be your ideal dinner on say, a Saturday night, if you’re cooking?
Pizza. Because pizza is a dish that is never as good in a restaurant as it is in a really good oven at home. So if you have a great oven, the whole thing about pizza is, the speed from the oven to the mouth, the quicker it is the better it is. Also, the kids help chop things up, they choose what they want to eat, they are involved and they eat much better.
What is your favorite kitchen tool, and what’s the most you have spent on one?
My favorite kitchen tool is the stick blender, because its cheap and you can do so much with it. You can make a mayonnaise puree, you can aerate soup, it’s great. The thing I have spent the most on. I had to extend my kitchen because I have bought so many things I never use.
You’ve often said that Indian cuisine is right up there among your favorite cuisines in the world. What is about it that appealing to you?
It constantly surprises me. Because every time you come here you discover something new. Today it was tondekai (ivy gourd). We don’t have it in, it is actually banned in Australia. So to try it, then put up on social media, on Instagram and ask ‘What is it?, ‘How do i do it?’ and then get recipes coming in from all over India, people from Punjab, Gujarat and Kolkata saying this is how we cut it, stuff it, fry it. That’s exciting. So it’s one ingredient that has actually given me forty different ideas on how to cook it. And bizarrely, we are going to use it for a dish on Sunday. We are going to pickle it because pickling works really well. The saltiness cuts down the bitterness and the texture is really exciting.
What are your favorite Indian dishes?
There are too many of them. I love dosa, I love tandoori, I love reshmi kabab. In terms of my favorite thing to make, I love making a big spit of reshmi kabab. Marinate chicken thighs with yogurt, onion juice, saffron and salt, put it over coal and slowly turn it, till it gets all crispy and crunchy but still remains juicy on the inside. The onion juice keeps it really juicy. So the reshmi kabab is probably my favorite. But you know, ask me tomorrow and it will probably be butter chicken or the haleem samosas I had last night, because that’s the thing, every day is different in India.
What is your idea of comfort food?
Curry – anything with a gravy.
Role reversal: If you were a contestant on MasterChef Australia, which task would you fear the most?
I wouldn’t do it. Too hard. Would ruin my love of food.
What are the three basic dishes that everyone should know how to cook?
You should know how to cook a pancake, a pasta and a stew.
You are a stylish man, probably one of the most stylish personalities on TV. Where do you get your clothes stitched from?
Thank you. My shirts come from a shirt maker in Sydney, the suits come from a tailor in Carlton, in Melbourne. I just love colour and texture. English-style tailoring with jeans is the perfect combination.