COOKIES

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Kishwar Chowdhury puts Bengali food on MasterChef Australia's table

The Melburnian cook is now in the Grand Finale


Born and raised in Melbourne, 38-year-old Kishwar Chowdhury has a rich Bangladeshi-Indian heritage. Her authentic Bengali food on MasterChef Australia Season 13 has placed the cuisine on the country’s food map and earned her international recognition. But Bengali food is not all there is to Kishwar.

Dilpreet spoke with her over the phone to understand how her ancestry impacts her love for cooking, being labelled and why a cookbook is important.


Dilpreet: Kishwar, congratulations on your journey so far on Masterchef! You have been cooking so many delicious Bengali delicacies as barramundi curry, macher jhol, fuchka chotpoti; how has the experience been so far for you?

Kishwar: It's been amazing. Cooking a lot of dishes that are Bengali - it hasn't been seen on this platform before. I cook many different foods because we eat a lot of different foods in our household, being from a very Metropolitan Melbournian family. But when I do cook Bengali food, I feel connected to it. And it is quite a great experience to do that for the first time on MasterChef.


Dilpreet: I understand you have ancestry in India and Bangladesh; please tell us a little more about your background and how it has influenced your passion for cooking?


Kishwar: My mum is from India. She grew up in Kolkata. And then my father is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. In terms of passion for cooking, just being Bengali, there's nothing that a household loves more than cooking or talking about cooking. While we're eating, we're talking about the next meal. But aside from cooking, it's always about the ingredients, where we source the ingredients from, and we have really good relations with our local markets. And if we can't source an ingredient, we grow it ourselves. Cooking and food and what ends up on our table has always been a really centre point of my family.


Dilpreet: Is it stressful for you to be a part of a national competition, or are you very comfortable and confident and don't mind taking risks?


Kishwar: In terms of the food, yeah absolutely, I am very comfortable. I think it's a really fun experience. But all the other external factors like how long you're away from your family, actually being in a cooking competition, often over the longevity of the competition can be stressful. But apart from that, cooking on MasterChef is an extremely exciting once in a lifetime experience.

 


Dilpreet: Apart from Bengali and Desi cuisine, what kind of other cuisines do you love dabbling in? Any particular dish you like making as comfort food?


Kishwar: I cook a lot of different cuisines. For example, I think I was the first one in this season to go to the top dish making pasta. A lot of the contestants feel a little bit nervous because Jock is half Italian. I've done this for years and years in my house, just making pasta from scratch with my kids. And like I said, we eat all sorts of food and cuisines. And you know, my son's a big fan of taco-tuesdays. I bake as well. I used to bake with my mum, and now that's something that I do with my daughter. 


But having said this, my dream is to write a cookbook that passes down my parents' food. And I wanted to put that together to pass that down to my children. I didn't go to Masterchef thinking I was going to make Bengali dishes. I had a very open mind. But when I got there, I found that the judges and the other contestants were interested in this food, and they'd never seen it before. We do have a lot of exposure to North Indian food, even South Indian food. Now more and more. Sri Lankan food is becoming quite popular in Melbourne. But I think Bengali, good East Indian food, from the region of Bengal, like the Bay of Bengal and around that area, you don't see that on the Australian food map. 


It's quite different because you're hitting the tropical Delta weather where you have Burma and in Southeast Asia. You have a lot of Southeast Asian service coming into our food and the Mughlai cuisine.  


Then the judges' feedback on a few of the dishes that I went, "Oh my gosh!"...the food is very technical and different as well, and it has quite a broad range, so I was comfortable to do that. And you know, everyone appreciated.

 


Dilpreet: I'm glad you did because I hardly see Bengali food in the Australian mainstream food industry. Many people on the internet with Bengali heritage have appreciated seeing you cook authentic Bengali food on the show. 


Kishwar: It's a mixed blessing. Now, I will get questions like, "oh, what do you cook apart from Bengali?"

 

 So it is about representation, but let's also step away from it and focus on the actual cooking. Coming onto a show like MasterChef, you have to be very skilled. We have a basic cooking set that we're all comfortable with. And even before we come on, we are told to practices under bench pantry and staple. So we are all cooking the same basic things like knowing how to bake, make twills or make ice creams.  


Dilpreet: Also, I think, you know, the kind of foods that you're making is a representation for all South Asians. Because everyone usually thinks that we only eat curries, but what even is a curry? There's so much diversity to the food as well. What plans do you have for the future? Is opening a restaurant sometimes, perhaps, on the charts?


Kishwar: Yeah, my plans coming into this were very much about writing a book to pass down, not just to my kids, but also to my friends and family, especially in the UK, Canada, and North America. 


I was born here in Australia, and so, I'm a third culture kid. I've seen my parents hold on to their food, language, and culture, but I didn't grow up in another country; I grew up here. So for me, it became imperative, especially during the lockdown, to bring that together. 


I'm getting 1000s of letters, like hundreds every day, saying, "your story is my story". I thought it was a small journey, but it seems to be quite a shared journey with a lot of people.

About the author

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

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