A Fellowship created by Loki Madireddi “The Loki’ and his wife Ishani to back an extraordinary individual with an inspiring food dream.
Just like that, on a winter weekend, as I prepare to finish a piece for The Indian Weekly, a complimentary invitation, a pop-up menu by Masterchef contestant 2018 Loki Madireddi in collaboration with Swadist and The KAAPI project comes by. The invitation was swanky normally at $110 per person for an experiential plant-based degustation dinner event on 28TH June. Monday night suddenly didn’t look that bad at all, as I took off to this Dinner on the Kanyakumari Express.
The idea of the pop-up was simply to combine his childhood food memories, mostly created during these train journeys he took as a child. I will talk about my foodie experience a little later first let’s indulge in the interview that’s not less than a train journey. Having all the nuances of a good theatre.
Born in Mysore, raised in Chennai, originally from Andhra Pradesh and finally coming to Melbourne, Australia in 2003 to do his masters in IT. Surprised? Yes and No because it’s embedded in every Indian kid to realise their parent’s dreams of a doctor or an engineer. To escape this pressure, Loki tried running away from home twice. Once at seventh grade failing all subjects he tried running away with his friend and later ‘now’ in Australia (figuratively speaking). We all giggled to this but then totally legit about never interested in education, owing to his father for introducing him to seafood as he was in charge of all the seafood import via the railway system.
At the age of five growing up eating these seafood that makes its way into Loki’s kitchen, his grandmother would cook at their backyard. He was fascinated with the cooking of crabs, watching his grandmother cook these livestock with various ancient techniques. Then in 1990, his entire life changed forever when he fell from the third floor resulting in ‘Acquired Brain Injury’. Doctor’s confirmed that even if he survived, nothing would work below his neck. The doctors promised to do their best to revive Loki as his family lost hope. Mr Sethi, edito-in-chief of G’day India and The Indian Weekly, and I were speechless. On a side note during the 90’s, understanding about head injuries or therapies was very foreign and it was no different for Loki or his family. Just recently, only a few months ago he was diagnosed with dyslexia.
But, then miraculously within a month he started walking though strictly homebound, not allowed to play outside, his curiosity for food grew helping his grandmother in the kitchen; he began enjoying food. Being a bit pompous Loki shamelessly did anything for food, even chores like grinding coffee; embarrassed by their soon’ audacity the parents would often lock him home.
Coming to Melbourne in 2003 with a baggage of cultural stigma Loki had to finish his masters not knowing what to do, he proposed a feast to the Dean. Did that make him pass his exams? Controversial! But the idea of joining Masterchef Australia in 2018, had to be his son, Indryaan.
A chance meeting with Ishani from Melbourne in Damper, America at a Sadguru Yoga retreat in 2014 was another turn in Loki’s life. It just took Loki three months to fall in love with her and to bond with her son Indryaan; two and half years old at that time, from her previous marriage. Spending a year in Pondicherry they both decide to come back to Melbourne, life for the pair seem to move. They got married, Loki pursued being a project manager in a real estate company while Ishani continued working as a consultant to start-up companies. It was one of those moments when Loki sat to watch Masterchef 2017, having a general discussion with his son being unhappy with his work and how Loki loved cooking. Just then Indryaan seven years old at that time said to him “Dad you are a great cook you should join; you are a butterfly you can do anything you want.” That word stuck to him like gold. Loki rushed to fill the application as it would have expired in one day. The rest is history; Loki making to top 16 Masterchef Australia 2018.
So as Loki finds his niche in cooking he wants to provide the same trust to others being that bridge to those battling between dreams and reality. ‘Trust the Loki Fellowship’ created by Loki and his wife Ishani to back an extraordinary individual with an inspiring food dream (idea/project/business) and help them fast track through a culinary scholarship of AUD 5000 (towards project related expenses) A tailored support and mentorship for over six months; committing their own personal funds. In 2019 and 2020, the Fellowship was focused in India. The first recipient was Abinas Nayak in June 2019 – with the support of the Fellowship he went to change his career from IT to food, applied for Masterchef India and won the title in 2020. Preet Sanghvi was the second recipient in June 2020 – she is a food entrepreneur and has expanded her business from Mumbai to Dubai. She is currently working on creating regional food experiences in India.
As now that you have got a glimpse into Loki’s life I feel now you will appreciate my food experience in Kanyakumari express at Swadist restaurant, Ormond; adding a bit of a swag to his interview.
The journey started with the welcome drinks, shot by Rasam, explosive flavours of tamarind taking us to the Egmore station – first stop. Followed by the Piquant Punugulu, the idlli battered bonda just warmed us up to Tambaram station -the first course, the second course was the spoonful truffle Pongal at the Villupuram station; a truly festive dish with the rich flavours of the truffle making it posh. As we arrive at Tiruchirapali, thundering Thokku, our third course, the modern translation to upma is truly synonymic to his train journey.
However, I found myself salivating at Madurai Station, the fourth course being the good old Idli with salna, the coconut chutney emulsion was indulgent. Then came the sombre moment of candles lit, the sounds of South of India echoing through the restaurant as Loki pays tribute to the many people losing their life during this pandemic in India and Australia.
I was nearly done by the fifth course though reaching safely at the Tirunelveli station I couldn’t somehow resist the Kushka eggplant and rice steaming away wrapped in banana leaf. By this point we had to take a breather. Then as the menu stopping at Nagarcoil station with basil granita. It was refreshing and gave the palette the much-needed breather for the halwa with almond and candy praline, thus ending our journey with this sixth course at Kanyakumari station.
The roaring yell of Coffee, imitating to Kapi! Kapi! Much to our delight Loki had arranged the much-loved South Indian filtered coffee by The KAAPI Project. So, as I sip into my morning coffee to conclude this piece I believe he is indeed the butterfly his son Indryaan encapsulated. As he takes us to his little piece of history with the railways Loki not only found his food but food has found him a creative expression where he is alive. I cannot help myself quoting Edward Norton Lorenz “When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another.”
By Nandita Chakraborty