MasterChef Finalist Neha Deepak Shah Talks To JWB About The Ins & Outs Of The Show
- JWB Post
- July 26, 2016
I remember harrowing my mother with all sorts of culinary and curiosity-filled questions whenever MasterChef India aired on TV. And she could never blame me for it because she had her own set of inquisitions related to the show.
Well, quite serendipitously, in a very recent interview, I got the answers to all those queries for mom and for me from none other than a MasterChef India contestant who was a part of the show not once but twice.
Save the quirkiest of your hellos for Neha Deepak Shah because other than being the 1st runner-up of Masterchef India Season 4; she is one vibrant and chirpy woman! And even though she grew up in Mumbai and worked in Delhi, she harbors a fancy for the serene city that Jaipur is.
Psst! Tell you what? She’s soon going to launch a restaurant in Jaipur. But more on that later! Read what she told me …
About where it all began
I’ve always had an equal fondness for science and food; which is why, when it came to choosing my career path, I was pretty confused. This was back in the times when Orkut existed.*Chuckles* I am mentioning that because I remember making groups on Orkut to gather like-minded people to discuss how food and science could be merged.
As a result, I ended up opting Food & Science Technology for my graduation. And I’ll have to admit, specializing in this course and working with Avantha group and Dabur India Ltd. as a Research Scientist helped me a great deal throughout my MasterChef journey. It developed in me an innate instinct of which ingredient would go with what.
About Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, and everything in between
Right after my graduation, I started applying for jobs online, and a few days later, I got a random call from a company in Bangalore inviting me for an interview. I went for it and got a job offered in my preferred dept (R&D) with a decent pay. Needless to say, I was ecstatic! This was my first job! I agreed to move to the city within ten days of the offer, and the tenth day I was in the city having the worst day of all times. I could NOT find a house. A clean house, to be precise.
Eventually, things got better; I worked happily; but as fate was to have it, I found myself packing my bags and moving to Delhi after six months to take up a job at Dabur India Ltd. This time, it was my mother who was psyched about the move (She wasn’t comfortable with me living in Delhi). I didn’t tell her I was actually going to live in Ghaziabad until we got there. My dad was very supportive though at every step.
Delhi is the place where my love for food grew in the truest sense. You see, at home in Mumbai, I never really got to cook much because mom was taking care of everything. In Bangalore, I was eating out most of the times and craving home-cooked food. So, in Delhi, I knew I had to take things in my hand. Quite literally.
And funnily enough, I loved to cook in bulk. So, in my tiny studio apartment, I wasn’t just cooking for myself, but for a lot of my colleagues. And when they would come over to my place wanting for more, all I’d ever tell them was “Get your own plates. I have none!” It was at this time that everyone encouraged me to audition for Masterchef.
About her MasterChef Journey – From getting eliminated to being the 1st runner up
Noticing, and well, tasting my love for cooking, my friends and colleagues urged me to audition for MasterChef India season 2. And so I did. I woke up at 4 am in the morning for the audition which was at 8 am. Reason? I had no gas provision at my apartment; I had to cook my dish on a stove, and since I was cooking a knitted-mat-like layer of pasta with each strand intertwined with the other, I had to do the pasta strips in batches. Not only did that dish win me a lot of praise, but also got me entry into the MCI season 2. However, I eventually got eliminated.
I tried again in season 3, but couldn’t qualify.
Season 4 was announced as a vegetarian season, and I couldn’t have been happier! I got selected, and thus began the five months of my life that changed everything. Living with 12 different people, 12 different vibes, under the same roof, all headed for the same goal… the atmosphere was highly competitive yet homely. The journey not only taught us culinary skills but life skills as well. Had I not lived alone in Delhi while working, my perspective towards this journey wouldn’t have been the same!
About ‘Life on a plate.’
We once got a task wherein we were supposed to present any of our emotional incidents in the shape of food. My dad is the most special person in my life; hence, I wanted to put my relationship with him on the plate. I remembered going to the beach and having barf ka gola with him; I also recollected his fondness for mishti dahi in Kolkata. I presented these memories in my dish called Mishti Dahi Panakota Peach Melba Faluda, and it won the judges’ hearts.
About life behind the scenes
Life behind the scenes is pretty much as it appears on the screen. When a task is revealed, we are not allowed to talk to each other. After seeing the pantry a couple of times, we kinds of memorizing what is kept where. The timer runs as is shown. Cuts, if any, are technical ones due to change in lighting.
About the onion moment and the bittersweet moment
I never fell into the danger zone throughout the season. However, in a group task that required us to cook for a fair in Dubai, my team lost. And it hurt a lot because the winners were to win a chance of creating a signature dish for Dubai’s restaurant. I was in tears; so yeah, that was the onion moment.
The bittersweet moment was the show before the finale. There was the happiness of being amongst the top 3 to receive the chef coat, but there was also the sinking feeling that the set will be broken the next day, and there will be no more of coming to it every morning.
About Chef Vikas Khanna
You should see the way Chef Vikas Khanna meets people. There’s one thing that I know with absolute certainty, people who have met him can never forget him. He is one gem of a person and of course, a brilliant chef. I aspire to be like him.
About managing to touch a few lives
I have had a few instances in London and Dubai when Pakistani women have come to me to talk to me, to tell me that they loved seeing me on the show and that they wished well for me. Then there was this one time, when a Bangladeshi woman (living in London) called me up saying that her son couldn’t stop crying because I hadn’t won; he wanted to meet me, and when she came to know that I happened to be in London, they came all the way to the airport and greeted me with a huge bouquet of flowers and gleaming eyes.
I’ve had kids come up and tell me that they want to grow up to be like me. Such instances are beyond heart-warming, and the fact that I have been able to touch a few lives around the world is utterly overwhelming!
About her upcoming restaurant Meraki
You know there’s a restaurant in Bangkok called Gagan. It is such an iconic place that people book their tickets to Bangkok only after they have confirmed reservation at Gagan. That is the kind of restaurant we want to create in Jaipur.
The word ‘Meraki’ means pouring your heart out into something that you love. But our upcoming restaurant named Meraki is much more than that. It is conceived to be an all women’s operated place so as to give the women of Jaipur means for building confidence and financial independence; at the same time keeping in mind the logistical challenges that may come their way.
I believe women are more sincere on the job – be it any job – as compared to men.
On that note, I seconded Neha and gave her what Barney Stinson would call the mental-five! I loved listening to her for the couple of hours that we spent together, but what I loved more was that never even for once did she flinch a brow or heave a sigh. And even though we talked about so many phases of her life, one thing stayed constant – her million dollar smile (as she calls it, as I observed it)!
Picture Courtesy: Pallav Bhargava