A plate to call home

A plate to call home, a SCA/PodcastOne podcast

While emerging in terms of advertising support, podcasting is fast becoming a consumer favourite. For example, restaurateur and Masterchef judge Gary Mehigan’s interview program, A plate to call home, consistently delivers surprising insights and compelling stories drawn from Australians working in the food industry. The insights come from interviewees revealing fascinating and often touching moments of vulnerability, which they do because they trust the interviewer.

Nigella Lawson, who famously doesn’t talk about her children, does so with Gary. Australia’s top chocolatier, Kirsten Tibballs, recalls her time as a teenager fighting a serious eating disorder. Gary Mehigan talks about how he maintains credibility and builds trust by finding commonalities and not pretending he’s something he’s not.

Why have you chosen to do the podcast A plate to call home?

Gary: I am obsessed with food, so any reason to talk about food I put my hand up. I am 51 now and I love food in a very different way, say to when I was 20. When I was 20, it was all about the dignity of labour, working hard and achieving. But now I enjoy talking to all sorts of people from all different walks of life, whether in hospitality or not.

A podcast is very different to, say, commercial television, which is three minutes of ‘your challenge is this!’ or demonstrating a brief version of a recipe. A podcast is a long chat that can go in all sorts of different directions, so it is lovely. And you know when you’re having a great interview because you feel almost emotional yourself, you’re sharing an experience that’s quite unique. That’s why I did it and now I am hooked. Not only to doing them, but also listening to them.

So what are the ingredients of a successful interview?

Gary: The thing I’ve learnt the most is just to be quiet. You realise that silence is the thing that keeps people talking, because they want to fill the gaps. Also, people really behave differently in front of a camera or a microphone. It’s strange. You can take the most garrulous person, stick them in front of a little camera or a microphone and a producer, and all of a sudden they clam up. Or they think they have to ‘perform’ in some way and you don’t want that, you want them to be natural. So I have a chat beforehand, have a laugh and find something in common to loosen them up.

In the interview I look for a motive or an experience to explore. It could be tugging on the apron strings of their mum. Then, once you’ve found that little memory you follow it, ‘Ok, so you tugged on the apron strings of your mum, how did it feel? What did she smell like?’ A strange question perhaps, but it takes them back and then it’s amazing. I was talking to a butcher and asked, ‘what do you remember about being a young butcher working in your father’s butchery?’ I thought it would be cut fingers or the tiredness. And he said ‘the cold, trying to load the meat in the cold’. I’d never thought of that but it took me straight there.

One of the themes that underpins A plate to call home is social inclusion....

Gary: We try. People ask do I watch myself on television, and the answer is generally ‘no’, but I do listen to the podcasts, because when you listen back you hear different things. We did a podcast with Tamil Feasts -  four guys who started a little pop-up at CERES, a community garden and kitchen in Brunswick. The conversation ended up being about detention centres and immigration, and them trying to get permanent residency and we were all in tears. These guys are entrepreneurial dynamos and have so much to offer the country. So we try with our podcast to get a bit of traction and sometimes change people’s minds. That’s another reason that it’s fascinating to do.

How do you build trust with your interviewees?

Gary: Building trust with your interviewees is fairly easy to be honest. It basically starts with a common interest: food is the common interest, it's the bond. [Then] being gentle, giving them space, allowing them to take the conversation in the direction they feel comfortable and injecting a little humour. For me, even as a brand, people know me as a chef and as a restaurateur and as a judge on Masterchef. That's what I am good at, that’s what I can rely on. So whenever I feel myself wanting to comment on something out of my field, I remind myself that my field of expertise is cake.

How do you build trust with your audience?

Gary: There used to be a lot of snobbery around food. When I started working 30 years ago, I wasn't allowed to eat in the same restaurant I cooked in [The Connaught], that was for a different class of people. When you remove that strata and talk to people like we’re all on the same level, they feel included and there is an incredible freedom that comes with that. Your relationships are totally different. I believe they trust me because I'm an everyman, I'm just like them and I’m talking to them in exactly the same way I talk to a member of my family.