Former MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan on Rancilio’s Silvia Pro

Gary Mehigan

Restaurateur and former MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan spent a decade encouraging home cooks to follow their culinary dreams, and now he is living his own as a passionate home barista and the ambassador of the Rancilio Silvia Pro espresso machine.

The first thing Gary Mehigan does when he wakes up in the morning is turn the kettle on, draw the blinds, and power up his Rancilio Silvia Pro. In the four to five minutes it takes to strain a tea for his wife Mandy, he’s also made himself the first coffee of the day.

His second is made in the company of BeanScene magazine. Using a Rocky grinder, Gary dispenses 19 grams of his own Dawn Kickstarter blend, made in collaboration with Veneziano Coffee Roasters. He weighs the shot on a set of scales and extracts 33 millilitres of liquid gold. With pure focus, Gary textures silky milk foam and makes no apologies for his “abstract squiggle” latte art.

“The more you make coffee at home the more pressure you put on yourself to perfect it. I was quite prepared to make you another if I didn’t get the milk right. And that’s not because it’s for [BeanScene], but because there’s no point in drinking bad coffee. In fact, I usually don’t make coffee for anyone else, so to receive a ‘Gary coffee’ is a special occasion,” he says.

The former MasterChef judge, restaurateur, podcast host and coffee lover has been an “accidental fan” of Rancilio coffee machines since the day his wife bought him his Rancilio Lucy espresso machine more than 17 years ago. Gary worships that machine, which is still going strong at his peninsula property.

“The biggest difference between the Lucy and the new Silvia Pro is the ease of operation. With the Lucy, it’s a single boiler machine, so I just have to pay more attention to it and go through a specific process to make the coffee. Thanks to the dual boiler on the Silvia Pro, I can draw a shot of espresso and steam the milk at the same time. It even has a timer and in-built proportional integral derivative (PID) controllers keeping the temperature stable, so I know if it reads 98°C, it is 98°C,” Gary says.

The Silvia Pro is the first major model release to hit the market since Moffat Group and Rancilio Group partnered in late 2020 to form Rancilio Group Australasia. A strategic focus for the partnership has been developing the Rancilio portfolio of products, with the Silvia Pro leading the way. This machine is designed to deliver the same high quality shot as its predecessor, with the addition of an independent steam boiler, and a dual PID and shot timer to consistently control the now dual boilers. It also has a commercial steam wand to deliver maximum steam power while simultaneously brewing consistent shots of espresso.

With Gary already an avid Rancilio user, he says it was a natural alignment to become the Australasia ambassador for the new Silvia Pro domestic coffee machine.

“I don’t put my name to anything I don’t believe in. People are very savvy and see through anything fake, especially in foodie circles on social media. People want honesty and trust,” Gary says.

The Rancilio Silvia Pro features a dual boiler, timer, PID controllers and a commercial steam wand.
The Rancilio Silvia Pro features a dual boiler, timer, PID controllers and a commercial steam wand.

“When I tell my audience the Silvia Pro is a great machine, it’s because I genuinely believe that it’s a worthwhile investment that makes as good, if not better coffee, than your local café. Why? Because it’s yours. You make it just how you like it – with your favourite beans, preferred milk, and set temperature.”

Paul O’Brien, General Manager of Rancilio Australasia says the moment he spoke to Gary about a potential partnership, he was given a lesson in Rancilio he didn’t expect.

“Gary was telling me about Rancilio, not the other way around. He is a coffee person and a Rancilio user first and foremost. He’s passionate and authentic about wanting to show people that anyone can make great coffee at home,” he says.

“I was so impressed that he’d be using a Rancilio Lucy for some 17 years, but that’s just a testament to the brand, which is humble and focused on performance, reliability, longevity, and producing quality-driven products. I get calls all the time about passionate users who have had their Rancilio machines for decades. I had one guy on the phone this morning telling me he had a Rancilio S9 machine for 35 years. He almost cried when I told him he couldn’t get parts for it anymore.”

Rancilio, like many coffee machine manufacturers last year, experienced a significant rise in domestic uptake. To its credit, production in Italy never stopped. Paul says espresso machines like the Rancilio Silvia V6 and Pro flew out the door, with the original Silvia still considered Rancilio’s “top-selling domestic espresso machine ever”.

“People bought a lot of different consumer machines during COVID, many hovering around the $1000 mark, but I want consumers to know that for less than $1500, you can buy a reliable Rancilio Rocky grinder and a fair dinkum handmade Italian made commercial espresso machine, which we know can literally last 20 years,” Paul says.

“Buying a Rancilio commercial model for home is a small investment that pays itself off in just a year and a half when you think of the money spent purchasing one or two coffee each day. For a little more, it’s accessible to have this iconic Italian brand in your own home or office kitchen.”

Gary needed no convincing. During lockdown he deep-dove into the coffee world, watching former World Barista Championship performances, working on his latte art, and perfecting his espresso extraction. He says, if anything, his devotion has raised expectations when he ventures outside to a café.

“In terms of pure coffee, I think I make myself a better coffee then I get anywhere else. I’m a lot more pedantic about my coffee preparation, but there’s also a certain pleasure attached to the ritual. As a chef, I like the ceremony of things, and when it doesn’t work out, it really winds me up,” he says.

Before lockdown, Gary was a firm believer in “savouring” the coffee moment. Rather than buying a takeaway coffee out of convenience, he would always insist on having his coffee in-store.

“One of the drivers behind that was because of the high volume of disposable single-use coffee cups, and also because I think you appreciate the coffee and enjoy the experience more,” he says. “If I was working on the set of MasterChef, I used to leave the house at 6.30am, drive out of the garage and down the road to a local café, pull over, and sit at the coffee bar. I’d spent five minutes thinking about the day ahead, enjoy my coffee, then off I’d go.”

While Gary is now satisfied with having his morning coffee at home with his Rancilio Silvia Pro. He says post-COVID, there’s plenty of opportunities for cafés and at-home consumption to co-exist.

“Some people will continue to enjoy the ritual of making coffee at home and some will like the balance of going out. Domestic tourism is going through the roof – people want to go out and wine and dine,” he says.
“The great thing about Melbourne is that we have some incredible roasters, including Veneziano, whom I’m loyal to, and have loved for years. To me, a proper Melbourne roasted coffee is one with strength and fruity characteristics. When I get my freshly roasted Veneziano coffee, and the delivery date is just right, there’s nothing better than running it through my Rancilio machine.”

And when he does, Gary’s Instagram followers know it. His latest post included an extraction from a bottomless portafilter which he shot on the floor trying to get the right angle, alongside his breakfast of crusty bread and a five-minute boiled egg. As one fan described, “that, is the breakfast, of champions”, and Gary agrees.

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This article appears in the June 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.
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