Singaporean-born Australian celebrity chef Sashikumar Cheliah is not a new name in the culinary world. He may have entered the cooking business fashionably late but his love for food began when he was a teenager. He would try his hands at various dishes prepared by his grandmother only to become a winner of the MasterChef season 10 in 2018.
After serving in Singapore Police’s STAR (Special Tactics and Rescue) team and later in the Justice Department in Melbourne, Australia, Sashikumar had a 360-degree shift in his career when he entered the MasterChef Australia family in 2018. “Cooking was the only thing I could do well besides law enforcement," says the chef who after winning Masterchef, opened a small pop-up café in Australia and later launched his first restaurant, Gaja in 2019 which serves dishes influenced by Indian, Singaporean, and Malaysian cuisines.
Recently, Sashikumar opened his much-anticipated dining space, Pandan Club in Chennai inspired by his mother's South-Indian cooking. The chef returned to his roots after three years with a recently concluded World on a Plate series at Nawab Saheb, at The Westin Mumbai Powai Lake. He crafted a six-course exotic meal consisting mainly of Malaysian and Singapore dishes made of authentic flavours, well refined in taste and presentation. The chef also recreated a dish he made for his wife's bday along with other delicious Malaysian classics. We caught up with the chef during his visit to know more about his journey before and after winning MasterChef Australia, what food means to him, Indian culinary culture, and all things food.
"The journey was tough and creatively challenging but it helped me to realise my true potential and turn my passion into my profession," begins the chef.
Although the chef cooked for the first time in India, he observes that the Indian culinary culture has grown dramatically. "It has of course been very strong for thousands of years but we just haven't had as much global exposure. Now India is going global with our Indian chefs making an impact in the global culinary scenario. They have the world over and received lots of appreciation and I am confident this will grow," he says.
While the fusion and infusion of spices take the center stage across the culinary world, Sashikumar on the other hand, believes, "There is a fine line between classic and fusion. You either nail it or it can be a huge disaster." He continues, head-to-tail cuisine is the newest trend where chefs also focus on zero waste. "Using all parts of the ingredients and being creative is a key ingredient to sustainability," opines the chef and adds that being experimental is the key to making good food.
"Be experimental. Explore. Don't set any limits. The more you try the more knowledge you will achieve," suggests Sashikumar to the aspiring chefs addressing the fact that formal training is important to be a good chef. Though Sashikumar does not have any formal training, he learned the nitty-gritty of cooking through a crash course from professional chefs. "But I definitely endorse formal training. I believe it is a huge asset and I value the importance of perfecting the basics," he clears.
The chef was also in Goa to cook up a storm with his six-course Malaysian and Singaporean degustation menu at W Goa. He is confident that India will witness a new wave of refined table settings in the next five years. "India is truly miles ahead and I hope that Michelin comes to India as they are so much talent here," says the chef in conclusion.
Favourite dish to eat
Char Kuey Teow - Chinese stir-fried noodles.
Favourite dish to cook
Best cuisine in the world
Impossible to say. Every cuisine is fascinating.
Best place to eat in India/abroad
Singapore and India - each city is spectacular when it comes to flavours and ingredients.