The international chef, who left the modelling world behind to pursue a career in the food industry when she applied for the cooking show, now opens up to Yahoo Lifestyle about her experiences on both season 6 and season 14, her “unbelievable” career highlight, and her future plans.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“I was living in London, I had gone back to modelling after my son was born, and I just realised that it wasn't fuelling my soul,” she shares. “I was just feeling like it wasn't my true path of what I wanted to do.
“One day I said, ‘I want to become a chef’. And so I gave myself some time, started to study, I did some courses at Le Cordon Bleu. I was coming home and bringing home these French dishes and my son's grandmother was making these beautiful Indian dishes, and it was like this battle to get the food on the table, whose was better. And everyone always chose the Indian dishes because they're just so beautiful and flavoursome. I just fell in love with Indian cuisine and the culture and the food and everything about it.
“I ended up applying [to MasterChef] and I didn't think that I had enough skills to go through the process, I was very nervous. And it's kind of strange going from a model to this industry, I knew that I really had to prove myself and work really hard so I studied a lot and I took it very seriously. I got into MasterChef and it completely changed my career and my future.”
What was your experience like on season 6?
“I knew how big of an opportunity MasterChef was so I did so much preparation,” she recalls. “I knew that I wanted to do well and prove myself in the competition.
“I really did want to give it the best chance that I could. It's an incredible show and I know how life-changing it can be, so I didn't want to waste that opportunity. I was away from my son while I was in the show, so I didn't want to take it lightly and I definitely threw everything at the show.
“I remember the day before going into MasterChef, my mum and my family were like, ‘Let's just put a Mystery Box episode on and watch it’. And I remember watching all the contestants lift the box off and I'm looking at the ingredients and I just started bawling because I was like, I could not think of anything to make! I was so nervous going into the show.”
How did you navigate life after the show?
“One of the dishes that I cooked on the show was aloo gobi, it’s basically like a home food or a village food from Punjab,” she details. “The night I cooked that dish, I had like 50,000 followers on my social media overnight. I was just like, is this spam? What's going on? How is this possible?
“I already had that strong connection with India that I wanted to travel to India and see what's going on there, and when I landed in India, I was just blown away with the support. I was being recognised as soon as I got off the plane, everywhere.
“For me, I hit the ground running and I really worked hard. I wrote a cookbook before the show went to air because I was like, I want to make sure that I have something to kind of give value to the people that end up following, if anyone follows me after the show finishes airing. I was really proactive with getting things ready after the show and it's such an incredible opportunity.”
What stands out as a career highlight for you?
“[In May] I got to meet the Prime Minister of India one on one and sit down and have a conversation and have a chat,” she says. “And I'm just like, what is going on?
“Like, this is the biggest population in the world and I'm sitting down with the Prime Minister having a conversation about what I've done to date, having a conversation about all the knowledge I've gained from India. He’s talking to me about things that he sees for me going forward in my future, he's asking me questions, what I think about how people feel about Indian cuisine, and I'm just like, is this really happening?
“It’s so strange when you're doing your work to look up and go, I should be proud of what I'm doing. And I think meeting the Prime Minister was definitely the highest possible acknowledgment of what I've been doing in my work, and it’s just a boost to say I’m on the right track and I'm doing something great. Just to be acknowledged was really, really special and such a huge honour and quite unbelievable.”
What was your experience like on season 14?
“I always kind of relate it to giving birth because it's like, you forget the pain, you only remember the good times,” she laughs. “The stress of going back into the show, there are different layers to it this time. Now I've gone and I've worked in the industry, I need to obviously cook well because I guess it's solidifying and reinforcing what I've done in my career.
“Going back into that season, I did not expect to get out of it what I did, and I feel very, very lucky. It's like, something in the universe is directing us if we listen to it to take these opportunities, and I got so much out of the next season.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“The number one thing on my vision board, which I think if you speak to chefs definitely takes a long time in your career to achieve it, but opening that restaurant that is purely me and that refined cooking style that takes decades to kind of hone in on,” she shares.
“For me, that's the dream and I feel like each year I'm getting closer to that point to have enough skills and experience in the industry to be able to do that. I’ve got the name of the restaurant, I can see the restaurant style, I’ve started all of the menu items, and it's just working on those and they take time and experience and honing in on.
“I'll definitely be dedicating it to all the love and support I've had in India and my mum and to Jock [Zonfrillo] and George [Calombaris] who have really helped me to kind of hone in on that. I'm looking forward to that.”
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