It took a joke on mid-life crisis and the urge to take on a personal challenge for 40-year-old Priya Barve sign up for MasterChef Asia this September. "I was vacationing in Bali when I spotted a hoarding inviting entries," the marketing and advertising professional, who has been living in Singapore for five years, says.
"May be it was the holiday mood that gave me the confidence to send my entry," says the Marathi mulgi, who often makes pav bhaji at home.
"But it never tastes like what it tastes at a khau galli. And I can never bake that pav." The show is currently on air on StarWorld Premiere HD. She speaks to us about the experience. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Who inspires you to cook?
A. Most would say 'mother' or 'grandmother', but for me, it's my husband, Anirudh Ganguli. A Bengali, he makes the best kosha mangsho (dried mutton curry). He and I love whipping up a storm in the kitchen. We have been married for 14 years and, having lived in various parts of the world, including Hong Kong, we experiment with world cuisine. However, we mostly stick to Indian, European and Asian fare.
Q. How did MasterChef Asia happen?
A. I grew up in Bandra. Like all Asian children, I was encouraged to study, get a good job and settle down. But, having hit 40, I wanted to push the envelope. I am a fan of MasterChef Australia and decided to give the Asian version a try.
Q. How did you prepare?
A. I started practising my kitchen skills and read up on different cuisines and recipes. I tried making pasta from scratch and upped my Japanese cuisine skills.
Q. How was your first day on set?
A. I knew the drill, having watched many episodes of MCA. The judges — Susur Lee, Audra Morrice and Bruno Menard — gave us the first challenge which was to cook a dish that represented us. I decided on the shrikhand, but served it with a pastry and ganache. It was something I'd made at home many times. The biggest surprise was standing in the kitchen and receiving the apron with my name on it. The victory was two fold — one, was the apron with the MasterChef logo, and second was the Indian flag beside it. I was representing my country, I realised.
Q. What's been your toughest challenge?
A. The fifth episode has just been aired and the last challenge was to reinvent the chilli crab, a classic Singaporean dish. I created a chilli crab ravioli and ended up in the bottom three in this one. I think my approach was right, but it really depends on how you cook it. The pasta was a bit overcooked.
Q. Has the show changed your cooking style?
A. The experience has taught me patience, cooking techniques, and made me realise what I want to be. I have been paying more attention to my plating skills too. When we serve Indian food, which is a community cuisine, we don't really serve individual, pretty-looking portions. Last week, I made prawn malai curry at home, and served it as an individual serving of risotto — with the rice, curry and prawns pieces placed artistically.
Q. What next?
A. I have a keen interest in supper clubs and hope to open one for Indian food with my husband.