Sashi Cheliah never dreamt of becoming a chef. A Singaporean-born Australian cop who became a fame with Masterchef Australia 2018 by winning the show with highest ever points in its history. “Food has always been part of my family. We have been doing lots of cookings, events etc,” shares Cheliah who was here in India last month on a one month culinary tour. “My journey in India for one month was really an eye opener. I got to stay in North and South and realised how different varieties of cuisine we had in the country that really impressed me,” adds Cheliah who is very impressed with the knowledge that our Indian chefs have about food. Excerpts from interview:
On his Masterchef Journey
Masterchef was totally excellent. It was totally my wife’s idea of joining the competition when we were running a small café in Adelaide, Australia. We wanted to have an experience on how to grow this and Masterchef was a great platform to connect with people. It was just to gain experience and winning the competition was never in my mind. It has changed my life today. Everything is based on my food now. I have started my own company called ‘Gaja’. We are doing couple of events and a restaurant might come up soon.
The restaurant is going to be at Adelaide. The cuisine will be based on south-east Asia and a bit of our Indian flavours. It’s going to be mix of flavours from different regions. I am looking at very casual setup with Tapas, something with wine and local produce, light music. It will be very simple and casual for everyone.
Catering to the Right Crowd
We wanted to cater to the wine region in the area. My customer will be locals who enjoy wine. I will also be targeting foreigners who will come to experience Australia.
You also did a pop-up soon after winning masterchef. Tell us about it.
The pop-up Gaja by Sashi was started immediately after Masterchef. So, everyone was very fresh about my win. The response was very great. For the first two month I was fully booked almost every day. It was messy as I was cooking 400-600 pax a day. But I think that these kind of pop-up limits my creativity so after three months I realised that this is not something I wanted to do as I want to be a bit more creative, explore more flavor and create something new.
Any plan opening a restaurant in India?
I want to get my business model right here in Australia before I bring my brand across anywhere else. But I don’t mind doing a pop-up coming in India if the right business hotels approach me.
Flavours and Ingredients
Definitely, a lot of local flavours would be there; flavours I grew up eating, that I like and also some interesting ingredients from India. I might take some traditional dishes from India and give it a twist in my own way. A lot of global chefs have understood the value of spices and flavours now. And, you can see the difference of it in their cooking. Lot of chefs are using Indian spices and ingredients nowadays to bring flavours to their food.
Ingredients He Always Keep Close
I love my chillies, lemon grass, pandan leaves to name a few. I love a lot of spices and turmeric is one of those that I always use in my cooking. It has lots of medicinal value and is widely used in our menu. I think everyone globally is appreciating it.
His Love for Biryani
I love my Biryani. Anywhere I go, one of the first things I try is the biryani. I try to experiment with every local version of the biryani to any country, region I visit. Every region is very unique. They have their own flavours, way of cooking.
Chefs he always looks up to
I look up to four chefs–Gordan Ramsay for the reason that he is an amazing chef and he knows his cuisine very well. At the same time he is also a very good businessman. He has a very good balance between a chef and a businessman. Secondly, I like Jamie Oliver as he simplifies food very well; he makes food look so easy and comfortable. Another chef is Nigella Lawson. She is very simple, humble and down to earth. As a human being I learnt a lot from her. For an Indian Chef, Sanjeev Kapoor is an inspiration as he is one of the pioneers of the Indian cuisine who brought Indian cuisine to world map. I would definitely love to do something with him in the future.
Trends you see in India
The millennial crowd is very impatient in India as they want to have good, fast food and quick bites. They want to pick up and just move on. Food delivery is also becoming a big market in the country. Tapas is also a commonly growing market in the country. But people also like a bit more drama and story in the food.