MasterChef India Season Seven’s contestants will tell you that cooking with a constantly ticking clock above your head is not easy. After participating in a challenge on the sets of the iconic cooking reality show, I agree. While participating in MasterChef is a stretch, being on set was close to a dream come true for me. Amidst the brown walls, yellow lights and a giant faux tree, fixed high up was the white timer. In my head, I could hear the judges’ voices from across all seasons and versions saying, “Time’s up! Stop plating and step aside.”
Set designer Omung Kumar says that the clock and the workstations are according to the show’s original template and the rest are unique to MasterChef India Season Seven. The workstations are equipped with a stove, an oven, a sink, a blender and basic cutlery. To the right are the refrigerator and blast chiller.
The pantry is to the left and has been designed to handle the hassled running and grabbing. It changes with every challenge and is stocked with everything right from fresh produce to whole and ground spices. There is a shelf of spice blends which the contestants are forbidden from using. “We have to make everything from scratch,” says Aruna Vijay, a contestant on the show.
Aruna, from Chennai, won her place in the contest with her Jigarthanda panna cotta. “The 16 home cooks have come from all over the country and have brought along lesser-known regional dishes which represent who they are. While we look for taste, presentation and innovation in a dish, it is their connection to it that shines. The connect translates to the eater even if it is something we’ve never tasted before,” says Chef Garima Arora who is the first female Indian chef to win a Michelin star for her restaurant, Gaa and a first-time judge on the show.
The British-origin show, has many international versions that have become hits here. MasterChef India’s popularity mainly comes from how the contestants plate up dishes that are reminiscent of their cultures.
Chef Vikas Khanna, Michelin-star restaurateur and judge on MasterChef India says that beyond the screens, the show’s ripples are felt throughout India’s hospitality sector. “There’s a big impact on the culinary and hotel management industry. There are many who are joining this field and many accounts are being opened on social media to showcase their cooking. Chefs are also being recognised and honoured outside of the kitchens,” he says.
So far, is there a dish that has enamoured the judges this season? Chef Ranveer Brar, restaurateur and judge picks the Maharashtrian Puran Poli with Thecha. The others agree without a debate. “Our relationship with food has evolved over the lockdown and is now more rooted. Almost everybody has cooked and that’s why it is the right time for a contest like this,” he adds.
For the contestants, the bigger challenge is not cooking in front of the cameras or the hawkish Michelin-star judges, but to cook within the stipulated time.
I was teamed up with contestant Priyanka Biswas from Delhi and Faizan, a fellow journalist. I was eager to get my hands on only-seen-on-tv equipment like a siphon gun or a blow torch. But keeping in mind everyone’s best interest we used familiar appliances like the stove, and made a jar of chocolate mousse with strawberry compote topped with chocolate ganache and roasted almonds.
Masterchef India season seven airs at 9 pm on weekdays on Sony Entertainment Television and can also be watched on the SonyLiv app.