Husein Haveliwala

Indians share a special relationship with food. It, hence, comes as no surprise that a series like MasterChef Australia has consistently been one of the highest-rated English language shows on Indian television, and has claimed the coveted 9 pm prime time television slot. The one who took the tenth title of the show, last year, was Indian-origin, Singapore-born chef Sashi Cheliah.
Cheliah made his second ever trip to Mumbai last week. He came down to judge the finale of Häfele Supermom 2019 alongside Indian food critic Kunal Vijaykar. The final stage of the cooking competition featured ten of the best female home chefs from more than 2,500 pan-India entries. LuxeBook spoke to Cheliah about having the judging tables turned, the Asian food scene internationally, and how Mumbai tantalised his taste buds!
What have you learned about food from the Indian culture?
What has flowed down into my culinary style is the importance that Indians give to culture and family. It’s all about being generous and giving importance to our guests. Then comes our bold flavours, and I never hold back on my spices.
What was going through your mind when you got selected and won?
When I got selected for the show, that’s when reality hit me. It was when I thought, Okay, this is real. I’m on the show! Until then I wasn’t taking it too seriously. But once I made it through, I became very serious about the whole process. The moment I won the competition, it was like a dream come true. It took me a couple of days to really absorb that I had won. I used to be a fan of the show and would sit in front of the television to watch people win that prestigious title. So, standing in front of the judges, them giving my food such record-breaking scores, and me winning it; it was hard for me to digest.

 

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What was it like having the tables turned and being a judge at the Häfele Supermom 2019 competition?
Being a judge actually gave me a good opportunity to understand the whole process of how modern moms think in a culinary way, and how they are trying to put across the best food they can to family and friends.
What is something about Indian women that shines through and gives them an edge in such a competition?
Most stay-at-home moms are so used to cooking for such a varied group of people every day. They have to cater to parents-in-law, husbands, children, etc. This comes with so many different palates. So, when it comes to a competition like this, it’s nothing stressful for them. The experience they have at home comes across very well in the competition.
Chef Sashi Cheliah with Kunal Vijaykar
Chef Sashi Cheliah with Kunal Vijaykar
What inspires your own cooking?
I get a lot of inspiration from street food. That’s where I get most of my inspiration. I love checking out the street food scene in any country that I visit. From there, I like to create my own versions.
What is gourmet for you?
The richness of ghee is gourmet for me. It’s something that gives the palate great satisfaction!
Tell us about some new things you’ve tried in Mumbai this time?
I went to Kyani & Co., an Irani café, as well as Soam, a restaurant with some authentic vegetarian food. One dish that I tasted in Mumbai that blew me away was chilli cheese toast. Of course, all the street food here is amazing. And there is so much of it!

 

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Did you try any fine-dine restaurants here?
I got a chance to visit Oberoi’s in-house speciality Indian restaurant, Ziya. They are doing some amazing things by taking authentic Indian food in a contemporary place. Then, last night I was at Masque. I think they also presented a very impressive take on the Indian cuisine.

 

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Can you tell us something about the Asian food scene internationally?
Asian food, per se, has gone global. In any part of the world, you will find Asian food; whether it’s Chinese, Thai or Indian. It’s mainly because of our flavours. The amount of attention we give to flavour is very important. People from other continents have started enjoying Asian spices.
So, what does the future like for you? Restaurant openings in Australia? And any plans for India?
As of now, we don’t have any plans in India. But, I’d love to do some pop-ups. In Australia, I’m going to be launching my first restaurant in late October. The work is in progress right now.

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