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“It was my biggest nightmare ever,” says Depinder, as she relives a moment from the current series of MasterChef Australia.
She had just cooked a complex dish, with a very difficult ingredient, wasabi. Most viewers probably only know of wasabi as a pungent Japanese spice eaten with sushi, but here Depinder had turned it into – wait for it – an ice cream.
And yet, as she presented her inventive concoction, judge Jock Zonfrillo took one look and said, “I hate wasabi.”
This came just after fellow judge Melissa Leong had warned Depinder that “a millimetre this way or that” could ruin her dish entirely.
“This is a great start, I told myself, as I stood at the judges’ table,” Depinder recalls. “I thought I’d pulled off a great experiment!”
In the end of course, she did pull it off, and with flying colours to boot. Her dish, Bombe Alaska with Wasabi Ice Cream and Lemon Curd, proved to be a sensation.
“I’d never cooked with fresh wasabi before, but I took the challenge. I tasted and tasted, before I put it in that ice cream churner – must have used up 50 spoons!”
As expected of a typical MasterChef contestant, Depinder has learnt not to be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients.
“The key is to keep tasting and readjusting,” she observes. “I grated the wasabi, played around with it for a bit, and figured out what I would like to do.”
So far, she reveals, that dish has been her biggest challenge, although a highlight has been her signature dish for which she took the white apron: Rajasthani ghevar with malai rabri and carrot sorbet, another complex dish.
“I was asked why I chose an Indian dessert for this initial segment, given that they are not the best representation of Indian cuisine. But I figured ghevar is different, and I added my own twist, so it paid off!”
It’s clear by now that the 29-year-old pharmacist is a gifted and adventurous cook as she works away in the MasterChef kitchen. But as anyone who’s following the 13th season of the hit show will tell you, her appeal lies in her good-natured girl-next-door charm, and warm and affable personality.
Depinder Chhibber was born in Delhi and moved here as a preteen. She grew up in Newcastle and now works as a pharmacist in Sydney.
As a young migrant who came here in 2002, she found popular culture unfamiliar. On TV, nothing appealed except the cooking shows; she has fond memories of watching Iain Hewitson on his shows Huey’s Kitchen and Huey’s Cooking Adventures.
Then she got hooked on to MasterChef Australia.
Having thought about entering for three years now, she finally took the plunge last year.
“I always asked myself if I would actually be good at this,” she admits, adding, “I cooked a lot during last year’s lockdown, just like all the other contestants, and so finally worked up the confidence. The audition was a two-month process, application and interviews until the final judges’ audition stage.”
Was the show anything like she expected?
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she reveals. “I’ve never been on TV or filmed anything before. I come from a simple household, and even now have a simple lifestyle. So it was a different world. I’m just there to cook my heart out! And also to help and support others.”
The pressure is high, she admits.
“It’s hard to think up what you’re going to make. But for me the stress starts when I finish the cook!”
Depinder brings to the show, besides her calm and collected demeanour, extensive experience in cooking.
“I like cooking desserts and am constantly baking. My husband bought me an ice cream machine so that experience came in handy. I’m very fond of French cuisine. It’s almost a polar opposite to Indian, which comes naturally to me. One is rustic and the other sophisticated.”
— masterchefau (@masterchefau) April 29, 2021
She goes on, “Growing up, I was surrounded by food, but of the home-made variety. I’d hang out with Mum and the help, the aunties and the cousins, constantly asking questions. An early memory is making a simple northern Indian salad for my grandmother when I was seven or eight – she was so impressed she gave me a present.”
Soon she was hooked on to Sanjeev Kapoor, India’s best known celebrity chef, and began to follow Ranveer Brar. But her all-time favourite remains Tarla Dalal.
Post MasterChef, Depinder hopes to continue in the food industry. “I’d like to write a book about food from regional India, simplifying it and making it accessible to all.”
She’s also considering an outlet of her own, but after gaining more experience in the field.
So does that mean pharmacy will become a thing of the past?
“I don’t think I’ll ever give up pharmacy! I’ll continue working with my pharmacist dad. But it might take a little bit of backseat initially.”
What advice does she have for wannabe MasterChef contestants?
“If you have a dream in food, then go for it. There’s never a right time. Trust yourself, your instinct, and your food. Also, be open to learning, and to taking feedback. Think of it as an advanced class in cooking, or a highly accelerated cooking school. And don’t be afraid of new ingredients.”
So… who’s inspired to make wasabi ice cream?
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