Chef Kishwar Chowdhury wowed judges all through Masterchef Australia 2021, right up to the finale. She is of Bangladeshi heritage, and also boasts of an Indian family connection. Kishwar has been lauded for bringing global attention to Bengali cuisine and famously served Panta Bhaat with Aloo Bharta in the finale of the popular cooking show. Recently, we had a chance to briefly chat with Kishwar at an event at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. She had curated an extensive menu for the Invest and Trade Western Australia networking Karyakram dinner, showcasing Western Australian produce with a desi twist.
We feasted on delicacies like avocado pani puri, makhmali chicken pate, goat cheese croquettes, lupin risotto, Western Australia lamb rezala with ulta tawa paratha and others. But the best treats were saved for the end, in the form of Kishwar's signature dessert spread. It featured aamras panna cotta, death by chocolate gundi paan entremet, aussi pavlova with Dusseri chilli mango and so much more. After savouring such fusion delights, we were all the more inclined to get to know Chef Kishwar better. Here's what we discovered:
Which dish do you enjoy when you come to Mumbai?
Growing up, we used to visit Mumbai all the time, and I still remember the first time I tasted pav bhaji. I think it's absolutely delicious. They put an insane amount of butter on top of the bhaji! In general, I really like the street food here, including the chaat and bhel items. When we were kids, we also used to relish the rose ice or barf ka gola at Juhu Beach. It actually inspired a dessert I did on MasterChef, called Persian Vanilla and Roses. That dish was meant to pay homage to the childhood treat we used to enjoy in this city.
What excites you about cooking in 2023?
I believe 2023 is a good time to be in the food industry, due to two reasons. Firstly, I think it's fantastic to see that top chefs today are focusing on farm-to-fork and getting back to basics. All of that really 'fancy' food that you saw coming out of those male-centric and euro-centric kitchens of the 90's is no longer the norm - that attitude is gone. Today, we are really thinking about eating head to toe. Even our menu tonight was about zero wastage. For instance, we used all the parts of the lobster to cook the risotto with lobster medallion today. We deep-fried the legs while the head and shell were used for making the bisque. Our attitude towards food and the way we think about the ecology around food in 2023 is quite amazing.
Secondly, we come to the voices in the industry today. To me, it's really important to have more women in the kitchens, and this is something I advocate for through my ambassador roles as well. It is essential to facilitate that growth and also see more women of colour in the kitchens. It is still not a very common thing and I'm a bit of an anomaly in that regard. Even when you see women in hospitality, you rarely see them in roles such as head chefs. I think that's something that needs to change in 2023 and beyond.
Which food trend do you hope will go away?
This is more of a hospitality trend, but can we please get rid of QR codes? I would like to place my order with a waiter. I don't want a robot to bring me my food. I don't want to scan a code and browse through a list of items. I want to read an actual menu and speak to someone about the specials. I like asking people about the food that we're going to have. QR codes are not for me!
What's a food item that reminds you of home?
I think everyone really loves their mom's dal chawal. Is there anything better than that, especially when you are sick or upset? I travel a lot and I'm living and working out of hotels. And there comes a point when you are surrounded by the finest food in the world, but you feel that you just want some dal chawal.
What's a cooking tip you swear by?
I like to season food as I go, rather than seasoning it all in the end. Even if I'm boiling a vegetable, I will boil it in a stock such as mushroom stock, instead of just adding salt. You can do something similar for meat dishes. While cooking, I keep adding elements that will add a pop of flavour and that's how you start building layers of flavour.
What's a kitchen gadget you can't do without?
When it comes to baking, my KitchenAid is one of my most prized possessions. I think a good blender is absolutely necessary. The way it blitzes ingredients can greatly affect the final outcome. I also feel that any cook needs a good set of knives, especially professional chefs. If you're thinking of entering this industry, you need to buy good tools.
About Toshita SahniToshita is fuelled by wordplay, wanderlust, wonderment and Alliteration. When she is not blissfully contemplating her next meal, she enjoys reading novels and roaming around the city.