It’s that scrumptious time of the year again when MasterChef India beams on the small screen and inspires many home cooks to brush up their culinary skills. A curiosity to learn and a passion for cooking are the primary qualities that the panel of judges — celebrated chefs Vikas Khanna, Ranveer Brar and new entrant Pooja Dhingra — are looking for in the contestants of MasterChef India Season 8. The reality show streams Monday to Friday at 8pm on SonyLIV. The Telegraph Online spoke to the three judges on what it takes to be a MasterChef India winner and some of the cooking challenges on the cards for the contestants.
This year we have got two seasons of MasterChef India, which throws light on the fact that people’s love for cooking is increasing.
Vikas Khanna: I think it’s amazing. This is one of the greatest seasons till now. Primarily, post-pandemic, the whole level of cooking, the practices, the information around food and everything has changed. This sets us apart.
Ranveer Brar: This time the quality of home cooks is amazing. They come with a strong skill set. All are driven and have an amount of curiosity which we feel the audience will strongly connect to.
Pooja Dhingra: The home cooks are extremely passionate.
The participants are under huge pressure. What do you look for in a MasterChef India home cook?
Vikas Khanna: We search for excellence. We search for the biggest talent, and we search for someone who can represent herself or himself as well as represent the country. As has happened with the previous seasons, winners change the dynamics of cooking by opening restaurants, doing TV shows and so much more. Doors open and it gives a big leverage.
Ranveer Brar: Contestants have big shoes to fill as MasterChef is a legacy. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for me to stand next to chef Vikas as he has been here from day one. I feel the pressure too.
Pooja Dhingra: One can imagine how much pressure I am under!
It seems you are planning to step up the level of challenges and the mystery box tasks this season.
Vikas Khanna: This time the challenges are bigger than life. In Pooja’s Universe of Happiness (name of a challenge), she brings all her favourite desserts. Everything in this challenge is vegetarian. She has created a benchmark. It looks beautiful but it’s difficult for the contestants.
Ranveer Brar: There are a lot of firsts this time. With Pooja’s challenge, everyone will come to a standstill. We want to increase the level of cooking. She has put the universe on the platter. We would be having the biggest mystery box with chef Marco Pierre White (British chef and restaurateur). It’s an overnight challenge that goes on for 12 hours. Earlier, contestants couldn’t try out a lot of items because of time constraints.
What’s the winning quality in a contestant that impresses you the most?
Vikas Khanna: Someone who has the curiosity to learn and not someone who knows everything. If the jar of water is full, you can’t add anything. When people come with an empty mind, they can learn, explore and grow. It’s the trait of a person who can risk everything and win the show.
Pooja Dhingra: The home cooks have a lot of passion. For me, it has become one of the most important things. There are hard days in the kitchen, so I like people when they pick themselves up, bring the best and show a reflection of them in the dishes. The hardest part is the elimination, but this is a competition at the end of the day based on taste, innovation and presentation.
Ranveer Brar: I am looking forward to the unsaid, unspoken spark and the genuineness that comes up, much like Nayanjyoti Saikia (the winner of the last season).
Chef Pooja, this is your first season as a judge. As you have watched the show as an audience and have been a guest judge before, what’s the feeling?
Pooja Dhingra: Yes, I have watched the show and have been here before. It’s great to be here but there’s pressure standing between two legends. It’s my first experience. I am very nervous and excited. Both have been very supportive and are holding my hand. I am enjoying it.
Do you think you’ll give a tough time to the contestants with the pastry challenge tasks?
Pooja Dhingra: (Smiles) No, not a tough time. It’s exciting to see the level of pastry and baking. I will have a lot of fun. It’s exciting to see people from different parts of India on the show come up with some unique ingredients and experiences.
Food content creation is big in India. What’s your message for those who are inspired by you watching this?
Ranveer: It’s very easy. I always say cooking is an expression. If you are in the business of cooking, you are in the business of expressing yourself through a cake or a macaron. It’s an extension of your personality. It’s an extension of what you do. It’s not very different. Be yourself, irrespective of what happens. The code is to be yourself. Be honest with your relationship with food and do not take yourself too seriously.
Pooja: Happy people make happy food.