In India, I organised a food festival and this was picked up by media including The Times of India, Aaj Tak and India TV. I got an unexpected call from someone who was two hours away from me — he apparently had read the media piece and asked that I meet him that night itself. I went to meet him at midnight because his flight to the UK was the next morning. At midnight, we talked – he ran a restaurant in the UK and wanted someone like me. I of course agreed and my paperwork came through soon after with all costs borne by the employer.
In London, the original restaurant was very small — for someone who was used to working with large teams in five star hotels, it felt very odd to work in a restaurant with 3-4 employees. I have switched jobs multiple times since then.
I think there are two things that describe my journey. One is, I always ask what is next. I am very happy with where I am because I have made it so far, but I am also always looking at the next step. I never stop learning and keep trying to do better. I could have easily settled with a comfortable job as an executive chef, but I never did.
The other is, I am a risk-taker. In London, one of the job changes was to a French restaurant that was run by a celebrity chef where the salary was half of what I was earning, but given the learning opportunity and mentorship under a famous chef, I took it. Taking chances may not always work in my favour, but I can always take satisfaction on how far I have come because I took the risk.
How does it feel to be in MasterChef? What has the experience been like?
In many ways, it feels the same. I am the same person experimenting with recipes and enjoying my job to the fullest. But in many ways, things have changed as well. I used to get a few messages and now I get thousands from people who are cheering me on. It also feels great to have the platform to introduce Nepali food to the world. I have always worked hard but now it feels like my cause got a lot bigger given the platform and I am thrilled about that.
I also think I now have added responsibility with people looking up to me, especially Nepalis in the hospitality sector. A message that has stuck with me was from another London-based chef also from Siraha after he saw one of my interviews in Maithili that was widely shared in my community. He told me that he never shared with his family that he is a chef because it is not seen as such a respectful job back home. But after he saw me sharing my journey including my rough beginnings so publicly, he said he felt inspired to disclose his profession to his family.
The MasterChef competition is very tight and we are judged for creativity. As the competition advances further, the margin for error is very small and they seek perfection. We have to be mentally strong — my experience participating in cooking competitions on a smaller scale in the past has helped. We are timed, and put under immense pressure. One dish is per our liking, and I practice that numerous times in advance so by the time I make the dish on the show, everything is intuitive and I don’t have to think about anything as I get grilled by the judges, the pressure of the camera and the short time. But the other dish is as per the judge’s wish in which case it is easy to falter and mess up. I score lower in the latter, but it averages out in my favour. But the competition is getting tighter and more demanding as two chefs get eliminated in each round. Ten are remaining out of the original 32 and these are some of the best chefs around. I am glad to have made it this far. Even if I don’t win, I am glad I was able to put the spotlight on Nepali cuisine.