An Exclusive Interview With MasterChef India’s New Judge
One look at the sets of MasterChef India will have you feeling like donning a chef’s hat and whipping something up, STAT. The fifth season of this popular TV show is all set to air on October 1, on Star Plus. The panel of judges comprises Chef Vikas Khanna, Chef Kunal Kapur, and Founder and Managing Director of Massive Restaurants, Zorawar Kalra. The ‘Prince Of Indian Cuisine’, as he is called, is the face behind popular restaurants like The Masala Library, Pa Pa Ya, Farzi Café, and Masala Bar.
What does the show promise this time? Well, the judges say that this season, it’s all about how cooking is not just a hobby, but a passion to be followed for life. The season promises tons of glocal recipes, exotic destinations, and the toughest challenges. It’s all about turning one ingredient into a stunning dish — be it appetizers, mains, or even dessert.
With this being Zorawar Kalra’s first time as a judge on the show, we spoke to him on how his experience has been so far. From admitting that his favourite South Indian dish is bisi-beli bhaat to revealing the strangest dish he’s eaten so far, we heard lots from this dapper and smart businessman. Scroll on for details!
What’s it like, being a judge on this popular TV show?
I am very, very excited. I’ve been eating restaurant-quality food prepared by the contestants right from Day 1. Every dish has had a story or an emotional root so far, so it’s been a wonderful experience altogether.
People say that you have made Indian food ‘cool’. What’s your take on that?
Indian food has always been the most sophisticated, amazing cuisine in the world. But it always had a perception and marketing problem. It was always boring. It tasted great, but katoris of dal with a swirl of cream on top has been happening for decades now. My goal was to put Indian food on the global palate and to do that, you have to modernize it. Like everything else in life, evolution is key. I’ve always believed that if you want your cuisine to take over the world, you must make it adaptable. We do that using cutting-edge techniques like molecular, and world-class presentation.
You mentioned molecular gastronomy. What gave rise to that idea and would you look for similar techniques from the contestants?
Well, molecular gastronomy is definitely one of the cutting-edge techniques you will be seeing on the show. But the idea for molecular first came into my head when I went for my first molecular restaurant meal in 2006. This was at El Bulli, which was, at the time, the number 1 restaurant in the world. I was able to get a reservation, I had a meal, and it completely changed my way of thinking about food. I realized that food is more than just regular stuff. It can be very creative and through molecular techniques,you can meld and mould science and art. That’s what we’ve been able to do with our restaurants and I think, that is the future.
What are your expectations from the contestants?
Initially, my expectations were low, but after the first cook-off I realized that these guys are superstars! Now my expectations are sky-high. I am expecting them to perform at the highest level possible on a daily basis. I am expecting them to provide restaurant quality food and presentation. I’m expecting them to blow our minds every single time and let me tell you, they have succeeded in doing that so far!
Does your passion for food work well in the kitchen as well? If so, what’s the best dish you’ve cooked so far?
I’m actually a better concept creator than a chef, so I don’t really cook. The only thing I cook is an omelette. But I make really good omelettes!
What has your experience been like working with the chefs at your restaurants?
I work with really smart, intelligent, and wonderful people. The chefs are my core strength. They help me execute my ideas. I have some of the brightest young minds in the industry working with me. I have people that are very passionate about what they do. They are bent on changing the world of cuisine and that’s what gives us our strength. Honestly, I see a lot of these attributes even in the home cooks on this show.
What is the strongest memory associated with food?
The strongest memory of food that I have is when my dadi used to make me lunch when I would return from school. I still remember she used to make rista kofta, which is a Kashmiri dish. She used to make it only once in a while, as it was a heavy dish. She would start making it early in the morning and sometimes, it would take more then a day to prepare. It’s a complex dish. That is my strongest food memory. It is, till today, the most amazing dish I’ve ever eaten.
What is the best dish that you’ve tasted on the show so far?
It’s difficult to answer that because there are so many! I can’t choose. But quite a few dishes so far have blown our minds. There are dishes that even top professional chefs would be afraid of trying and these guys are doing them, that too within a time limit. That’s extremely commendable.
What is the strangest dish you’ve ever tasted?
I’ve eaten a lot of weird meats — alligator, etc. Honestly, I prefer the regular stuff. I’m not a big fan of these offbeat meats. I’m open to experimentation, however. I am adventurous and like trying different things. I like trying cutting-edge food but I also love my comfort food. So the strangest dish I’ve probably ever eaten was at a game restaurant that served game foods. I’ve tried ostrich, I’ve tried alligator, but they weren’t very exciting. They didn’t do a very good job with the flavours. But yes, it was offbeat. The dishes did have potential. If you add Indian masalas into anything, it takes it to another level.
Any piece of advice that you would like to give to other home cooks who could potentially become the next lot of Masterchefs?
Absolutely. Stick to your passion. Never stop. If you keep following your dream and believing in it, you have the opportunity to make it come true. Never give up. Follow through on your passion. Watch the show and learn new techniques. You never know, maybe you could be a home cook on MasterChef in the future and maybe you will win!
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