When we think of cookbooks on Bengali Cuisine, Siddika Kabir with her famous book authored nearly half a century ago comes to mind. The culinary world had grown by leaps and bounds since then, yet we’ve held on to copies of that old book in the absence of a present-day alternative. After ages of our delicious cuisine being essentially geo-blocked within South Asia and South Asian diaspora, Kishwar Chowdhury, a contestant of MasterChef Australia Season 13, has put a modern, global spin on our traditional dishes securing a place in the top 4 of this ongoing race. Her dream? To simply author a cookbook. As she wowed the judges at the show week after week with her stunning Bengali dishes, audiences in Bangladesh cheered her on with great pride. While the race is still on, putting enormous pressure on the contestants, the talented cook took some precious time off to talk to Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid about her journey on the widely popular show and what lies ahead
Walk us through your journey in Australia prior to landing a spot on this immensely popular show.
Thank you for having me. It's really nice to reach out beyond the small clips everyone has been seeing of me so far. I was born and bought up here in Australia. My father is from Bangladesh and was a freedom fighter, he came out here as a student after the Liberation War. He met my mother, who is from Kolkata, West Bengal and they married and settled here in Melbourne. I have a huge extended family here in Melbourne and Dhaka. Before I was on MasterChef I was in my family printing and packaging business.
How did you discover your passion for cooking?
I was taught to cook from a very early age. I never considered it a passion, just something that's just an intrinsic part of my life and comes naturally to me.
Your dishes are boldly Bangladeshi. Were some of the recipes in your family for generations?
Yes, a lot of the food that we cook has been passed down from my ancestors. It's the way we've kept our heritage alive. I love the unspoken secrecy we have in our culture to protect our special recipes…. If you look up 10play.com.au you'll find some of my secrets.
Did you have to tone down the spices to suit the foreign judges who might not be accustomed to our food or have second thoughts about cooking any dish for a lot of Bengali dishes are an acquired taste?
I did modify some of my dishes, but not for the judges. My cooking style draws on traditional techniques and dishes and recreating them to my palate. So, it wasn't so much toning it down, but understanding which spices I want to bring forward in each dish.
Our traditional dishes have a reputation for being time-consuming to prepare. You’ve shown the world that those can also be completed within a narrow frame of time. Of all the dishes you’ve cooked on the show, which dish are you most proud of in terms of beating the clock?
I think making Khashi Rezala was a tough one for the time frame. I had my work cut out for me that day.
How have you grown through your experience at MasterChef Australia?
For me it was grasping a better understanding of my food and seeing its significance through the eyes of all the guest chefs and judges. Also learning about the value of seasonal and local ingredients.
You said you want to author a cookbook. What else do you wish to accomplish as a chef? Can we maybe expect a restaurant somewhere down the line?
My goal right now is to write my cookbook and be in a professional kitchen, but no restaurant plans as yet.
People in Bangladesh are cheering for you every step of the way. Do you have a message for them?
Yes, I've had thousands of wonderful messages from Bangladesh. My message is, whether it's at home cooking for your loved ones, or pursing your dreams in food, the arts or anything that brings you joy, put yourself out there and pursue your passions.