"Food, like any other artistic medium, is a means for storytelling," says chef Kishwar Chowdhury

The chef was recently in Bengaluru for the Australia-India Business Exchange 2022 Business mission. Kishwar takes us through her food philosophy, journey as a chef, and more in this interview
Masterchef Australia 2021 finalist Kishwar Chowdhury
Masterchef Australia 2021 finalist Kishwar Chowdhury

Masterchef Australia 2021 finalist Kishwar Chowdhury has a story like no other. With origins from India and Bangladesh, being born and raised in Australia, and having lived in several countries across three continents – Kishwar was known for presenting exotic Indian dishes on the show, all using Australian native produce.

Recently, the chef was in Bengaluru for the Australia-India Business Exchange 2022 Business mission hosted by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, Australian Government. As part of the project, the chef showcased some of the best Australian produce through traditional Indian cooking techniques. In an interview with Indulge, Kishwar takes us through her food philosophy, journey as a chef, and how Australian produce and Indian culinary techniques can complement each other.

Is this your first time in Bengaluru?
Yes, this is my first time in the South, so coming to Bengaluru has been an absolutely incredible experience. It's been on my bucket list for a very long time, so I'm glad that I could come.

What exactly are you here for this time?
I'm here with Austrade (the Australian Government's trade, investment, and education promotion agency) on an AIBX (Australia India Business Exchange) mission. As a chef, I have come to showcase Australian produce in this part of the world, and to use techniques that marry with Australian produce and the best of Australian produce to create dinners. One of these dinners is in Bengaluru and the other one will be in Delhi.

How would you describe your food philosophy?
Growing up, I’ve seen that food was always a very central point of my home, as it is with a lot of other households. For my family, it was also about where we source the produce from, living in Melbourne. It was an integral part of what we cooked and the dishes that ended up on our table. If we weren't able to source a particular ingredient, my parents would grow that ingredient! But Australia is so diverse and rich in produce that the food that we made was mostly made with Australian produce using Indian techniques. That's actually what has shaped me as a chef.

In the past, you have said that you mostly like to create savory food. Has the kind of food you like to create the most changed over time? 
Yeah, I think so. What I love to cook at home has not changed. So, all my staple, comfort dishes have stayed the same. But when I have a particular assignment or there is a particular mission I look at, I think about what it is that we're trying to convey. Like, is it a fine dining experience, or is it more like a fun experience? Because food, like any other artistic medium, is a means for storytelling.

I once had a Horchata-flavoured ice cream, which is like rice milk from South America. So it's like sharing a part of your personal story and creating something – be it sweet or savoury, conveying that, and sharing that with the public.

You have lived on three continents and have been through a lot of culinary cultures. How do you think they've come together in your food journey?
Living on different continents has obviously contributed to my food journey. Like, once, when I was a student living in London, I was taking a train to Paris, which really influenced my love for pastry and sweets. But what I was cooking during my 20s and 30s was very different than what I was cooking as a mother. So, you will always have all these different influences, whether it's a stage of your life or a city you're living in.

I've just been on this amazing historical food tour of Bengaluru and I was absolutely blown away just to find out the history of this city. We tried Congress Peanuts for the first time at this amazing bakery. So having had that experience in Bengaluru is something I'm going to carry when I create dishes. 

What do you think about the similarities or dissimilarities between the culinary cultures of India and Australia? Do you think they can complement each other?
The food I grew up having within my household was either Indian or Bengali cuisine, made with Australian produce. So, something like a Mutton Rezala would have been cooked as a Lamb Rezala. That is because lamb is such prime produce in Australia, that we never tried to find mutton (which is not as available). So the Machher Jhol I created on MasterChef was actually made from Barramundi fish. That dish is sort of who I am on a plate – I am an Australian with Indian cooking techniques. 

There must be some dish that has got passed down through generations in your family, which might have influenced you to create something in MasterChef Australia. What would that one dish be?
There is not one such dish. If you look at my entire journey on MasterChef, it was entirely a homage to recipes that were passed down in my family from generation to generation, be it Paantaa Bhaat, Machher Jhol, or Begun Bhorta. I always tried to showcase the best of our regional cuisine and traditional dishes. 

What do you think are the most interesting trends in the global food industry now?
If you look closely, all the internationally acclaimed chefs are becoming very introspective of their culture and looking back into history. We're looking back into how our ancestors ate and what we were doing right in the past because food industries in general have become so massive and commercialised. The top chefs globally are thinking about concepts like ‘farm to fork’. So the idea of sustainability is huge and that is what all chefs are going to consider going forward.

What do you think about the rise of home chefs in India?
I think the rise of home chefs is becoming a sort of cottage industry, more because of the accessibility – accessibility of resources like logistics channels. You have technical support at the front end of the kitchen where you can actually sell these services. Secondly, having platforms like Facebook Marketplace gives you the accessibility of creating something at home and selling it online. So, the barriers to entry into having a food production line at home have been reduced.

What are your plans up next?
Right now, my plan is to go to Delhi and do a gala dinner at the Australian High Commission, the menu of which will feature Australian produce like Barramundi and lamb. I will showcase that with regional Indian techniques. We're also incorporating Australian native ingredients like finger lime into that menu.

After that, I come back to Bengaluru and create a similar gala dinner. Also, I'm an ambassador for the T20 Men's World Cup 2022. So, I’ll be there, doing a few exciting events. And like every South Asian, I look forward to the India-Pakistan game (smiles).

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