An Exclusive Interview with Rishi Desai - MasterChef Australia

Have you been watching the current season of MasterChef AustraliaMy favourite contestant throughout the season has been Rishi Desai, who eventually reached the top four (I won't spoil the end for you!) In a recent interview with Antoine Lewis, Gary Mehigan (one of the MasterChef judges) had said "Rishi is very creative; he wants to turn Indian food upside down". We have already seen some inventive twists on Indian food from Rishi - those modak-like dumplings with soy-caramel that he made last week got some high praise.

I was absolutely delighted when Rishi agreed to be interviewed for the blog! Presenting the Marathi mulga from Kolhapur who is revolutionising Indian food Down Under. 

Q1. Welcome to Deliciously Directionless. And congratulations on your superb performance in MasterChef Australia, Series 5! How would you describe your experience on the show?

A1. Thanks for featuring me on Deliciously Directionless. My Masterchef experience was absolutely incredible. I enjoyed every minute I spent doing the show. It was a steep learning curve for all the contestants and we all learned a lot of new skills through the judges and through each other.

Q2. About mid-way through the show, we really started seeing the ‘Rishi-touch’ to your dishes. What would you say is your signature dish?

A2. The initial few episodes that we spent on the show had a lot of team challenges and I stayed out of the elimination at the beginning. So there wasn't much opportunity to showcase individual skills. But as the number of contestants shrank, it was very hard to stay out of the elimination due to the nature of the competition. This is when I started to get into my style of cooking which is modern Indian food.

I did not get a chance to cook my signature dish on the show which is Slow-cooked Kolhapuri Goat with Cauliflower Purée and Pappadum. I have been cooking that at my pop-up restaurants in Canberra.

Q3. The episodes with Heston Blumenthal looked like so much fun! What was your biggest learning working with such a talented & maverick chef?

A3. I was the only contestant who cooked all 4 days when Heston was in the kitchen. I am really fortunate that I got to cook alongside my food hero and got to learn so much from him. For me the biggest learning was to understand his mindset when it comes to cooking. Introducing nostalgia in food, eating with all five senses and creating theatre; he makes food an experience rather than just a meal.

Q4. How old were you when you first ventured into the kitchen? Any early memories? Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked?

A4. My mother tells me that I was 5 when I first ventured into the kitchen. Since then it is a place for me to relax. She also told me that I cooked 2 minute noodles at 5.

Q5. What did you do before you were selected for MasterChef Australia? Will you be continuing with your profession or will the food industry take precedence?

A5. I was and still am a full-time employee of the Australian Public Service. I want to make food as my profession but at this stage I am taking baby steps. I work full time in the office and spend my time after work and on weekends exploring opportunities in the food industry.

Q6. How has life changed after MasterChef? What are your future plans? Is there a cookbook in the offing?

A6. Life has definitely changed for me. To begin with I get recognised while walking down the street which was weird initially but I am getting used to it now. I am busier than I was before the show as I am still working full time. Future-wise, I am in the process of publishing a cookbook which will come out early next year. I am still doing pop-up restaurants in Canberra. The end goal of a restaurant is still alive - a lot of ground work ahead of me.

Q7. You have done a few pop-ups in Canberra post-MasterChef. What kind of food did you showcase there?

A7. I have done 4 pop-up dinners in Canberra showcasing modern Indian food, featuring 6 course Indian degustation menu** with matching wines. The response in Canberra  has been great. So much so that I had to offer one additional dinner to accommodate people on the wait-list.

Q8. We have seen a few modern interpretations of Indian cooking from you on the show. Is that the direction your cooking will take in the future?

A8. Yes, for me Indian cooking is more than curry in a bowl. I want to showcase the diversity of Indian food. Hence I want to travel the length and breadth of India trying new foods and experiencing local produce and spices. I want to then transform those recipes into contemporary Indian food and showcase them in a modern way. The key is to not change the flavour profile.

Q9. What would be your perfect meal?

A9. For starters chilli and garlic crab, goat biryani for main and Heston's trifle for dessert.

Q10. How often do you visit India? When do we get a chance to see you cook in Mumbai?! :)

A10. My family is still back in India so I visit often, may be once in 2 years or so. I am hoping to go to India and especially Mumbai very soon so stay tuned*.

And now for some random questions!

Q1. Dream dinner date? (You can’t say ‘my wife’!)

A1. Madhuri Dixit - have a smile on my face as I am typing!

Q2. Favourite foodie movie?

A2. No, there is none because I usually won't finish a movie that involves food. I end up in the kitchen cooking something I have just watched!

Q3. What’s inside your refrigerator right now?

A3. Spices sent by my mother from her spice shop in Kolhapur - sealed and frozen so they don't lose their aroma and flavour.

* Rishi will be visiting India this week - so watch out Mumbai, Delhi & Pune. Some fun events are in the offing! Also, stay tuned for my next post where Rishi shows you how to make his signature dishSlow-cooked Kolhapuri Goat with Cauliflower Purée and Pappadum. Read the follow-up post here

To know more about him, check out his website or follow him on Twitter or Facebook

** Read Rishi's 6 course Indian degustation menu here

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All images courtesy Rishi Desai

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