How often do you get to witness a real-life TV rematch? Tears and triumph will take the stage on September 20 when Kirti Bhoutika and Ashima Arora go head to head with each other in Dubai for the first time since the finale of last year’s Masterchef India challenge.
The young chefs face off for the first time since the show in a Battle of the Chefs event at Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis, where they are being mentored by celebrity chef Atul Kochhar and the award-winning UAE chef Amrish Sood.
Each presents a menu of five courses: vegetarian, seafood, poultry, meat and dessert. The chefs have been planning their dishes for several weeks now and have consulted with their mentors on a variety of issues, from the actual composition of each recipe and the elements that make it onto the plate to anticipating the reactions of some 150 diners. Gulf News tabloid! spoke to both of them last week.
What are you feeling at the moment?
Kirti Bhoutika: Although Ashima and I worked with Chef Atul on a pop-up restaurant in Mumbai, it’s the first time I’m competing with her since the show, so I’ll have to prove myself again.
Ashima Arora: The event will certainly bring back memories, and although I’m excited and overwhelmed to have made it to the top two of MasterChef, this time I’d like to beat Kirti.
Who’s your mentor and what has he told you so far?
Bhoutika: I’ve discussed the recipes and the menu with chef Amrish Sood and he’s given me some tips and tricks that have improved my dishes. For instance, he asked me to add some fruit to the dessert, so it works as a palate cleanser.
Arora: Chef Atul Kochhar has been very encouraging, and has given me a lot of different guidelines. We discussed some concepts, but he told me very clearly to keep it simple and modern, not to clutter up the plate and to focus on taste.
What can we expect from you tonight?
Bhoutika: I’ve done a lot of fusion, so expect new flavours. At the same time, Rang Mahal is an Indian restaurant, so I’ve tried to get some authentic flavours into my food. My forte is desserts, so that’ll be special.
Arora: One of the things Chef Atul told me was to create a journey to India, with dishes from different parts of the country. But everything will have a modern touch — one dish is ceviche bhel, for example, another is shepherd’s pie with Kashmiri roghan josh.
How are you preparing for the event and for these volumes?
Bhoutika: The menu was decided a month ago, and I’ve worked to keep all the dishes light because guests will be eating two sets of five courses. I’ve also looked at textures and plating. I’ve worked as a dessert innovator at a couple of restaurants in India, so the quantity itself is not a worry, it’s cooking so much for a restaurant of this standard. Every plate has to be consistent.
Arora: The volumes do scare me but my hotel experience should help. I’ve been there and I know the drill. And I’m sure the other chefs will help, because everyone wants the event to be perfect.
Is a showcase culinary event different from live TV?
Bhoutika: Not too much. The pressure is the same as on TV because it was a timed reality show, but there are some things you cannot do in a restaurant. Because these are paying guests, you can’t afford to make mistakes. The food needs to be really hot until the time it reaches the guests, which can be overlooked on TV.
Arora: Yes, it’s very, very different. On TV the food needed to look appealing for the camera, but here the emphasis is on taste, so everything needs to be balanced. Then, there were three judges on TV but here there are 150 actual guests, each with different tastes and likings. So we need to cater to all kinds of people. I’m kind of more excited about this event.
Do you have any mantras to stay focused in the kitchen?
Bhoutika: I sing. Even in the competition, I sang. I think it does wonders for me, and then I know I’ll get things done.
Arora: I’m in a different zone when I cook, and the only thing I like to do is innovate. At the end of the day cooking is what I do, it’s what I love, so I don’t need any mantra.
ABOUT THE CHEFS
MasterChef India 2016 winner, 22 years old
One of the youngest winners on the show (she entered the contest aged 20), Bhoutika likens fine dining to chemistry. A Kolkata native and student of nutrition science, she runs Sugarplum Cakery, her home baking enterprise.
MasterChef India 2016 first runner-up, 24 years old
With a culinary journey that began with baking a chocolate cake at the age of 16, Amritsar native Arora has finished a diploma in patisserie and culinary arts, and has trained at top hotels in India such as The Taj Palace and The Imperial Hotel in Delhi. She is inspired by her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking and runs her own home label called Sugar Sugar by Ashima.