The winner of MasterChef India Season 1 is now an acclaimed food expert and writer, and the face of many popular brands.
From the classroom to the winning podium on Indian television’s top-rated show, Master Chef India, Pankaj Bhadouria’s is a story of an ordinary woman with extra-ordinary ambitions.
How many of us would gladly give up a safe career and venture into the unknown with just passion, and maybe a little bit of spunk? How many of us would give up on complacency, and take the road less travelled?
Pankaj Bhadouria did, and her journey is all for all to see. After becoming India’s first Master Chef in 2010, she showcased her passion for cooking through shows like Chef Pankaj ka Zayka, Kifayati Kitchen, Sales ka Baazigar, Rasoi, 3 Course with Pankaj, and more. National and international accolades followed, and soon, Pankaj became the face of many brands as well. It came as no surprise, when she took to writing; she now has five best-sellers to credit.
In an interview with YourStory, Pankaj tells us about how it all started, the culinary journey, and how she is looking forward to the future.
YourStory: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Pankaj Bhadouria: I was born and raised in Delhi where I did my schooling. I went on to complete my education from Lucknow University with a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in English literature.
YS: Were you always interested in food?
PB: I started cooking quite early in life – at the age of 11… I was appreciated and encouraged by my family for everything that I did. Apart from appreciation, I would get their genuine feedback as well which always helped me to get better in the kitchen.
YS: You were a teacher for many years before MasterChef happened…
PB: I started my career as a school teacher teaching English to ISC classes. The call for the MasterChef audition on television was the turning point in my life; this prompted me to go for it and later to quit my job of 16 years.
YS: Tell us your experience at MasterChef - the hits, misses, the highs, the lows, and finally the win.
PB: MasterChef was a turning point in my life. My first selection to the top 12 was a challenging one that awakened the dormant competitive spirit in me! From there on, there was no looking back. I got into the “danger zone” only once throughout the journey, but sailed through it. I was more determined to win and with God’s grace, I did.
YS: How did life change after MasterChef? Did you look at food and cooking differently?
PB: The one big achievement that changed my life is winning MasterChef India Season 1. That was a turning point. MasterChef catapulted me from the life of a common school teacher to that of an acclaimed chef. Post that, I could see that food was more than just pure pleasure, it needed to be seen in a different perspective - one that glorified it and beautified it as well.
YS: You are known a celebrity in the food world? How has the experience been?
PB: MasterChef helped me reach out to more people, and share with them what I do. My television shows are just that, an effort to connect to like-minded people who share the same interest as I do - food!
YS: You are also a well-known food writer. How do you choose the topics for these books?
PB: I choose the topics for my books with great care. I love challenges and topics that make me discover and research about what I want to write. So while Chicken from my Kitchen celebrates the “Great Indian Chicken Curry” from all across the country, The Secret’s in the Spice Mix discovers the secrets of our masalas, from all across the country again.
YS: As a food writer and a well-known chef, how have you changed people’s perceptions, attitudes, and mindsets towards food?
PB: I just share my own perspective towards food with people, if they like it, they accept it. But there has never been a conscious effort to impose any thought.
YS: What do you think of fusion food?
PB: Fusion food is an interesting way of combining the new with the old, the far away with the local and the healthier with the tastier.
YS: What is comfort food for you?
PB: Comfort food for me is plain and simple khichdi with butter and papad crushed over it!
YS: How do you keep track of the latest food trends? What are the three popular food trends for 2018?
PB: I like to keep myself updated with the latest and the newest in the industry. According to me, the three top trends for the year would be:
* A shift to more plant-based diets. With more people moving towards veganism and consumption of super foods, new and interesting recipes would be developed.
* Technology will play a greater role in how we are cooking and presenting our food.
* We will celebrate local cuisine and food, and bring them to the mainstream food industry
YS: It's often argued that the world's greatest chefs are men? What do you think of this statement?
PB: A very chauvinist statement! I think in the present scenario, women are able to choose jobs of their choice in the hospitality sector, especially the kitchen. Earlier, yes, with different time schedules, it did pose a problem but now I see them working in all departments, all sectors with equal ease just as they would be working in other industries such as aviation or a BPO. With more women joining the industry, there’s great female talent in the kitchen, too
YS: What are your future plans?
PB: I woul like to further my efforts in culinary education and make it possible for more youngsters to make a career out of it. I want to spread my academy to more cities, my restaurants too; do more books and TV shows.