From a prison guard to a police officer and now the winner of one of the world’s fiercest cooking competitions, Sashi Cheliah has come a long way. While his family from Madurai influenced him a lot in terms of food, eventually their moving to Southeast Asia introduced Malaysian and Singaporean cuisines to him. Today, he’s focusing on launching an Asian food-themed pop-up in Melbourne and writing his cookbook.
Every chef has an inspiration or a spark that motivates him to begin cooking. What was yours?
My first memory goes far back…when I was 10 or 11 years old. Whenever my mom or aunt would cook, I would hang out in the kitchen. Usually, Indian families don’t really encourage boys to come into the kitchen. So I’d observe them closely from afar and it that had a huge influence on my love for cooking as well as food. A couple of years later, I started cooking at barbecues, when we would go for school challenges and all of that. It was during one such event that I even met my wife-to-be!
However, when I was doing my stint with the police force, I was very busy and my cooking reduced drastically. It was when I came to Australia that I had a lot of time to spend time with family. I started cooking with them a lot and that’s how I got much closer to food here than I was in Singapore... and the rest is history.
Wasn’t transitioning from one career to another difficult?
Law enforcement has been a good job for me, but I love food! The transition was and still is scary but my family encourages me every day. Also, being in the F&B industry has made me want to work with prisoners or ex-convicts — I want to offer them rehabilitation in this industry and I look forwarding to working with them in the future.
With his ‘idol’ Gordon Ramsay
Were you even remotely prepared for this attention from the world?
I am overwhelmed, but very happy with all the love I’ve received from India! You guys have been a great support!
Do you celebrate any occasions or festivals where the whole family sits down for a meal?
We follow the usual Indian culture and festivals so food is a huge part of them. Oh, Indian desserts, right from halwa to kesari… there’s nothing else like Indian sweets. You can spend years trying out every single sweet and you still wouldn’t be able to taste everything. When I moved to Australia, I missed home food so I would get recipes from my mother and pick up ideas from YouTube videos. Fellow Singaporeans and Malaysians in the area would come and try my food. They encouraged me to try out for MasterChef.
What do you think a chef has do to stay relevant in the F&B industry?
Don’t be afraid to try new things! I tried and look where I am now. If you have a passion for food, go give it a go!
How did your style of cooking evolve over the course of the show?
My original style of cooking is very rustic, home-style… but throughout the competition I learned how to cook with a more finesse. In terms of plating especially, I learnt how to present Indian food in a more stylish manner, if I could say so.
MasterChef Australia Season 10 will air on September 10 on Star India, so tune in from Monday-Friday at 9 pm