“George rang me and said, ‘Did you hear? We’re done.’ And I remember saying to George, ‘Are you OK?’” Mehigan recalls before fighting back tears.
With decades of experience around the globe and as the proprietor of some of Australia’s most renowned restaurants, including The Boathouse in Melbourne’s Moonee Ponds, this blow was a hard one to take.
And despite rumours the judges wanted a bigger pay packet, Mehigan confirms, “The axing wasn’t a surprise. In honest truth, it was never about the money,” before explaining that perhaps losing this gig may be a blessing in disguise.
He now aims to spend more time with his family, focus on his health and dive into a few passion projects.
“The money had been agreed and it was about the term of contracts – our commitment to MasterChef for the year is about eight or nine months. People still don’t realise it’s a lot – six months of filming plus publicity and blogging and all that stuff on the other end.
“The emotional response is more about not having the opportunity to do Season 12 and say goodbye to the viewers. We could have come back in year’s time or two years’ time. So, for us it was time to move on, a time to do our own thing, time to make a different kind of TV. And after 11 years, we were all ready to hand the baton over to a brighter, younger chef.”
And what advice might he have to offer the next team? “Enjoy it! No joke, we loved every minute of that 11 years.” Regardless of the outcome, Mehigan says he's grateful for the experience he had on the show. “There’s a sense of relief. The idea of going, ‘OK, so when I go to India in February, I’m going to take six weeks.’ I’m not tied down. I can do that and I like the idea of projects like my deal with WW, the new Weight Watchers.”
This deal, he says, is something that’s having an impact on his life overall. “My goals have changed a little bit. I suppose WW has helped me correct some bad habits.”
And having spent his career in a profession that celebrates decadent meals, who could blame him? “As a chef, I always thought, you can’t teach me anything. I know everything about food and I can fix my own diet and the like and eat healthily. But I think healthier choices sometimes are not as obvious as you might think they are. And you get caught up going out to eat, buying too many things out.”
And he admits his time on a food show taste-testing up to 20 meals per day didn’t help tracking his calories: “Eating on set on MasterChef and not making any adjustments and having a big blowout on the weekend. I think what I’ve really learned is if I’m going out on Saturday night, enjoy it. Don’t compromise, eat everything. Don’t restrict yourself too much. And then eat really well during the week.”
While Mehigan has always been active, he tells WHO he’s at his lowest weight in years. Now, he’s even inspired to push his fitness to another level – and he’s taking his former MasterChef judges along with him.
“I’ve always been a fit fat guy. I’ve done boxing for ages, but we’ve enrolled in the Noosa triathlon and we’re going to do it. I'm going to do the 10km run, George is going to do the cycling,” he says. “And at the end, Matt’s going to be holding the orange juice and we’re going to get a sub. [Laughs] I would never have thought about doing something like that before!”
For the full interview pick up the latest issue of Who!