Cooking skills and speed alone are not enough in a high-pressure contest like MasterChef Singapore. Destiny plays a part too - at least that’s what Sowmiya Venekatesan, who was sent packing in Episode 5 of the competition, believes.
Right up until last week, Sowmiya, a vegetarian, had been wow-ing judges with her creative repertoire of dishes. But all that came crashing down when her team’s chicken in the first challenge turned out undercooked and the 40-year-old was unable to redeem herself in the pressure test, which saw contestants trying to keep up with guest chef Ming Tan as he cooked his lobster bisque. Sowmiya fell behind, missed several key instructions, and as a result, her soup came up short.
Despite the outcome, the mother-of-one is in no way defeated. In fact, she stressed many times during our interview that the result is no testament to her cooking skills: “The dish just didn’t achieve what it needed to achieve. It was just a bad day.”
TOGGLE: What do you think was the biggest factor that led to your elimination?
SOWMIYA: The spot that I was standing was not very strategic. I am not tall [and despite being at the front], I could not see what Chef Ming was doing. I could not see anything. I could not see his ingredients and was just following by ear. I am vegetarian and "blind"! I just had to rely on his verbal instructions and as a result, I fell a little behind.
So it’s not because you are vegetarian?
No, and that’s the point that I want to make, that being a vegetarian is not a disadvantage. I know many people who are vegetarians and amazing cooks who refuse to participate in a competition like MasterChef and only because they have to handle meat. But you don’t have to eat the meat. I was advised to taste during the challenges, but it doesn’t come naturally for me to taste when there is meat in the dish.
What people don’t understand is that the meat flavour is not a good flavour for me because I am not a meat-eater, so I am not going to be able to tell if the dish is great or not. I am only able to gauge if it’s salted well or not, which I can make out with just the fragrance.
What would you have done differently if you could redo the challenges?
Maybe I should have ran to the chef’s table [to get a better view]. But I am 40 and at this age, if you are told not to do something, you obey. If I were much younger, I’d probably have been more vocal about how I could not see. But it is not in my nature.
Your dream is to open a vegetarian restaurant. Are you more confident to pursue your dream now?
Definitely. My friends have always said my food is nice but I don’t know if they’re saying it because they feel obliged. But getting into this competition is like a stamp of approval and that there is possibly something that I can nurture myself towards. And now I can go up to investors - and I do hope someone is reading this - and say let’s do something interesting in Singapore. We don’t have to call it a vegetarian restaurant because the idea is not about a choice of cuisine or diet, but to provide food that is exciting. And if I can do it meatless, why not?
How close are you to achieving your goal?
I haven’t heard anything from investors! (Laughs) I may not know how to run an F&B establishment but I have the fire in me and I want to go out and try to do something. I have started conducting cooking classes so I can try to understand everybody’s palate and do my experimentations in terms of recipes and I definitely do want to go into private dining. That’s something I am working on right now.
Catch MasterChef Singapore every Sunday 9.30pm on Ch5 and on Toggle Catch-up.