The Pop-up Culinarian

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A food artist or a food designer – call it what you like. Making magic with food through pop-up restaurants, Harry Mangat left a job in Attica to pursue his artistry, giving birth to Biji Dining (Grandma’s food). Welcome to Mangat’s kitchen, where pumpkin can taste like apricot in a Petit four.

 

 

Meet Harry Mangat, once upon a time known as Harminderjeet Singh Mangat. Originally coming from Doraha, a village in Ludhiana, he belonged to a family business of old oil trucks. He was always on the move, travelling around to where the business would go.
Mangat grew up in New Delhi, later moving to a boarding school in Pathankot. After a few years he wanted to follow a friend to Canada, but as destiny would have it he ditched Canada for Melbourne. In 2005 he came to study accountancy in Box Hill TAFE. Aren’t we lucky to have him here and brand him “Made in Melbourne”?

Mangat, 35 now, originally never wanted to cook in his life, let alone ever set his foot in a kitchen. Like all Indian boys he was fed and spoilt by his mother; so, his reflection on food was within that common boundary of daal and roti. Mangat tells me of his ignorance in understanding Indian food, and how it was limited to that kitchen at his home in India.
Here in Melbourne he was introduced to a global palate, and that was enough for him to join the Victorian Institute for an Advanced Diploma in Hospitality. Learning to appreciate ingredients and treating produce with respect, he landed his first job in Simply Spanish.
It was not until 2007–09, when he started in Simply Spanish in South Melbourne as head chef, that things changed for Mangat. It is here he met his future Australian-born Indonesian wife, who worked as a waitress at the restaurant. At this point we both giggle – he scored life in full circle in Lamaros in 2010 as a chef.

 

He hit the jackpot when he did his internship in Attica. But as with any creative person, he didn’t want to be tied to any responsibilities and just did things for himself. He didn’t apply for a job opening in Attica. I understood that it an artist thing – a sacred obligation to yourself to follow your own dreams.

So, with no regrets, he and Peter Gunn, then a sous-chef in Attica, formed a beautiful friendship regardless and he started working at Peter’s pop-up. Soon he started working in Hare and Grace, with Raymond Capaldi helping him with plating creatively. From there he travelled to Mornington to work at Jackalope. Attica made him appreciate the garden more; here, he based his cooking on traditional seasoning.

So, while running pop-ups and rubbing shoulders with some big names in the food industry, Biji Dining came into existence in 2016, creating a modern India, plating for Aidan at Persillade in November of that year. Later in 2017, he was at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, along with many more pop-ups. He was also at “Food for Thought” charity dinners. Dominating the pop-up scene and collaborating with many chefs, he doesn’t want to be called as the ‘new kid on the block’. He is a man on his own journey who makes pumpkin skin taste like apricot so it can be used on a petit four.

In 2019, he prepared an 18-course Indian feast with the two-hatted restaurant O.MY in Beaconsfield. It was no looking back for this artist, who is constantly collaborating with big names. For example, Mangat has cooked for Dani Valent, preparing in her house kochi pandi curry, dhal and bhurta, and outlining eight different ways to cook rotis.

But, Mangat gets his kick from pop-ups and sharing the buzz for storytelling behind each dish. It’s all about the food and sharing it with people.

On a personal level, this artist wants to be free from family responsibilities along with his wife – they want to travel and create more stories with their food. Their dream is to travel, rock climb around the slopes of Switzerland and create pop-ups throughout Europe.
That’s what brought me to the question: what is the future for Harry Mangat? He artistically describes that he wants to create his own signature and become the King of Pop-Up. Mangat wants to take his pop-ups around the world, collaborating with big names. He wants to work with big bold Indian spices, collaborating with Australian flavours.
Before COVID-19 hit our lives, he and his wife travelled to Europe to see the scope of pop-ups – they were astounded with the possibilities and potential. When they returned, they thought of selling everything to settle in Europe, but I guess he hasn’t signed off on Melbourne yet. So, we are lucky to see him back in Melbourne safe and with us, at least for now.

I ask him what he likes to cook in his spare time, as I see him on Instagram whipping up butter chicken pie, with the crust on top transformed to carvings of leaves and petals. I ask him to send a recipe – and whether I can go to his (or he comes to mine) to cook for me? I have shared below the recipe he provided for moong dhal bread with coconut ghee.
I am not a baker but I did try this. I couldn’t be more delighted, as I have broken the myth of being unable to bake bread, and I am now rubbing shoulders with others who can proudly whip up their own bread. Though not 100% perfect (my baking, that is) the bread was delicious and moist.

As I broke my paranoia of baking bread with Harry’s recipe, I will just tell you: use coconut ghee instead of regular ghee. It will be perfect. All I can say is that it was the best bread I ever ate.

As I wait for stage 4 restrictions to end, I cannot wait for Mangat to come to mine to cook me the meal he has promised.

For now, as I look at this young artist he evokes the memory of “Around the World in 80 Days” but with a twiddle of the hunter gatherer. In him, Shakespeare comes to life: “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it; that surfeiting. The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

By Nandita Chakraborty