Popular Masterchef Australia contestant Rishi Desai on life inside the Masterchef House.

Rishi Desai is no stranger to Masterchef Australia fans. The Kolhapur boy was especially popular for giving a refreshing twist to Indian food like his modak-inspired dumplings with soy-caramel. Rishi, a 35-year-old public servant with IP Australia in Canberra, is by now used to chopping, poaching, frying, baking, arguing and rejoicing with nine cameras zooming in on every single detail. Even his snoring!

But what the cameras, and thereby the viewers, do not get to see is the goings-on inside the Masterchef House, where the contestants stay for the five and a half month-long schedule of the show. “There are no stories, by the way,” Rishi says as he begins his insider’s view of the house.

“The house is huge, because 22 people have to live there. It has five bedrooms, three living rooms, one study stocked with cookbooks, a big kitchen and a nice backyard with a swimming pool. There’s a two-car garage and its three walls are filled with pantry items. Anything you want will be there. If it isn’t, all you have to do was ask. It is absolutely humongous.

“We could watch television — except Channel 10 on which Masterchef airs because you were not supposed to watch yourself on TV. Staying away from the family, and especially the kids, for close to five and a half months, is hard. We didn’t have wallets because we weren’t allowed to shop for anything. No Internet because we were not supposed to look up recipes online or see what people were saying. We couldn’t even use phones.

“It was just 22 people who loved food, who talked about food, and watched food on TV — we had about 200 channels on TV but all we did was watch food channels — and cooked constantly. We were a diverse group of people: Italians, Japanese, Southeast Asians, Indians, West Asians, British, Portuguese… We had a roster system, as the kitchen wasn’t big enough for 22 people. We would wake up in the morning and speculate about what was going to happen that day.

“Australia is a diverse, multi-cultural country. People are used to having others from different backgrounds around. But when we got into the house, it took us a while to get used to each other. It took us about 10 days until we knew each other’s names and figured out what was happening. After that we made amazing friends.

“After spending three months in the house, Lynton (Tapp) said to me, “I know more about you than my friend of the last six years.” That was amazing because we didn’t have our families around and were looking for support from each other.

“There was friction, of course. Sameera and I had lots of fights but it wasn’t like “I am not going to talk to you ever!” It was more a difference of opinion, a debate. We’re both headstrong people. At the end of the day, we worked together because it was a collective effort. We said to each other, ‘If you don’t cooperate, I am not going to get the pin. If I don’t cooperate, you are not going to come back into the competition.’

“It’s the same with the judges too. They don’t come to the house but they interact with you on the sets and we spent a lot of time in the Masterchef Kitchen. They were happy to give us feedback and talk about how to improve our food. After the show, we had a big party and all the judges gave me their phone numbers and said that I could call them any time. If I pick up the phone and say, ‘Matt, I need help’, I am sure he’ll say ‘Yep!’. We spent almost five and a half months together; after that we are friends for life.”