Master chef contestant and pharmacist Depinder – Compounding Flavour

Master chef contestant and pharmacist Depinder formulates food her way.

This year’s Masterchef is not only good looking, multi-talented, who knows their food but it’s a concoction of diversity, inclusivity and women dominating the scene. We at The Indian Weekly and G’day India not so long ago had the joy to talk to another contestant of Masterchef’.

Naturally, Mr Sethi (the editor-in-chief) and I got all excited to talk all things food and life with this young chef- introducing Depinder Chhibber (29) from New Castle, NSW. A cheerful voice carpeting the phone as she greets back ‘Sat Sri Akaal’ to Mr Sethi – a touch of humility and a sincere acknowledgement of her culture.
Along with her parents and a younger brother, she moved from Delhi to Australia at the age of eleven. A pharmacist by profession but cooking has always been an integral part of her life. She introduced herself to Masterchef once she was here in Australia, Depinder confesses she’s not only one of those super fans of Masterchef but she will treat any contestants from the show to stardom. When it came to fulfilling her own journey to Masterchef, the motivation lacked a bit of enthusiasm as self-doubt conquered most of her queries. Then Covid happened, like most of us things just changed; even shifting her reflection on life and motivating her to join Masterchef. She quotes, “I just have to go for it.”

The road from being a pharmacist to a chef has been a bit of a journey for this young Masterchef contestant. Acknowledging herself to a stardom status though she is not working full time as a pharmacist, she still keeps in touch with her residency. It is hard to stop being a pharmacist especially when she has worked so hard to be one and definitely, it has been an arduous journey to embrace the new role of a chef.

Although cooking comes naturally to her, whether cooking at home or at the Masterchef kitchen, as a designated chef at home, she would be the one cooking dinner at night. So, her master plan coming back from work was to experiment with a lot of different stuff to her family’s willingness to try.

The love for food started for her at an early stage. Depinder tells me that she was never a fussy eater and loved her vegetables. She’s not one of them who ate to survive, she eats to enjoy and that’s a reflection on her current setting. The origin for this twenty-nine-year-old started at the age of six when she would visit her grandmother’s house or at her own house in India, she would sit in the kitchen to watch the cook who would come to prepare their meals. Curiosity from an early age has connected her emotionally with food and that’s what has led Depinder today in the Masterchef kitchen.

Cooking is in the DNA of Punjab and it is also true that cooking emerges early at a Punjabi home. So when it came to Scott Pickett’s challenge for immunity this statement was imminent proof. Cooking on an open fire is laborious and challenging especially when one is not familiar with the technique. At home, her husband always taking charge of the barbecue, she in charge of the marination and during the challenge in Masterchef she was daunted by this task what if the chicken tandoori wasn’t moist or tasty enough? But, thankfully, everything worked in her favour, from the technique to the taste. Her massive experiment with Lassi, infusing smoke to the drink, serving it with her tandoori chicken. It was a huge risk but that’s what she needed to show the judges that she is here to win.

Even competing with Adam D’sylva and his team of chefs, Depinder led her team to victory against Tonka. On that note, Mr Sethi asks her a very tricky question what is cooking to her? To that, Depinder says that it is not just therapeutic, treating it as a meditation but it gives her a great satisfaction to cook for somebody.

She takes criticism very importantly, but when her feedback comes from her husband, it doesn’t go that well, but with Masterchef it was a massive shift. She has learned to incorporate feedback not just inside the show but also in day to day life. She explains criticism as not only shaping her mind but it developed her creativity.

Her love for food has made her appreciate different cuisines and cultures. Being a massive foodie, it’s not hard to navigate between the two, she tells her favourite can be anything from Chinese food to modern Australian and anything that goes in between. Depinder is emotionally attached to Indian food because growing up in India, she grew up loving this food. Her research on Indian food has expanded her horizon to experiment with it but when it comes to eating she would just eat anything.

Along with her husband (who grew up in Australia), they travelled to Delhi, Kerala, Nepal, and Italy for an exposition of flavours.

So naturally, when it came to asking her about spices, she thinks it’s like picking amongst her favourite. Her voice bursting with excitement when she tells it has to be chilli and the green cardamom. She explains the rich glossy skin of the Kashmiri chillies – part herb, part spice tempers its way into sweet or savoury dishes, whereas the versatile green cardamom is rich in flavour and aroma.
Just like the bento box challenge inspired by her grandma’s chickpeas and pickles, a giggling Depinder tells us even she didn’t expect to see the way it has blown out. The story to this challenge dates back to her summer holidays in her grandmother’s house in India. There they would often be presented with a Thali (plate) with different bowls of condiments like dhaal and pickles.
So that’s the simplest explanation to Depinder’s cooking this simple meal that she not only pulled off in 90 minutes but translated to a new form of Indo-bento sophistication.

Depinder tells us food is technical and Indian food has its own depth and technicality, for us Indians the whistle of a pressure cooker is a familiar sound. Also quoting Melissa “Just because it comes naturally to us doesn’t necessarily mean it is not technical.”

Leading a self-confessed nine to five robotic life, I can see how Masterchef has changed how Depinder looks at food. Throughout the interview, I not only sensed the enthusiasm and the jubilant cook who had all the ingredient of becoming this year’s Master Chef but I see her as a visionary chef. The way Depinder invents dishes from the original and then almost stumbling to discovering something new – be it savoury or dessert. If she wins or not it doesn’t matter as she’s already a winner and if she opens up a restaurant or writes a cookbook, she will flourish in that too. For this supernova I cannot help quoting Francois De La Rochefoucauld – “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

By Nandita Chakraborty