CHENNAI: Choux pastry topped with gunpowder, blue cheese infused mor kuzhambu, pumpkin pasta, mutton kheema sandwiched between rasam rice patty and grilled pineapple… Our modest south Indian samayal just got a fashionable makeover on Masterchef India - Tamil.
The maiden season of the show kicked off on August 7, with 14 contestants battling it out by proving their culinary prowess to bag the apron and earn a spot in the balcony (the safe zone). After surviving rounds of mystery box challenges and eliminations, here are top eight contestants, chronicling their roller-coaster experience, the joy of whipping up a visual treat for viewers, and dreams of taking local flavours to a global audience. Hosted by actor Vijay Sethupathi, the culinary show is judged by renowned chefs Aarthi Sampath, Harish Rao and Koushik Shankar.
Devaki, home baker, Tiruchy
“The Devaki you’re seeing now is a new, transformed person. My experience on the show and bonding with contestants has given me a moral boost and a new identity — that I too can sustain under pressure,” begins Devaki. For someone who has not stayed away from home, her journey on the sets has opened a window of opportunities in her life. “I’ve developed patience and perseverance. I can gauge my own progress since the first episode,” she says confidently. While desserts have been her strength, the home baker got to attempt other meal courses with a local spin. Karuvepillai kola and panakam mocktail are a few of her innovations. “People have also been reaching out to me for recipes. They want me to replicate the items created on MasterChef. My dream is to improvise my baking techniques and compile my own recipes for people to learn from,” she shares.
Dr Nithya Franklyn, pediatrician, Chennai
“People have been looking up to me as a dutiful doctor all this while. But now, after the show, I’ve been receiving appreciation for my culinary skills. That’s a new kind of feeling,” shares Dr Nithya Franklyn. Tracing her journey on the sets, she says, “As a homecook, you wouldn’t think much about presentation. But in a competition that’s crucial. Everything you prepare has to be dressed appropriately to be visually appetising. And while you’re staying away from your job and family in a high pressure ambience, it’s the support from fellow contestants that keeps you going. We’ve been travelling as a family,” says Nithya.If not for the show, Nithya’s profession would’ve been her priority. “I would think many times before taking a break; if it’s absolutely necessary. But with the overwhelming response, I feel happy about the decision. Right from how I chop the onions to what I wear, people notice and share their feedback. MasterChef has pushed me out of my comfort,” says Nithya, who wants to open a space for food and conversations. She also hopes to document local cuisines and recipes.
Krithika Sivanesan, HR professional, Bengaluru
‘Your voice sounds familiar. Are you Krithika from MasterChef?’ It’s this compliment from a stranger at a supermarket that Krithika fondly recalls. “People identify me by my voice and not my face as I was behind the mask. That’s unusual,” she laughs. The amateur cook has surprised her social circle with her breakthrough in MasterChef. “People didn’t even know I cooked. The show has taught me to think with flavours rather than ingredients. There were plenty of takeaways from other participants too,” she says. Krithika wants to give native vegetables like pirandai, bitter gourd and baby jackfruit a spin through her cooking. Her core idea is to bring local produce under the limelight. “My dream is to come out with a documentary on travel and food where I can bring authentic cuisine from all corners of the world to people. I also want to keep my social media profiles active to reach out to more people and share recipes,” she shares.
K Manikandan, youtuber, Chennai
Neither culinary competitions nor working under pressure is new to K Manikandan who’s taken part in seasons 1-5 of MasterChef India. “I couldn’t continue after reaching the top 50 due to language barriers. A show in our mother tongue is a godsend for me to hone my skills. It’s also a big opportunity to promote lesser-known Tamil cuisine,” he beams. Besides running a tiffin and tea shop during the day, Manikandan engages his loyal viewers with heirloom recipes on his YouTube channel Mani Magic. “It (the show) has given reputation and respect to a common man like me. Messages from well-wishers and kids pour in during the weekends to cheer me up,” notes Mani, whose chicken mocktail was recently recreated by a couple of fine-dine restaurants in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. He hopes to kick off his new food series on OTT platforms and take part in other world-renowned culinary competitions.
Vinny Shukla, entrepreneur, Kovai
Vinny Shukla’s long-time wish was fulfilled when she bagged the apron on MasterChef for her pineapple rasam mocktail. A fan of MasterChef International, her expectations and reality had a stark difference. “What you see is not even close to what you experience. The adrenaline rush always keeps you on your toes. The minute the secret ingredients are revealed and the clock ticks, there’s an influx of ideas,” she shares. Food plating and fusion cooking are her strengths. Additionally, the show has exposed her to newer recipes and international cuisine. “My goal is to explore local cuisine and I’ve been doing that well in the show. If watching this inspires more people to value their cuisine, then we’ve achieved something,” says Vinny, who hopes to start her own food brand and establish her presence on social media.
Selva Sunitha TC, YouTuber, Chennai
From a well-known YouTuber of Innaiku Enna Samayal channel to a MasterChef contestant, Selva Sunitha’s life has always revolved around food. “I’ve been cooking since class eight. The show has only shaped my culinary expertise and helped me with alternative ideas to cooking. Karuvadu kuzhambu is an authentic recipe in many households, and my favourite. I’ve presented it in various ways on the show that you wouldn’t have imagined,” shares Sunitha, who has been able to connect with her viewers on a more emotional level these days. “After seeing me breakdown in an episode, I had messages pouring in from people comforting me. I want to give back to them as well as use this as a chance to offer my tribute to Tamil cuisine,” she says. Sunitha aspires to open a cloud kitchen with limited menu.
Sumithra Rajesh, home baker, Kovai
Calm and composed. That would be your first impression of Sumithra Rajesh on the show. “For a small-time home baker, this is huge. Friends and family watching me suggest I smile often, voice my opinion boldly and be more outward. While I have warmed up to my fellow contestants and judges, the whole experience has boosted my image; so much so that people’s perception of me has changed and I feel proud of having achieved something,” she says. Like her fellow contestants, Sumithra too was surprised at the idea of reality shows. “On-the-spot revelation of ingredients gives us goosebumps and make us think beyond our conventional capabilities. To connect with local audience, we’ve also learnt to contemporarise Tamil cuisine. Normally, you wouldn’t think of adding amla or any native vegetable or fruit to pumpkin millet cake. But it’s possible. I hope to execute this idea sometime,” says Sumithra.
Nausheen Yusuf, cake artist, Chennai
The last few weeks have been a life-changing experience for Nausheen Yusuf. The MasterChef journey has helped her progress professionally and personally, says the 23-year-old, who has been inspiring many youngsters to take up cooking through her social media pages. “The show and constructive feedback from judges have changed my perception towards cooking. I’ve always wondered how reality shows worked and it was an eye-opening experience for me. The challenges are real and you are expected to present a dish in the given time. It’s entirely your game and there’s no one to help,” she shares. Nausheen is grateful for the opportunity and lessons learnt on the sets. “It’s your final product that speaks to the judges and it’s not easy to impress them. The competitive environment widens your horizons and helps you think out-of-the box. While desserts have been my comfort zone, I’ve learnt to experiment with other items as well,” says Nausheen, who plans to open a small cafe that will offer a Tamil touch to international cuisine.
MasterChef India - Tamil is Produced by Innovative Film Academy and Endemol Shine India. It airs on Saturday and Sunday on Sun TV.