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Depinder Chhibber brings Delhi to MasterChef Australia

The Indian-Australian cook continuously impresses


29-year-old Delhi born Indian-Australian Depinder Chhibber has been cooking up a storm on MasterChef Australia Season 13. Her unique green curry cake raked in millions of views on the internet and made her an overnight talk-of-the-town. Dilpreet spoke with Depinder over the phone to understand where her passion for food comes from and some of her future plans.


Dilpreet: From Gobhi Paranthe to the good old Butter Chicken, we've seen classic authentic Indian food coming from you. I'm a huge Delhi food fangirl as well. All of it takes me back to the good times. Could you tell us about your connection with Delhi and how it ties with your passion for cooking?


Depinder: Delhi plays a big part in my life. I was born there, and I grew up there. It's probably my favourite place on earth. So, that's not just because of food, but also because of the sense of belonging that I have when I'm in Delhi. My extended and immediate family are all still there. We still have our house where I was born, and I grew up.


I try to go back as much as I can. And unfortunately, because of COVID, it's been very difficult to keep up with that. The last time I went to Delhi, it was just shy of COVID. I think it was the end of 2019 just before COVID took off, which was amazing that I actually got to go there. So recently I have no idea when I'm going to go there again.


The food has always inspired me in Delhi because that's the food that I know the most. I know it inside out, from street food to the food you get in restaurants and the food you get in any household across Delhi. I think that's what I've tried to portray on the show because that kind of food is close to my heart.

 


Dilpreet: And, you moved to Australia at the age of 11. I'm wondering, how do you bring your Indian-Australian identity -  beyond Delhi - to the table as well? Does that play a role in who you are as a chef?


Depinder: Oh, absolutely. Firstly, I don't even classify myself as a chef just yet. I'm very proud of being a home cook because that is where it all started. When it comes to identifying myself as a Delhi born Australian, I think, it speaks for itself because I do authentic Indian food. But then, at the same time, I love dwelling into deserts, and I loved rolling into baked goods, which is what I started doing as I grew up in Newcastle when we moved to Sydney.


So, I think that food is in between Indian and Australian. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's not authentic; it's just Indian food using ingredients that we can find locally. As far as that goes, I think my cooking identity is all about trying to utilise whatever we have. Whenever we can source locally, we do. Especially with COVID, many of us would have learned by now that it's tough to get specialty ingredients from overseas. It's best to make the most of what you have locally and incorporate it into your cooking style. And that's what I've been trying to do.


Dilpreet: I am glad you mentioned baking because, despite your passion for Desi food, I think the green curry cake put you on the digital map far and wide and got you millions of shares and likes. I'm getting WhatsApp forwards from my friends and family back home. So the cake is a thing now. But were you nervous when you made that and took that to the judges? Or, do you have fun taking risks?


Depinder: I think it depends at what point of the competition you are and what a particular challenge demands. It was an invention test. I mean you are supposed to be taking a little bit of risk here and there. In an elimination, maybe not so much. But when it comes to invention, mystery boxes, I think that's when you can let your imagination guide you. And that's what I did on the day.


I had made the green curry cake once before while I was preparing for MasterChef. I didn't really think that they would love it as much as they did because it's quite a confronting idea of putting savoury flavours into a cake. What helped me the most was the fact that I served it with coconut ice cream and white chocolate chilli ganache because that reinforced the green curry essence of the dish itself. It's a coconut milk-based curry, and I served it with coconut ice cream. So the flavours are reinforced a little bit more. And I think that's what they saw in the dish.  They said it tasted nice, but I'm biased because I made it, so I was like, "oh, this is nice", but when they said it was nice, it was validating.


Dilpreet: I am sure! What kind of other cuisines would you be keen on making? Do you dabble in, you know, cuisines that are perhaps not Indian or not even Australian?


Depinder: I love making pasta! I have a pasta machine, and I used to make a lot of my own homemade pasta, and I still do it quite a bit. I've even tried to make quite a few different pasta dishes with Indian flavours in them. For example, there is a Rajasthani curry called Laal Maas which I tried making with pasta and some yogurt, and it was delicious. But, unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to make it on the show yet.


I have been experimenting with non-Indian cuisines, but at the same time using Indian flavours, but also I love eating stock standard pasta dishes. I love pesto and just a simple margarita pizza. I enjoy simple food. When it comes to comfort foods, we do a lot of soups and stews, and you know your winter comfort food.


Dilpreet: And lastly, Depinder, what are some of your future plans? I mean, open a restaurant, perhaps? Are you thinking about it?


Depinder: Definitely on the cards! I would love to open up a restaurant with limited numbers so it's more personalised. I would love to interact with each person who walks through the doors of my restaurant because I want them to experience what I'm trying to put on the plate, but I also want them to see food from my eyes. And that's the reason I would like to have something minimal, nothing too big, because I'm not into mass-producing. I'm not into minting money or anything like that. So for me, it's all about sharing the experience of foods that I have with other people and people interested in, you know, tasting my food because it will be authentic, but I will give it a twist for sure.


The other thing I want to do is to write a cookbook because I want to make Indian flavours more familiar, especially in the Australian mainstream food industry. I want people to try and make Indian food as much as they cook dumplings at home.

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.

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