People Smita Dugar, a Master Chef India finalist , shares her experiences
H er eyes light up as she talks about food and her experience on Master Chef India. “I am interested in eating and so I am interested in cooking,” laughs Smita Dugar. Smita was one of the 12 finalists on Master Chef India and made it to the top seven. Living for the past 12 years or so in Hyderabad she was one of the only representatives from the South to make it on the show.
Encouraged by her husband and daughter to enter the show she breezed through the auditions. And, she was selected as one of the 40 who would be a part of the food boot camp. Here she competed against the other contestants in speed onion cutting, making a Malabari Paratha and a 27 mm Dosa to emerge triumphant. “I was handed the first apron and was the first finalist chosen as part of the 12 who would be on the show.”
A Rajasthani brought up in Kolkota and having lived in Gujarat and now Hyderabad, Smita says that her knowledge on food and cooking has been enriched by the various places she has lived in. Her voracious appetite for cook books rounded off her knowledge on world cuisine and helped her in coming up with impromptu recipes on the show. This was apparent when she won the mystery box challenge on the show. “We were given of ingredients which had no connection at all to one another,” says Smita. “There was rice flour, plum, papaya and corn among other ingredients.” But this did not faze her and she put together what she calls the Desi Videshi platter — panki roti, plum chutney, papaya salad and corn cakes.
Smita, who loves to experiment, says, “When it comes to food there are no boundaries.” Fusion cuisine is a particular passion of hers. And she got to showcase this on the show when in teams of two the contestants cooked for Maharaj Arvind Singh of Mewar. “Kandla Nijhowne (another contestant on the show) and I made a dessert of traditional Rajasthani crumble with stewed apples. We added a hint of pepper to it and served it with vanilla sabayon,” says Smita. “The dish was a hit with Arvind Singh and the other judges.” The two went on to win the challenge and the dishes they created are part of the menu at the restaurant at the Lake Palace in Udaipur. There was a major hindrance to Smita making it as Master Chef India. “I am a strict vegetarian and this obviously was a problem,” she says. “I don't cook non-vegetarian cuisine and obviously the Master Chef has to be able to cook both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.” Nevertheless, she made it to the top seven and has no regrets. “No other experience can compare to being on the show,” she says. “From cooking in the Master Chef kitchen which had the top range of utensils and cooking equipment to interacting with the other contestants, judges and Akshaye Kumar, it was a unique experience.”
Now, she has plans to start a culinary club in Hyderabad, as well as cooking classes. “I want to share what I have learnt with others,” she says. Meal planning, using seasonal fruits and vegetables, nutrition, recipes and tips will all be part of the cooking class curriculum. When you teach someone to cook that dish they will remember it for life.”