Recipes for success

Recipes for success

in conversation

Recipes for success

You might have seen Rishi Desai in the MasterChef kitchen whipping up dumplings with soy caramel, cooking up a storm with Kohlapuri slow-cooked goat or preparing a dish out of beautiful mussels, rich with the flavour of the ocean, and you might have been aware that you were watching a culinary genius in action.

The incomparable Rishi Desai was a force to reckon with on the show at the time, much loved by his audience and much admired by the judges. That show came to an end for him, but the exceptional chef who gave Indian food an international twist and was passionate about demystifying Indian cuisine did not put his knives down and his cooking pots away. He kept finding new ways to share his love for cooking with the world, and now he is back with another series, Stay Home Chef, which airs on TLC.

Here’s your chance to amaze your family with Rishi’s unique brand of cooking. As he takes you through the intricacies of cooking Indian food with special textures and blends, you might find yourself stupefied as you learn to fry up a platter ofzucchini fritters and salsa, or create an aromatic bowl of keema koftas and eventually top it all off with a dessert of blueberry muffins with fresh berry jam.

Rishi Desai describes his new TV show as “all about cooking amazing meals for your family and friends when they visit you. We seem to struggle to find new recipes when we have people over, so I have provided recipes taken from all around the world that are easy to make and will impress your guests. The ingredients are easily available.”

Shooting the episodes for Stay Home Chef has been an enriching and fun-filled experience for Rishi, who says that “the production team was great and was always hungry to try the food I was making. Sometimes it was difficult for me to keep up the same energy from 9 am to 6 pm!”

Role model

Rishi’s love for food goes back to his childhood when he first tried his hand at cooking a plate of 2-minute noodles with onions, peas and carrots. His role model has always been his mother. He remembers watching her cook “some great dishes” and resolving to follow in her footsteps. “She still runs a successful food business in Kolhapur and makes her own spice blends, pickles and Maharashtrian sweet and savoury snacks,” he says. But, more recently, he has begun to idolise Heston Blumenthal, the self-taught celebrity chef. Being a scientist himself, Rishi can relate to Blumenthal’s concept of looking at food with scientific eyes and making sure that it appeals to all the five senses.

If you want to cook well, Rishi has some tips for you. His first maxim: cook from your heart and you are guaranteed to have delicious meals. Second: One must strive for balance. He explains this point, “Understand what a balanced dish is. For example, in most cuisines, the balance is created by salt, sweet and sour elements. Texture is a crucial element of any dish, so don’t underestimate its importance.

Enjoy the process of cooking, not just the end result.”
According to Rishi, some of the biggest mistakes that Indian cooks make include the fear of experimentation and drowning the flavour of food with spices. “I disagree with the notion that a dish without spices is bland, because every ingredient in a dish has its natural flavour. By using too much spices, we tend to overshadow that taste. And, we are afraid to experiment in the kitchen. It’s safe to cook a known recipe because it has been done many times, but it’s time to bring in new techniques.”

His experience on MasterChef was a learning platform and forum to display his culinary skills. “The show drills down the importance of respecting fresh produce. There is a lot of effort and resources that go into growing the produce and we need to respect this. Not wasting it is the least we can do. This is the take-home message I got. The show also made me understand some natural pairings in terms of food. For example, lamb goes well with rosemary, chicken marries well with thyme and duck finds its pairing with orange,” he maintains.

What’s cooking now?

Rishi still works full time in the Australian Public Service, more specifically,  Intellectual Property (IP) Australia. “I lead a team of 25 patent examiners who examine patent applications in the field of Applied Chemistry, he explains, and adds, “When I am not working, I love to travel the world for food more than sightseeing. I will always find restaurants and street markets to explore local ingredients and delicacies, and understand the stories behind them. I dream of opening my own restaurant one day.”

Rishi may be a lover of French food and Sichuan Chinese food now, but his favourite memories of food go back to the times when he would enjoy Kolhapuri sukka mutton and tambda rassa in a sugarcane farm in Kolhapur during sunset and would end his meal with a dessert of bhakri with warm and fresh jaggery.

Ask this brilliant chef what good cooking is all about and he says, “A thoughtfully created dish is one where all the ingredients on a plate have a reason to be there. That is good cooking for me. It may sound as fluff, but cooking involves as much planning as its process. It’s about creating a perfect balance of flavours on a plate.”
Stay Home Chef airs every Thursday at 9.30 pm, on TLC.

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