Prime-time television in India is no longer about soppy soaps or dance reality shows. An increasing number of people are diligently tuning into the current MasterChef series, be it Australian, Indian or American. The ongoing Masterchef US Season 6 has got undivided attention, courtesy Hetal Vasavada. The 28-year-old India-American from Bloomfield, New Jersey, left her career at a tech start-up to pursue her food dreams. Incidentally, Vasavada who traces her roots to Gujarat (her parents migrated to the US in 1985) is also the first “Hindu-vegetarian” contestant on the show. But that hasn’t deterred the amateur chef from rustling up an interesting line-up of meals, including crabs. Vasavada also steers a popular blog called Pretty Polymath. Excerpts from an interview:
Is not cooking non-vegetarian fare limiting on MasterChef US? How will you deal with it?
I do think cooking non-vegetarian food will be a challenge for me since I’ve never cooked it before and I can’t taste it. I have to just get over my fear and just show America what an Indian vegetarian can do. I plan on using the rest of my senses of touch and smell, and scientific knowledge to cook each dish to perfection.
You completed a bachelors in biochemistry and masters in biomedical sciences. What inspired you to pursue a career in food then?
My mom and grandmother have been huge inspirations for me. When I was a child, they always invited me into the kitchen instead of shooing me away. I learned how make chai from my grandmother and shaak from my mother. My mother cooks with her gut and a whole lot of creativity. I want to win MasterChef US because I’m changing my career path from healthcare/ technology to food. Winning the trophy will open many doors for me and give me a solid path into the culinary world.
What are some of your favourite dishes?
I love baking. My favourite thing to do is add an Indian twist to everything I bake. I have a great recipe for Vanilla Cardamom Cookies and even Parle-G Cookie Butter. I also love traditional Gujarati food — dudhi na muthia, papdi nu lot, thepla and patra. My parents were adamant I had a formal education in my culture. I went to almost every Hindu Sunday school in our area and learned a lot about our heritage. I pull inspiration from Ayurvedic teaching in my cooking often. It helps me with understanding how to balance out flavours in my dishes. Also, I grew up vegetarian and we kept the ideals of farm fresh food alive in our family, through our little garden. I love working with spices that are traditionally used in sweets, such as cardamom, clove, ginger, allspice and nutmeg. It makes everything smell amazing.
So what is your dream in the food business?
That would be to have my own cookie company and to have a food incubator. I want to help guide others like me who have a passion in food so that they can run successful food businesses. The culinary world is all about business and creativity mixing well together and that’s what I’m good at.
MasterChef US airs in India on Star World Premiere HD at 10 pm on weekdays