Indian food is not just curry in a bowl: Rishi

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The Masterchef contestant tells Shveata Chandel Singh about his culinary dreams, and why he wants to travel back to India

Hrishikesh (Rishi) Desai, who scaled the Masterchef Australia 2013 summit to spot number four, says he wants to take Indian cooking to new heights.

Though he lost out to his dream of being Masterchef, this Kolhapur-born boy with a Masters from Rochester Institute of Technology USA, has a bigger plan in mind.

“Cooking is something I learnt from my mother. She is a great cook and creates some amazing dishes, and uses some unusual combinations of ingredients as well,” says Rishi, who migrated to Australia in 2008, and is now assistant director of an examination division at Intellectual PropertyAustralia.

“My mom tells me I started cooking at a very young age. She says that that I was always interested in cooking, and used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I find peace in cooking. The first dish I made was Maggie noodles. I think I was barely five years old then. I guess from that moment on, cooking became an inseparable part of my life,” he says.

Rishi says that being on the cult reality cooking show Masterchef definitely shaped his skills. “It certainly brought me a step closer to achieving my dream of opening a modern Indian restaurant someday. It was a steep learning curve for all the contestants,” he says.

“My family has been the driving force. My wife and my son are probably my biggest fans,”adds the 35-year-old.

“My wife has been very co-operative. We got married 13 years ago, and since then she has always inspired me. She has been my biggest critic, and if she had not given me charge of the kitchen at home, my journey would not have been so smooth in the competition,” says Rishi, who adds that the most difficult part of his five-month Masterchef journey was being away from his family. “But when I returned from the Masterchef house, my family gave me a big welcome home. Even my mother and sisters had come from India to greet me,” he says.

Sharing his Masterchef experience, Rishi says, for the first few episodes, there wasn’t much scope to showcase skills, but as the number of the contestants began to shrink, the ones left standing had to get into their own style of cooking. “Mine was a perfect mix of desi and modern Indian food. I did not get a chance to cook my signature dish –Slow-cooked Kolhapuri Goat with Cauliflower Purée and Pappadum– on the show because of the time constraints, but I have been cooking that at my pop-up restaurants in Canberra,” says Rishi, who took away another cherished experience from Masterchef – spending time with his “food hero” chef Heston Blumenthal.

“I was the only contestant, who cooked all the four days Heston was in the kitchen.  Throughout that cooking process, I was trying to understand his mind. He makes food an experience rather than just a meal, and that is something I would love to do,” he says.

But life, he says, has changed a lot, and he is enjoying every minute of it.

“People have started recognising me on the street. It was weird in the beginning but now I am enjoying it. And yes, I am busiernow than I was before. Besides my full-time job, I am in the process of publishing a cookbook, which I want to publish early next year,” says Rishi, who also does pop-up restaurants in Canberra.

“I want to show that Indian food is not just a curry in a bowl. India is a land of diversity and that diversity is clearly showcased in food. I want to travel through India and experience the local food, produce and spices. After that I want to transform them into contemporary Indian food,” he says.

And of course, there is that restaurant dream, says Rishi. “There’s always that dream.”

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