An Exclusive Interview with Rishi Desai – MasterChef Australia

Have you been watching the current season of MasterChef Australia? My favourite contestant throughout the season has been Rishi Desai, who eventually reached the top four (I won’t spoil the end for you!) In a recent interview with Antoine Lewis, Gary Mehigan (one of the MasterChef judges) had said “Rishi is very creative; he wants to turn Indian food upside down”. We have already seen some inventive twists on Indian food from Rishi – those modak-like dumplings with soy-caramel that he made last week got some high praise.

I was absolutely delighted when Rishi agreed to be interviewed for the blog! Presenting the Marathi mulga from Kolhapur who is revolutionising Indian food Down Under. 

Q1. Welcome to Deliciously Directionless. And
congratulations on your superb performance in MasterChef Australia, Series 5!
How would you describe your experience on the show?
A1. Thanks for featuring me on Deliciously Directionless.
My Masterchef experience was absolutely incredible. I enjoyed every minute I
spent doing the show. It was a steep learning curve for all the contestants and
we all learned a lot of new skills through the judges and through each other.

Q2. About mid-way through the show, we really started
seeing the ‘Rishi-touch’ to your dishes. What would you say is your signature
A2. The initial few episodes that we spent on the
show had a lot of team challenges and I stayed out of the elimination at the
beginning. So there wasn’t much opportunity to showcase individual skills. But
as the number of contestants shrank, it was very hard to stay out of the
elimination due to the nature of the competition. This is when I started to get
into my style of cooking which is modern Indian food.
I did not get a chance
to cook my signature dish on the show which is Slow-cooked Kolhapuri Goat with Cauliflower Purée and Pappadum. I have been cooking that at my pop-up
restaurants in Canberra.

The episodes with Heston Blumenthal
looked like so much fun! What was your biggest learning working with such a
talented & maverick chef?
A3. I was the only contestant who cooked all 4 days
when Heston was in the kitchen. I am really fortunate that I got to cook
alongside my food hero and got to learn so much from him. For me the biggest
learning was to understand his mindset when it comes to cooking. Introducing
nostalgia in food, eating with all five senses and creating theatre; he makes
food an experience rather than just a meal.
How old were you when you first
ventured into the kitchen? Any early memories? Do you remember the first thing
you ever cooked?
My mother tells me that I was 5 when I first ventured into the kitchen. Since
then it is a place for me to relax. She also told me that I cooked 2 minute
noodles at 5.
What did you do before you were
selected for MasterChef Australia? Will you be continuing with your profession
or will the food industry take precedence?
A5. I was
and still am a full-time employee of the Australian Public Service. I want to
make food as my profession but at this stage I am taking baby steps. I work
full time in the office and spend my time after work and on weekends exploring
opportunities in the food industry.

How has life changed after
MasterChef? What are your future plans? Is there a cookbook in the offing?
A6. Life has
definitely changed for me. To begin with I get recognised while walking down
the street which was weird initially but I am getting used to it now. I am busier
than I was before the show as I am still working full time. Future-wise, I am in the process of publishing a cookbook which will come out early next year. I am
still doing pop-up restaurants in Canberra. The
end goal of a restaurant is still alive – a lot of ground work ahead of me.
You have done a few pop-ups in
Canberra post-MasterChef. What kind of food did you showcase there?
A7. I have
done 4 pop-up dinners in Canberra showcasing modern Indian food, featuring 6
course Indian degustation menu**
 with matching wines. The response in Canberra  has been great. So much so
that I had to offer one additional dinner to accommodate people on the wait-list.

We have seen a few modern
interpretations of Indian cooking from you on the show. Is that the direction
your cooking will take in the future?
Yes, for me Indian cooking is more than curry in a bowl. I want to showcase the
diversity of Indian food. Hence I want to travel the length and breadth of
India trying new foods and experiencing local produce and spices. I want to
then transform those recipes into contemporary Indian food and showcase them in
a modern way. The key is to not change the flavour profile.
What would be your perfect meal?
A9. For
starters chilli and garlic crab, goat biryani for main and Heston’s trifle for
How often do you visit India? When
do we get a chance to see you cook in Mumbai?! 🙂
A10. My
family is still back in India so I visit often, may be once in 2 years or so. I
am hoping to go to India and especially Mumbai very soon so stay tuned*.
And now for
some random questions!
Dream dinner date? (You can’t say
‘my wife’!)
Madhuri Dixit – have a smile on my face as I am typing!
Favourite foodie movie?
A2. No, there is none because I usually won’t finish a movie that
involves food. I end up in the kitchen cooking something I have just watched!

What’s inside your refrigerator
right now?
A3. Spices
sent by my mother from her spice shop in Kolhapur – sealed and frozen so they
don’t lose their aroma and flavour.

* Rishi will be visiting India this week – so watch out Mumbai, Delhi & Pune. Some fun events are in the offing! Also, stay tuned for my next post where Rishi shows you how to make his signature dish – Slow-cooked Kolhapuri Goat with Cauliflower Purée and Pappadum. Read the follow-up post here

To know more about him, check out his website or follow him on Twitter or Facebook

** Read Rishi’s 6 course Indian degustation menu here

Related posts: 

All images courtesy Rishi Desai


  1. harshada patil 10 December, 2013 at 15:27 Reply

    hey hrishi it was real proud to see a guy from kolhapur. i wish the world could see dat indian food is not jus punjai o sum stuff lyk dat its our very own mutton with 'tambada & pandhara' rassa. Well done
    n wish to dine in ur modern indian restaurant. Gud luck.

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