Chef Vijaylaxmi, a resident of Gurgaon who made it to the top 5 of MasterChef Season 2, shares the ingredients of her success with Friday Gurgaon. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Tell us about your journey – from a cook, to the top five contenders of MasterChef Season 2.
A. Yes, I started my career as a cook at a diplomat’s house. But after four years, I moved to a real estate company, because I was looking for some better paying options. I spent 10 years with that company, but my love for cooking didn’t die. When my daughter watched MasterChef Season 1, she insisted that I give it a shot. In fact, it is my 7 year old daughter who inspired me to participate in MasterChef. Nearly 3,500 people appeared for the audition in the Delhi/NCR region. Out of them, 50 were selected in the first round, and then two in the second round. Devika and I, were the two who made it to the second round. So I went to Mumbai, where I had to compete with top 100 contenders from all over the country. I was one of the lucky contestants to reach the top 10 and then finally the top 5.
Q. What would you attribute your success to?
A. I have a lot of experience. Yes, theoretically I am not very well-versed, but my practical knowledge has actually paid off. I have experimented a lot with food, and practised over the years. Also, I am thankful to my father-in-law, who taught me some basic rules of cooking. As my parents belong to South India, and I am born and brought up in Delhi, I already had the knowledge of the cuisine of both the regions. My father-in-law helped me brush up my culinary skills.
Q. Now, after coming back from MasterChef, would you like to go back to Delhi, or stay in Gurgaon?
A. I have been living in Gurgaon for the last three years. Gurgaon is a nice place, but a little expensive. However, I have no plans to go back to Delhi; because in Master Chef I was referred to as “Gurgaon’s Vijaylaxmi”. I am thinking of starting a business in this city only. Later, I can go for expansion – that might cover Delhi.
Q. How is it different, cooking at home and cooking
A.Totally different. Thankfully, there is no MasterChef watch here (laughs). At home, if anything goes wrong, you have time to fix it. But in the MasterChef, even if you go slightly wrong, you are gone forever.
Q. How was your experience with the judges, contestants and Akshay Kumar?
A. Akshay came in the last episode only. I found him very supportive during the tasks. For contestants, I would say, some of them are my good friends, especially Shazia ji. This was the first time that I faced the camera, and got an opportunity to perform on such a big platform. I thank MasterChef for the platform, as well as the wonderful people I met during the show.
Q. Your focus has always been on Indian food. Why?
A. No, I would not say my focus has been on Indian food only. In fact, during MasterChef, I took up Indian cuisine to the international level. India is famous for spices, but most of the people don’t know how to use spices well. They just put everything in together, that sometimes kills the original taste of the food. Every spice has its own taste and relevance. For example, in Rajasthan, my dish – Gatte ki Canapés – was very much appreciated by the judges – and I got extra votes for it. All the ingredients were Indian, but the concept was international. I am also famous for marshmallows, made of saunf and kevda essence, that give them an Indian flavour. Through this approach, I want to show the world that Indian spices and herbs are the best; and we can also match international standards.
Q. You are a mother of a 7 year old. What cooking tip would you give to all the mothers?
A. I would recommend healthy food for children. If you can’t spend much time in the kitchen in the morning, keep some stuff ready in the refrigerator. For example, I keep bread dough and some ingredients like cheese, sliced tomato, orange sauce, and sautéed vegetables ready. I simply mix them with bread dough in the morning, and bake them for my daughter’s tiffin. This way one can make quick, healthy, and colourful dishes for the children. Besides, I put a lot of herbs in the dishes. The best way to put herbs in the food is to put them in the dough. Also, presentation of food is very important. Remember, children love to play with food. So give them different types of sauce to dip in. Make sauce with fresh vegetables and herbs at home.
Q. Can you share your breakfast to dinner menu?
A. I give my daughter milk and muffin/cake at breakfast. Sambar Idli makes a good breakfast in the summers. For her tiffin, I prefer pastas and bread rolls. Dinner, usually, comprises of dal, chawal, and sabji. I also give her different types of salads.
Q. As a single parent, how difficult is it for you to manage both profession and home?
A. Thankfully, I have got very helpful in-laws. In fact, during MasterChef, when I was in Mumbai, they took good care of my daughter. My relationship with my husband didn’t work out; but I am glad that even after divorce, my in-laws are so supportive.
Q. What is your favourite restaurant in Gurgaon? And where do you buy grocery from?
A. Honestly speaking, I don’t go to any restaurant. First, I am a very simple person, and not aware of the big names. Second, I don’t need to go to restaurants, as I cook everything at home. I buy vegetables and other grocery items from the nearby market of Vyapar Kendra. My main shopping centre is INA though – where you get almost everything. For my cooking classes, I got everything from the INA market. I never compromise on the quality of ingredients in my cooking. For example, I always buy the best yeast for bread, and extra virgin olive oil for cooking.
Q. Do you think formal education is required to become a chef?
A. See, it is your experience that counts; and it is practice that makes you perfect. I couldn’t even complete my graduation. But my experience and practice made me quite perfect. Therefore, for me formal education has little to do when it comes to cooking.
Q. What are your future plans? During MasterChef, you said it is your dream to open a coffee shop. Can we expect anything of this sort in Gurgaon?
A. A real estate company has shown interest in my idea. They want me to open a coffee shop in Sector 45, Gurgaon. Later, we can think of a chain structure. I am good at baking, so the concept of coffee shop goes well with my name. People may find my coffee shop a little expensive, but I promise to offer good, healthy, and chemical-free stuff. Also, I am planning to start a marshmallows business, as I got a lot of compliments for my marshmallows during MasterChef. I can supply them in different flavours, to all the top supermarkets in the City.