The Machine in MasterChef kitchen

He charmed his viewers with his sheer skills and versatility in the kitchen while dishing out a range of world cuisines.

His methodical approach earned him the tag of ‘The Machine’ among his fellow contestants as he emerged the clear favourite to win the world’s most-watched cooking game show on television.

No wonder, it broke the hearts of many when Hrishikesh Desai, popularly known as Rishi, was eliminated from MasterChef Australia Season 5 just before the grand finale.

“Right then and there as the judges delivered the verdict, I was blank. The only thing I could hear was [my wife] Mitra’s voice in the background saying, ‘Just don’t cry on national television!’ But later as I processed what had happened, I was disappointed with myself,” Rishi told Muscat Daily, explaining what went through his mind at that moment.

The Indian-born Australian is far from dejected though. “I feel proud to be part of the MasterChef family. It was a learning experience…I found ways to realise my food dream. I knew the show was incredibly popular in Australia, but wasn’t aware of its popularity around the world. I was surprised to learn that the show airs in more than 50 countries,” he said reflecting on his MasterChef journey.

Kitchen, a laboratory

Hailing from Kolhapur in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, Rishi migrated to Australia in 2008 and is employed full time with the Australian Public Service in Canberra. He is also a qualified chemical engineer. So it is not surprising that he finds parallels between a kitchen and a laboratory. “Cooking for me is a science first and art next. Fail to get the chemical composition right and there is every chance that the experiment will blow up in your face.

“For me it’s the same deal with cooking. I think about pairing the ingredients, experiment with the right quantity and so on until I have perfected the recipe. Often, a recipe gone wrong does fly in my face,” he quipped.

Rishi idolises British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, known for blending scientific techniques and elements into cooking. The budding chef was overwhelmed when Blumenthal spent a whole week in the Masterchef kitchen. “Heston is my food hero and working alongside him in the kitchen and learning food chemistry straight from the master was absolutely brilliant,” said Rishi, adding that it was one of his most cherished moments on the show.

Life after MasterChef

Being the most popular contestant in the MasterChef kitchen meant that even after his elimination, Rishi was flooded with  opportunities.

“Life certainly has got a lot busier after MasterChef. I still work full time in the Australian Public Service so all my food related activities take up my evenings and weekends. I am working towards making food my full time job so I am putting in a lot of work now to achieve that goal,” he said.

Rishi’s dream is to open a restaurant that serves Indian cuisine with a modern twist, and he’s well on his way to realise his ambition.

“The restaurant is still in the concept stage, but I did a trial of my ideas on Canberra locals. I put up five pop-up restaurants and served up six-course modern Indian degustation food.

The dishes were from all over India with a Heston twist at the end. The food was well-appreciated and I, too got the experience of managing and working such large events in a professional kitchen,” he said.

To cash in on his popularity, Tourism Australia signed in Rishi to promote Australia as a tourism destination in India. As a part of the deal, Rishi visited India last month.

Flavours for senses

Spelling out his vision of modern Indian cuisine, Rishi felt that the diversity of Indian food needs to be highlighted in a contemporary manner. “We need to show the rest of the world that Indian food is so much more than just butter chicken or ‘curry in a bowl’.”

“Modern Indian for me is not fusion. I want to capture traditional Indian flavours from all over the country and put them on the plate in contemporary style for a fine dining experience. We need to stop hiding our food under the curry. I want to involve all five senses when people enjoy the food experience at my restaurant,” he elaborated. 

Rishi is currently working on a cookbook which will showcase his food vision. The book will be out in 2014 around Mother’s Day, in dedication to Rishi’s mother who allowed him to experiment in the kitchen since he was six.

Boys need to cook

When pointed out that in India, boys are traditionally kept away from the kitchen as it is considered a woman’s domain, Rishi stressed that this patriarchal mindset needs to change.

“Women have stepped out of the kitchen and now work shoulder to shoulder with men to lessen financial pressures; so why can’t men do the same and help out with household matters?

“I think women have been doing their fair share inside and outside the house for a long time. Men need to lift their game and share the workload, and the kitchen is a great place is start,” said Rishi.

“Also, the best way to keep your children off junk food is to allow them to experiment in the kitchen,” he added with his characteristic smile.


Coconut milk poached salmon with spiced velouté and caramelised onion purée  


Serves: 2; Preparation time: 20mins; Cooking time: 1 hour


1 salmon fillet

400ml coconut milk

1 cinnamon quill

4 green cardamom pods

10 black peppercorns

1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

5 cloves

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp oil

6-7 curry leaves

1/4 tsp coriander seed 

1 tsp wild rice

Oil to deep fry

Caramelised onion purée

1 medium brown onion

3-4 garlic cloves

1 cm piece of ginger

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

2 tbsp coconut milk

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

5-6 curry leaves

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

Coconut Velouté

Coconut milk from the salmon mixture

1 shallot

10gm butter

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp turmeric

5gm corn flour

1/4 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp coriander powder

Heat oil in a small saucepan and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Let the mustard seeds pop and turn off the heat. In a large saucepan add coconut milk, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, cloves and coriander seeds. Add the mustard and cumin oil and lower the salmon fillet skin on. Cook in an oven at 43˚C or on a stovetop with temperature maintained at 43˚C for an hour. Scoop the salmon out and take the skin off. Flake using delicate hands and set aside.

For onion purée, in a saucepan heat oil and add mustard seeds and curry leave and let them pop. Add finely chopped ginger and garlic and sauté for 20 seconds. Add onion and turmeric and sauté until the onion is translucent. Then add the tomato paste, chilli powder, cumin and coriander powder and sauté for a minute. Add coconut milk from the salmon, sugar, salt and cook until the mixture reduces. Purée and pass through a sieve. Set aside.

For the velouté, in a saucepan add butter and sauté chopped shallots for a minute. Add turmeric, cumin and coriander powder and pour the coconut milk from the salmon. Bring to a boil and pour in the cornflour dissolved in cold water. Once it thickens take off the heat and strain. In a hot pan, heat vegetable oil until smoking and deep fry wild rice until puffed up. Remove from oil and drain on a kitchen towel.

In a deep dish, place flaked salmon and pour velouté around it. Top with a dollop of caramelised onion puree. Garnish with puffed wild rice.


Slow cooked goat with Cauliflower puree and roasted pappadums


Serves: 3-4; Preparation time: 20mins; Cooking time: 30mins (pressure cooking) to 2hr, 30mins (slow cooking)


2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

500gm diced goat

2 tsp salt

Curry Paste

1 brown onion

Handful of fresh coriander

1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

4 cloves of garlic

2cm ginger piece

1 tsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

Cauliflower Purée

1 tsp butter

1/4 cauliflower coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

150 ml of thickened cream

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

Sauté the onion until golden brown. Use a blender to blitz all of the paste ingredients into a fine paste. Heat the vegetable oil in an oven-proof casserole dish. Add the spice paste and sauté on medium heat for five minutes until the oil starts separating. Add the yoghurt and sauté for another minute.

Add the lamb and sauté for two minutes. Add the salt and a cup of water and place in the oven, covered, at about 160˚C to 170˚C for at least two hours, until the lamb is tender and shreds easily. Check every half hour and, if necessary, add more water. If you have a pressure cooker, cook the curry for at least 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook until the sauce thickens.

Shred the lamb in the sauce and mix thoroughly. Melt butter in a saucepan, add cauliflower, turmeric and sauté for two minutes. Add cream and cook stirring occasionally for ten minutes until cauliflower is tender and until the mixture thickens. Add salt and 1 tsp lemon juice and let it cool. Blend the mixture into a fine purée. To serve, smear the cauliflower purée on a plate. Add the shredded lamb and put roasted pappadums on the side. Garnish with pea sprouts.

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