A DREAM UNLOCKED

Written by root. Posted in IN PERSON

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Published on July 04, 2019 with No Comments

MasterChef Australia S10 Winner Sashi Cheliah shares his show experience and his new career path with MUHIBAH.

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Congratulations on creating history as the first winner of MasterChef Australia to score the highest points in the competition. You joked about how you’re “old story” in Australia now since the win was in July 2018 and you were announced winner in December. Would it be fair to say that your story is just starting now?
You’re right. The journey has just started. I’ve done a fair bit of events and shows, trying to work a lot more with the industry and focusing on food now.

How have your former Singapore Police Force colleagues reacted to your win and being a chef now?
I keep in contact with a couple of mates in the police force. Once in awhile, they will joke about ‘Why not you come over and cook for us?’, but I haven’t gotten the chance to cook for any one of them yet. But they were surprised (with the win). Not many people knew that I was able to cook, mainly because when we were in the police force, we don’t have time to cook.

It’s a vast career switch, so yeah, it was a shock for them. But for the prison guys (in Adelaide), they knew I cooked a fair bit at home. I would share food with them on every Friday when we used to have breakfast in the morning with my colleagues, especially in my office.

When I put in the application for MasterChef, my partner was very upset because he was going to lose a man. If I win, it’s going to be worse, because I’m not going to come back to work anymore. So this is hard for them.

You were never a reality TV fan and it was through your wife’s encouragement that you signed up for the show. What lessons have you drawn from the experience? And does the experience change the way you move forward with both your life and also cooking?
Before the competition, I didn’t understand how people get inspired by reality TV. After I joined the competition and started being active on social media, I realised people get a lot of inspiration from these kind of reality TV shows. They feel very connected with the people; they feel you are a part of them. So that is something that I learned, or I understood.

The show taught me about choices. Going into the competition, I liked to memorise a few recipes. So when the judges throw in a task, or for example, a hero ingredient, we try to work around what we know. So my cinnamon ice cream with stewed apple – that’s actually a protein dish. So I knew the cinnamon and the apple was there and it can be utilised with a dessert option. (The competition) teaches you to think on your feet. We have to make changes quickly, and the one thing I learned is also the choices you make makes a lot of difference in your life. If you make one choice, make sure you stick with the choice and do the best with whatever choices you make. Don’t change in between 101 time – you’re going to mess up the whole thing.

After your win, you candidly spoke about how such a high profile show as the MasterChef, the fame that comes with it, and pursuing work as a full-time chef is a bit daunting to you. What did you mean by that?
I think the title “MasterChef” and when people call me the “King of Flavour”, it is very daunting. The expectations are very high, so I need to justify it. I’m very careful with all my food nowadays, whenever I produce, or whenever I design something, I make sure I do it justice for whatever event I’m doing.

You spoke passionately about working with the formerly incarcerated as a way of giving back to the community. Tell us how that plan is unfolding.
Definitely, that plan would be in my restaurant, but it will not happen immediately. First, I need to set up my restaurant, get my crew stabilised. Once that is ready, then I will work with some Australian prison department, corrections, depends on how many staff they are willing to give me at one time. Based on that, I will start training. If things go well, if I get the right passionate people to work, I might give them full time employment, or whatever comes by. And they have got amazing courses available in corrections. They have courses on food handling, food safety, food hygiene. All related to kitchen. So I know there are potential people who can really be of use in the kitchen environment. I would love to work with them.

You grew up in Singapore and obviously Malaysian food is predominant as well for you because you featured Malaysian food elements in some of your dishes. What is it about Singapore’s and Malaysia’s food that seem to give added nuance to the dishes you have plated and impressed the judges?
I think the flavours – we have robust, rich and very bold flavours. Nothing is subtle in our dishes, so that is something that the judges really loved, enjoyed. They like something that is punchy that just tickles their tastebuds. They are very well-versed with our food. They know exactly what and how the food tastes like. They travel around a fair bit. They understand a lot about our cuisine, or pretty much any cuisine, so they are very knowledgeable.

With Taste of Australia in Brunei, have you found any favourites and what can you say about Singapore-Malaysia-Brunei food – similarities or otherwise?
A lot of similarities. I’ve gone to a local market and restaurant here to try some food. Very similar. That you have your nasi lemak here, your mee soto, ayam soto, everything, it’s very similar. I don’t see any difference when I go to Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei. The only difference is everything’s halal, because you can get a lot of non-halal food in Singapore and Malaysia. But saying that, this morning I went to a dim sum place – totally halal but it was great. It tastes quite similar. It’s not authentic, but it’s similar.

What is waiting for you back in Australia?
Family. I haven’t seen them for more than two weeks. So I miss them. I travel a fair bit nowadays. But the good thing about that is that I’m able to experiment, understand new cultures, new food. Sadly, I don’t spend much time at home, but I’ve got a very supportive family. My wife and the kids are very supportive. They know that I’m travelling for work and that I’m doing this for our future.

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