Cooking up a storm

From Kolhapur to MasterChef Australia Season 5, Rishi Desai loved every bit of the journey and enjoyed the opportunity to let the world know the taste of the true Indian cuisine. He speaks to us about his journey into the acclaimed food competition and his culinary dreams…

There is something about MasterChef Australia that makes it one of the most awaited shows each season, and one enjoys the opportunity to travel with the contestants and be there with them (virtually). Contestants from diverse backgrounds showcase their culinary talent. The Season 5 saw Indian contestant Rishi Desai getting ace points for presenting Indian food in an interesting manner. Though he did not win, he reached the final rounds. Rishi speaks to The Punekar about his journey from Kolhapur to Australia and the time he spent on the show.

Do tell us something about yourself for the readers.

I was born in Kolhapur and studied there until my HSC. I moved to Pune to pursue engineering in Polymers at Maharashtra Institute of Technology. I then travelled to the US to do my Masters in Material Science and Engineering after which I returned to India to work with General Electric in Bangalore in their Patents division. My experience with GE was instrumental in me getting employed with IP Australia (Australian Patent Office) in Canberra in 2008 where I migrated in 2008 and now manage a group of patent examiners. My family includes my sisters and my mother, who still reside in India.

Rishi Desai_leadWhat is the one reason which made you get into MasterChef Australia?

I was always interested in food and my migration to Australia coincided with MasterChef Season 1 being telecast on Australian TV. I started watching the show and got hooked to it. I would try and emulate recipes at home. After a couple of seasons and careful consideration of my cooking skills, my wife Mitra suggested that I apply for the show.

What do you think they liked in your food and selected you as a contestant?

MasterChef Australia is primarily about food so that was the main reason I was selected. During my audition, I featured mostly Maharashtrian and Konkani food which is not so common in Australia, hence it was very new to them. There is a bit of personality which is also essential to make a successful TV show and I think they saw some of that in me as well.

What has cooking meant to you, right from your childhood to present?

Food has been an integral part of my life since childhood. I would always find my way into the kitchen during my spare time. I feel relaxed in the kitchen and love to try new cuisines and recipes every time I am in the kitchen. I draw my travel plans around food and food is always on my mind.

How was the experience of cooking and competing with chefs from all kinds of backgrounds and cooking styles and also the chefs – both presenters and guests?

MasterChef Australia always has had diverse contestants and I think that makes the show very popular all around the world. It has been an incredible experience spending time with fellow contestants as I learned a lot from them. I made great friends on the show whom I will cherish for life. Professional chefs that come on the show and the experience always teaches you a lot and for me, the highlight was when my hero Heston spent a week on the show with us.

Do you feel Indian food outside India is being hogged by a few local Indian cuisines and other varieties are left out?

I think Indian food outside India features only North Indian cuisine. The food in India is as diverse as its people and we need to feature that diversity in restaurants not just outside India but in India as well. I want to travel across the length and breadth of India to learn about different foods and feature those flavours in my cooking.

What are your aspirations? Any future plans?

The end goal is to have a restaurant but there are small goals in between. I want to travel in India and find out local unexplored cuisines. I want to learn about local flavours and spices and incorporate that in my food. I want to modernise those flavours and put them on a plate at an international level. I am currently writing a cookbook about some of the Indian flavours that I like which will come out next year.