Season 10 MasterChef winner Sashi Cheliah sat down with Yahoo Lifestyle to discuss how he spent his $250k prize.
SASHI CHELIAH: Risk is inevitable because end of the day, if you don't try, you don't know.
I was actually looking into starting my own business back then. And I'm pretty comfortable in two things. One is law enforcement, another one is cooking, because that's what I really enjoyed doing throughout my life. I've been doing law enforcement for nearly 20 years, working for a government for 20 years, being an employee. I was reaching a stage where, OK, this is enough. Let's look at something else in life and what else I can do other than law enforcement.
And cooking was something that is very close to me because my mom and my family used to be part of hospitality industry back home in Singapore. So naturally, I lean towards that. And that's when "MasterChef" was promoting for season 10. And I took that opportunity, and I said, OK, let's give it a go and try and see whether am I dead to survive in the industry.
My wife is the reason why I applied for the show. She's a very big fan of the show, and she diligently watch every episode, every season. We started watching "MasterChef" from 2012 onwards when we migrate to Australia. So literally, she was watching like three or four seasons prior to that. And yeah, she's the one who recommended me. And she made sure that when I applied and I got through to the judges audition, I had about one month. So I had to binge watch a lot of episodes. After work, I come home. I'll practice. I'll binge watch two or three episodes before I go to bed.
So I covered season 8 and season 9 within a month. Obviously, I will not be able to learn everything within that one month. So it was a learning process. I went in with a basic understanding of the competition, and I had a bit of a basic understanding of how to cook certain dishes. Like I have my strength, which is pretty much Asian, Malaysian, Indian kind of cuisine, but that is not enough to win a competition of that scale. I need to understand other cuisines, other techniques, desserts.
So there was plenty of things that need to be learnt, and I was lucky enough that I managed to stay in the competition till the end, which gave me the time to learn as I was progressing in the competition. Pretty early in the competition, I realized that I have a very good potential of going very far in the competition. I was not thinking about winning the competition. I wanted to be there for as long as possible.
The very first mystery box, when I won the mystery box, then subsequently I was winning a few challenges, one after another. The moment I got my first immunity pin, that's when I thought, OK, I have a good chance. Actually $250,000 is not enough to set up a restaurant or a business of what I was planning to do. Ordinarily, I plan to do a small takeaway or a cafe kind of concept, but my win in the competition and the kind of exposure I got because of "MasterChef" made me set up something that I never even imagined.
I started up doing pop ups, traveling overseas, learn a lot from different chefs how they go about doing restaurants. It was totally a different ballgame when it comes to cooking for a small group to cooking for a mass production, like a restaurant kind of a setup. Everything went into the restaurant on top of my savings. It was pretty overwhelming at the moment because "MasterChef Australia" is not only popular in Australia. It's a global-- they have about 50 other countries-- something around, I think, 50 or 80, I can remember-- watch the show, and there's a very strong following in places like India, South Africa, America, UK.
So when I start traveling the world, I realized, OK there's a lot of potentials everywhere. And there was a lot of proposals was coming true. And I had to filter that, making sure that I'm making the right decision. At the same time, I have a dream of starting my own business. I want to run my own restaurant, how I'm going to navigate that. So the first one year, it was a challenge. It was a challenge because being new to the industry, I need to make a lot of decisions based on my own life experience pretty much. So I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of good decisions, but I learned as I was progressing in the traveling the whole thing as a journey.
No, it wasn't a fun thing. It took me a long time to not go back there. The reason why I go back was pretty much was COVID was the reason. We started the whole restaurant with a very big hype. We were doing extremely well. Summer was buzzing. It was a very good start, but everything went pear shaped in COVID. Everything went down the hill. From a chef, I was becoming more of a business owner. I was not thinking about creativity. I was not thinking about how I can create new dishes and order. Instead, I was just focusing on how I can survive.
I want this business to run, not say profit, at least break even kind of a point during that period. So I was losing my creativity. And when "MasterChef" approached me, I thought, OK, this would be a good time. Let's go back to where it all started. Let's go back there. Let's rekindle back my creativity, my passion for food. Let's go back and see why I wanted to start this journey from the beginning. So that was the whole reason why I went back there.
The first one I was a bit more-- how do I say? I wasn't free and easy, but at the same time, I don't have that level of expectations and stress during the show. But the second time around, since day one, everybody knows you are a winner, everyone knows that you can cook well, so their expectation is higher. My friends know that this guy can do well. He have done it before. So there was some kind of expectations from them. And running multiple businesses and doing the show, you had a lot in your plate. It was tough.
I think it's the exposure. I think, if I've never gone into "MasterChef", I would have still maybe started a small restaurant in Adelaide or a cafe, but I wouldn't have got this kind of exposure. What chefs do for 10, 15 years to achieve in terms of publicity, marketing, and getting that kind of accreditation, I was able to get it within a year. But it wasn't easy because this industry is a very tough industry.
I would have won a master chef competition, but that doesn't mean that I will be accepted in the industry, because people spend 10 years, 12 years perfecting the craft. And just because I won a competition, that doesn't mean that I will earn that accreditation. So it took me one year, or maybe almost two years, until I get my first award for the restaurants and so on, so forth.
Like consecutively, we are Readers' Choice, best restaurant in Adelaide for Asian cuisine. So these are the things that put me in par with the chefs who are in the industry for a long time. So you will get your respect and accreditation in the industry if you make good food. It took me some time to let people know that, yes, this guy is not only a TV chef, he can cook good decent food for restaurants.
I want to say advice is, if you have an idea, and if you want to try something, you have to give it a go. Go and try. Go and try. Risk is inevitable. There is a certain level of risk. You have to still try, because end of the day, if you don't try, you don't know whether you have the potential to achieve your vision or dream, whatever you want to call it. Please try.