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The No-Nonsense Junior MasterChef

19-11-2020  Gday India

Smoke & mirrors, Dev’s charcoal smoked chicken is all about paraphrasing magical illusion that will make you admire this Junior MasterChef.

“I love to try to create authentic flavours in my cooking, and love to cook with good quality produce.”

Dev’s first memory of cooking is at the age of four: “When Mum would give me some dough to knead and roll to make roti, or mix/prepare ingredients.”

During the pandemic, I not only watched reruns of my favourite TV shows but became an enormous fan of MasterChef. It kept me going in the kitchen, as well as sparking ways of keeping my mind occupied with writing. Then it finished and I too got occupied with my writing – and then Junior MasterChef happened.

This one interview lifts my spirits. It’s not every day I get to meet a genius who is just thirteen. This is what happens when you start getting glued to Junior MasterChef 2020. His charcoal smoked chicken kebab was enough to spark my curiosity.

According to Judge Andy from MasterChef, Dev has the recipe for being a professional chef (and I think so too). What was I doing at the age of 13? Probably eating, reading and being a snob on home-cooked meals.

As I sit by on Melbourne Cup weekend waiting to start my Zoom chat with Dev and his mother, I notice the thirteen-year-old, shy yet confident, tell his mother he will be “just fine taking the interview with me”.

Born in Melbourne of Indian parents who migrated to Australia back in 2002, Dev is thirteen and currently in grade eight. Cooking is his passion and this junior chef does it at least a couple of times a week (and much more frequently during school holidays). Other than cooking, he is learning classical guitar and has passed level four of AMEB. Dev loves tennis and played competitive tennis in pre-COVID days, representing his local club.

His dad, Parimal, works in retail management and his mum, Shuchi, is a business owner. His younger brother Sydh is eleven and his tennis buddy. Both his parents are great cooks and like any foodie household, most evenings when not doing different activities, they’re cooking as a family. I like it when he tells me they all quite often went out together to eat, especially before the lockdowns, and they try different cuisines.

Dev loves the way food creates happiness and brings people together. His innovation and creativity allow him to adore food from various cuisines. He takes pride in cooking French, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, American, etc. But his favourite cuisine to both eat and cook is the diverse flavour of rich Indian food, as it’s a representation of his heritage. “I love to try to create authentic flavours in my cooking, and love to cook with various good quality produce.”

As for Dev, he’s been learning to cook since as long as he can remember. I think credit goes to his mother, as she always wanted him and his brother to be independent. The proud Indian son says that his mother encouraged them to learn cooking. As we ask Dev’s mother to join us in our Zoom chat, I can see the adoration and pride they share for each other.

His first memory of cooking is at the age of four, when his mum would give him some dough to knead and roll to make roti, or have him help to mix/prepare ingredients. Dev’s mother is the backbone to his culinary expertise with various flavours and cooking processes.

The first full meal that he cooked independently was when he was in grade four. That was a Mother’s Day breakfast, a combination of scrambled eggs on toast and buttermilk pancakes. That one meal was enough to start Dev on a roll for his fascination for cooking.

Dev says that he always tries to create authentic taste in the dishes that he cooks, including all the dishes he made in Junior MasterChef. Smoking technique and flavour is an integral part of many Indian cuisines, and he wanted to showcase that. Dev proved to us that if we respect food, food will automatically respect us. Smoked chicken is one of his favourite dishes; he endorses eating it almost too much.

His favourite memory is when the judges tasted his food in the first episode of Junior MasterChef. Dev was very nervous, as it was his first offering in the competition. But the judges were very impressed with his dish and they gave him fantastic feedback, which for him was surreal.

During the tasting, the judges asked him to get family photos, and at that moment Dev felt like his parents and his brother were there with him. The judges got a bit emotional, which can be the best compliment any cook can ever get. He was humbled and super-happy at the same time.

Then he made chocolate mousse with passionfruit centre sphere, which is quite an intricate dessert. The judges loved it so much that it was compared to Raynold Poernomo and Jess Lemon from MasterChef. Raynold is, of course, Dev’s favourite dessert chef, and to be compared to him was an amazing feedback.

Dev is an instinctive cook and masters easily what he sees. He tries cooking different things that he’s seen or has eaten somewhere. But in the last few years, along with learning from his mum and dad, he has managed to teach himself how to cook through different recipes, online videos and from family friends.

When I ask how MasterChef has transformed his life, The Junior MasterChef humbly tells me he is just happy that he got this opportunity. It has been a great learning experience, which will help him take his cooking to much higher levels. The constructive feedback from the judges taught him time management skills: cooking a dish under 75 minutes was all part of his journey in shaping him as a cook. Most importantly, he learnt about working under pressure. Not everything goes according to plan.

There is nothing worse than getting eliminated with an immunity up your sleeve – this has happened before, earlier this year in senior MasterChef, when big names were kicked off. It doesn’t matter how talented you are; the pressure can be one’s worst enemy. Dev made the brave move by using his immunity.

However, the cool, calm, collected boy who never cracks under pressure lost while attempting to recreate Kirsten Tibbals’ lemon meringue tart in the semi-finals. I think I was more nervous than him when the pastry cracked, but I give full marks to this young chef who went beyond words, picking himself up and completing the dish.

Watch out for this junior chef, as he always goes beyond and above. For someone who has never cooked beef before, he has gone on bravely to not only perfect a juicy beef steak, but ambitiously take it to the next level. I see him as a professional chef in the making. Dr Seuss comes to mind: “You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.’’

By Nandita Chakraborty

19-11-2020  Gday India

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