MasterChef Singapore is only two episodes in, but it hasn’t held back on the drama: Sunday’s episode ended with a double elimination, which saw contestants Nachammai Vidhya and Joshua Kalinan sent home.
The results were a little unexpected, considering that Joshua aced the sambal challenge in Episode I, while Vidhya’s crispy fish was one of the top three dishes in Episode 2’s opening red and white challenge. However, when the challenge’s winner, Aaron Wong, chose Chinese food for the elimination round, Joshua and Vidhya floundered – Joshua, because his steamed fish was too sweet, and Vidhya, because her char kway teow-inspired noodles lacked imagination.
When we catch up with Joshua in person following the eliminations, we half-expect him to be wearing the same sombre expression he had after the judges bid him goodbye. But Joshua practically bounds into the room, grateful that he got to experience being on MasterChef Singapore at all.
He’s also honest about, yet appreciative of, what he had to learn the hard way. After the judges lambasted Joshua’s Steamed Grouper with Prosperity Sauce for its scaliness and overly sweet flavour, he learned the importance of details over speed.
“Fine-tuning your technique is very important. Most important is taste profile. You need to taste the food before you serve it. And in that stressful moment, you really need to use the proper techniques of cutting.”
TOGGLE: Though your time on MasterChef was short, what are some of your fondest memories from the experience?
JOSHUA: To be in MasterChef is a dream come true. When I was presented with the apron, I felt very touched. I thought to myself, I’ve made it this far!. And I was very proud of what I did.
You’re a dedicated husband and father – what did your family members say when you ended up on the show, and did they encourage even after what happened?
They said to pursue whatever my interests is, and that it is very important to be myself. To enjoy the show, and what I get to do there, and don’t worry about winning.
When you look back on those two weeks, what can you tell us about your development as a home cook or even as a person?
I cook much more confidently now, I’m much more detailed in my cuisines now. [After an experience like this], you do more research, you start to be hands on with a lot of stuff. In the past I didn’t do much fresh pastas, and now I tend to a do a lot of fresh pastas. I do molecular cuisine. The show kick-started, not killed, my interest in cooking.
What did all the excitement and pressure bring out in yourself?
When I am under stress I can cook even better, and that’s my greatest strength. Weakness wise, I need to touch up on other cuisines that I don’t really cook so often. Dishes like steamed fish may look simple, but there are a lot of other techniques involved which I don’t usually cook them at home, I usually go to a local zi char.
Any regrets? What would you have done differently?
I would have prepared myself to learn about other cuisines, polish up some of the cooking techniques, but it’s about participation, not winning. To be in the show was definitely a life-changing experience –[I wasn’t prepared for] a lot of publicity! I walk on the street, and a lot of people come and ask me hey you’re on MasterChef, and after months of unable say it, even with my close family members, it’s been an interesting thing, because it’s not just Masterchef, it’s MasterChef Singapore. It’s not about winning, it’s about being in it, and it’s about being friends with the rest of the contestants.
Meanwhile, Vidhya, whom we spoke to over the phone, appreciates the collaborative, familial atmosphere on the show, as well as the exposure to different genres and cultures of cuisine.
“Now I’m much more exposed to Malay cooking. I’ve eaten a lot of sambal outside, but have never really done it at home, because Malay cuisine ingredients are very different from what we use in Indian cooking,” she says. “I mainly cook Indian, Western, or Middle Eastern food, and I don’t make Chinese and Malay food at home. I’ve realised that exposure is important. Local cuisine is so easily available outside that I never really felt the need to make it at home, since I can just go to the hawker centre and find something that tastes good. Now I am a bit more interested in trying to make them at home.”
TOGGLE: Were you surprised to go so soon or did you see it coming?
VIDHYA: I was very surprised I even made it to the top 10. The competitors were much more experienced, some even went overseas for other competitions, others cook very often at home, so I was very glad to make it to the top 10 and anything more was a bonus, though I’d hoped I could have stayed longer.
What are your best memories from competing in MasterChef Singapore?
Probably being able to meet everybody else – it wasn’t really like a competition even though we all wanted to win. At the end of it, I felt like I had made nine other friends.
A lot of time was spent waiting for our shoot, talking to each other about what to cook, what recipes to make. We would share recipes and try each other’s recipes at home. This was the main way we bonded. I made Sowmiya’s butter chicken and Diana’s naan at home and it was really very good and my in-laws really liked it.
Nicholas is always saying he’s interested in knowing molecular gastronomy, and it’s just something I’ve started out in my cooking. All these very scientific things, and a more advanced way of cooking intrigues me and got me to look out more.
No surprises since you’re also a doctor! What’s one cooking technique that you picked up from the competition?
I’m a home cook, so cooking is more of a hobby, and I usually don’t rush, but I’ve learned to cook a little bit faster! My husband was very worried I’d never be able to finish in time on the show, and time was definitely a problem for me, but now he’s commented that I’ve gotten faster. Previously, I used to cook once a week, now I try to cook like two or three times a week, and being able to cook faster helps.
Technique-wise, because of MasterChef, I’ve put in a little more effort to learn Indian cooking in depth. During the first round when my stuff was burnt, I felt an extra need to hone my Indian cooking skills.
How do you feel that you’ve changed through your experiences on MasterChef?
As a cook I feel it has given me a little bit more confidence, given that I have had much less experience than most of them. I am relatively younger than most of them, and since half the time on MasterChef was spent making something diff than what I usually cook, I feel more confident now.
And once, when my dish got on the top 3, it made me feel like I can explore something different – not as a career switch, but something on the side of what I already do to give my life more variety. Unlike many of the other contestants who have food-related dreams, I have no intention of opening a restaurant or having an F&B business. But MasterChef has opened up more avenues for me and connected me with more people who are interested in cooking. If I ever wanted to open a website or a YouTube channel, they could give me ideas on how to do it.
Catch MasterChef Singapore every Sunday 9.30pm on Ch5 and on Toggle Catch-up