Mahajan magic

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Nidhi Mahajan – the MasterChef contestant who floored culinary legend Marco Pierre-White has become quite a legend herself. Poornima Koonath talks to the amateur chef who’s caught everyone’s attention

Nidhi’s father played a great role in her odyssey from her humble kitchen to the MasterChef stage. She calls him her ‘Flavour Thesaurus’

Nidhi considers being a part of the MasterChef kitchen a life-changing experience that has opened up a world of possibilities for her. Her message to the Indo-Australian readers is, “Be proud of your heritage and don’t shy away from it. It is a part of who you are.”

MasterChef is a platform for ordinary people with extraordinary cooking skills. These are people who may not have picked cooking as their first career option for reasons best known to them. But their love and passion for cooking refused to stay locked in a closet and they decided to move to centre stage and showcase their talent before the world.

Contestants of this show – possibly one of the world’s most watched reality shows — find themselves pitted against the best, and be it a team challenge or an independent one, be it the Mystery Box or the Invention Test, they are cooking hard to stay in the competition. The pressure is immense.

Nidhi Mahajan was one of the talented home cooks who qualified to set foot in the MasterChef kitchen. In fact, she went a step further and swept the expert chefs off their feet with her magic with spices. Nidhi always lit up the MasterChef kitchen with her bubbly nature and her effervescent smile. She was the audience favourite. Watching her cook was a feast to the eyes and her celebration of the humble Indian dishes was heart-warming indeed. I caught up with Nidhi and spoke to her about her MasterChef experience…

Encouraged and motivated by her husband, Nidhi entered the MasterChef kitchen deciding to cook like she always did – straight from the heart. Speaking of her MasterChef experience, she says that it was absolutely amazing and has filled her with a lot of confidence. “A surreal experience,” she said. One of her biggest admirers during this competition has been culinary giant Marco Pierre-White. They shared a strange chemistry and the admiration seemed to be mutual.

Marco made special mention of Nidhi’s clever use of spices – the perfect balance she created. For a home cook like me who cooks with spices every day, I found the statement quite intriguing… And when I questioned Nidhi about it she said that she continued tasting the food until she felt the right balance on her palate. The use of spices is all about the right combination and a dish with chilli in it can give you that tangy kick without being so overtly hot that you would need something cooling to wash it down.

Nidhi’s father played a great role in her odyssey from her humble kitchen to the MasterChef stage. She calls him her ‘Flavour Thesaurus’. She says that she and her father may cook the same dishes using the same ratio of spices, but they don’t always taste the same.

“I think I have a little more love in my hands,” she chuckles. Nidhi considers herself a food enthusiast and says the lack of ingredients has never dampened her spirit, and she ensured that she created something delicious with whatever was available. Growing up in India, she said she had limited exposure to the varieties of ingredients available in the Western world. Even something as humble as the pasta would only be available in speciality stores and even that was a rarity if you came from a small town. Moving to a new country is no easy task and like any immigrant Nidhi and her husband lived on a tight budget. But that gave an outlet to Nidhi’s culinary creations. The couple had limited restaurant visits to keep the costs down but Nidhi ensured that she created something equally exotic at home. She looked up restaurants menus, did her own research over the net and recreated the dishes with the ‘Nidhi twist’, that we now know would have been amazingly tasty and wholesome.

When asked what her ‘MasterChef moment’ was, without hesitation she piped up, “It definitely was when Marco Pierre-White told me that he wished I had a restaurant near his house so he could dine there every night.”

She considers being a part of the MasterChef kitchen a life-changing experience that has opened up a world of possibilities for her. Her message to the Indo-Australian readers is, “Be proud of your heritage and don’t shy away from it. It is a part of who you are.” She says we ought to respect the varieties Indian cuisine has to offer and showcase it at every available opportunity. She came thus far as she believed in her talents and her passion for cooking.

According to Nidhi she did not change her cooking style for the competition and her trademark was – simple, wholesome sumptuous plate of food, served in generous portions, cooked with lots of love! She hopes to use all the experience and skills that she gained in the MasterChef kitchen to finetune her own skills and design a culinary experience that would bring joy to many a palate. Her MasterChef journey may have been cut short but her culinary journey continues.

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