Want to change perception about Indian food, says Rishi Desai

Updated: Jul 24, 2014, 15:54 PM IST

Rishikesh Desai, popularly known as Rishi Desai became a household name in Australia and India by reaching the semi-finals of the Australia-based cookery reality show- `Masterchef Australia Season 5` last year. This man has made his journey worthwhile from Kolhapur to Canberra, raising his profile in the food industry. From touring India in 2013, authoring a cookbook `Modern Indian` and starting pop-up restaurants, he is doing it all, along with his full-time Australian government job.

In an exclusive interview with Vibhuti Jaitly , he talks about his cookbook-`Modern Indian`, his experiences and his future plans.

What inspired you to pursue cooking?

Cooking gives me pleasure, it’s a place where I can be creative and where I can de-stress. I also want to change perception about Indian food abroad and make people realise that Indian food is more than butter chicken. I am trying to modernise Indian food as I believe that the meals need to involve all the senses. Food for me is all about fresh produce and I want to make that produce shine on the plate. I want to use modern cooking techniques and introduce textures into Indian food. All these things keep me inspired to cook.

What are your favourite food memories from the kitchen as a child?

I remember spending a lot of time in the kitchen as a child and started cooking when I was 5 years old. The first things I remember `cooking` are 2 minute noodles and barrels of Rasna. I always loved to explore and try new things.

One not so great experiment was baking cake with flour (atta) which turned the cake rock solid. But I always learned from those mistakes and tried to have fun in the kitchen. The credit goes to my mother who never stopped me from experimenting and I thank her for that.

There are so many cookbooks available in the market. What is so different about `Modern Indian`?

Modern Indian is a collection of 70 recipes that take inspiration from traditional Indian cooking. The book has some popular recipes and some that are lesser known in other cookbooks.

Through the book I want to change the perception about Indian food, as it is not just curry in a bowl. I have introduced new textures and cooking techniques in Indian food, but have retained the familiar flavours. I am a big supporter of fresh produce and making that produce shine throughout the dish.

In this book, I have done exactly that. I have tried to introduce a few dimensions in Indian food by combining different traditional flavours in one single dish.

Can you name some of your favourite recipes that should be picked up and tried?

There are a few recipes that are really dear to my heart. Kolhapuri slow cooked goat with cauliflower puree and pappadum is my take on the traditional Kolhapuri mutton recipe that I grew up eating.

The coconut milk poached salmon with coconut velute and caramelised onion puree is my version of fish curry in a bowl. Last but not the least- a dessert trifle which is a combination of Heston trifle and my mother’s trifle is also dear to me.

Any specific advice for the amateur chefs?

My advice is to keep trying and experimenting in the kitchen and even if something fails, learn from the mistakes and move on. Keep an open mind when cooking, always ask `why` and think out-of-the box.

Have you made cooking and food industry as your full-time career now?

I am still working full-time in the Australian Public Service and I work with food after my regular job and on weekends. But, slowly I want to make the transition from full-time work to full-time cooking.

Any plans to open a restaurant in India?

There are plans to open a restaurant but I have not decided where it will be. I am not ruling India out at this stage though.

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