Meet Depinder Chhibber who is smiling her way through MasterChef Australia!

By Neeru Saluja

With a dream to place Indian home cooking on a global platform, MasterChef contestant Depinder Chhibber is here to stay. A creative and experimental cook, Depinder is smiling her way through the contest impressing the judges with her versatile dishes.

Depinder’s cooking journey started from learning traditional recipes from her mum to self-teaching herself to bake. She grew up watching Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s cooking show back home in India, but since she arrived in Australia she got hooked to MasterChef Australia. Calling herself the biggest MasterChef fan and comparing the contestants to Bollywood celebrities, Depinder’s ultimate dream is to write a recipe book showcasing Indian fusion cuisine.

Depinder, your fan base is increasing day by day as you are wowing the judges and audience with your versatile cooking! How do you feel about it?

I feel overwhelmed (in a happy way). I did not expect to be on MasterChef. I love cooking, am a self-taught baker and do a lot of Indian cuisine at home, but it’s quite rustic. I didn’t think that was going to be good enough to be on a show like MasterChef. So I entered the contest with very low expectations. During the show, you might see that I get really excited and nervous when I cook as I’m a home cook. I have never learnt from a chef or worked in a professional kitchen. I make my desserts at home and luckily my husband loves them, but you don’t expect the judges to love them. Therefore, it’s really nice to get the encouragement and support from the judges, my fellow contestants and love from the people who are watching me. It’s a lovely feeling.

What inspired you to join MasterChef Australia?

Since we moved to Australia I hardly watched local TV except for the news. I always watched food shows even as a kid in India, with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor being my favourite. When we moved to Australia I grew up watching MasterChef. I was obsessed with the show as a viewer and knew all the dishes. For me, MasterChef is the benchmark of cooking in Australia. If I had to ever enter a contest it had to be MasterChef. But to be honest, I went on MasterChef because probably I’m the biggest fan out there! I look up to the contestants and if I ever ran into them, I would get very excited and get them to sign my cookbook. For me, anyone who went on MasterChef was equivalent to a Bollywood celebrity!

How long did you prepare for this contest?

I didn’t prepare it for it all. I love experimenting with cooking and that helped me in the challenges thrown at me during the show. There is only so much that you can study and prepare for the contest. I think most of it is following intuition as well as your own experience. I’ve been cooking for as long as I remember, which goes back to helping my mum and aunts in the kitchen back home in India. Cooking is a part of me. There is not a day at home when I don’t cook. I have always spent one day a week trying out a new recipe or researching something. For Indian cuisine, sky is the limit. And that’s how I landed on Ghevar.

And that was your opening dish in the contest ”“ would you call it your signature dish?

I have never tasted Ghevar in India, a dessert from Rajasthan. Neither have my parents. So it was an unchartered territory for me. I tried making it a few times and failed so many times. I tweaked my recipe at least 25 times! And then I finally landed on a foolproof recipe that would work. And that’s how I was able to make it at home and in MasterChef kitchen and make it my signature dish.

Indian food is only perceived as a curry, whereas in fact Indian cuisine covers a breadth and depth of flavours from across the nation. How do you intend to change this perception and will you showcase this through your cooking?

I think curry is the most used and abused word everywhere around the world. And it refers to not only Indian curries, there are South Asian curries, Middle Eastern and African curries. So I think curry is just a general word for anything that is soupy and packed with flavour. So I’m one of those few people that actually don’t take offense to that word because I feel like every time someone mentions a curry everyone’s mouth is salivating. In India, we don’t even use the word curry. It’s more of a western word given to Indian dishes.  

I aspire to showcase whatever I know of Indian cuisine throughout the season. Indian food is just not about a curry. Starting off from biryani, that’s not a curry. Indian food has already taken off in Australia to a point where people are now recognising Indian street food, Mughlai food, South Indian food and how different it is to North Indian food. Even if my task has become easier, I’m definitely planning to change the perception.

You are also a keen traveller! When you are travelling, what do you want to explore as an avid cook?

When I travel with my husband it’s always been associated with food. We both are foodies and love exploring new regions of India. For example when I went to Kerala I attended lots of cooking classes. I’ve always been interested in South Indian cuisine. The cuisine in South India deserves it’s own name.

Your dream is to write a recipe book showcasing Indian fusion cuisine? How would you define Indian fusion cuisine drawing on the strengths of Indian cuisine?

A lot of people misinterpret the word ”˜fusion’ considering the food will not be authentic. As a home cook, fusion is anything that makes it easier for people to make it at home. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m westernising the dish or changing the flavours to suit a certain palette. For me, fusion can be divided into two parts ”“ rustic fusion and fine dining fusion. When you go to a fine dining restaurant, you see Indian cuisine done differently. Then there is the rustic fusion, which I see as simple dishes making Indian cooking more accessible and easier. There are so many vegetarian dishes that we have grown up eating which are not even on the radar. My aim is to simplify the recipes as much as I can in my cookbook. And also suggest substitutes and alternatives to spices from India that you don’t get in Australia, making the recipes easier.

Short URL: