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MasterChef Australia’s Ben Ungermann on becoming an ‘ice-cream king’ and his love for Indian food

Rising culinary star Ben Ungermann speaks about his love for Indian food, the launch of his signature flavours in India and his deep admiration for culinary genius Heston Blumenthal.

Written by Deekshita Baruah | New Delhi |
Updated: December 19, 2018 1:14:00 pm
MasterChef Australia, MasterChef Australia Ben Ungermann, Ben Ungermann Ben Ungermann at Johnnie Walker Gourmet Experiences (Season 3) event in New Delhi.

His ice-creams are packed with flavours, are light on the palate, and leaves a nice lingering taste. The finalist of the ninth season of MasterChef Australia, Ben Ungermann, had never made ice-cream in his life before entering the show. He now has a gourmet ice-cream parlour in his hometown Ipswich, Australia which he launched with his brother Danny in January.

The 34-year-old model-turned-celebrity chef, who was in Delhi recently as part of a world tour, displayed some kitchen theatre for an Indian audience. At an event organised by Johnnie Walker for its Gourmet Experiences Season 3, Ungermann not only curated a drinks-led menu paired with select appetisers, but also showed us how to make a Toasted Coconut & Johnnie Walker Black Label Raisin Ice-Cream.

Here are excerpts from an interview with the rising culinary star:

We know your love for Indian cuisine. But you never whipped up something Indian in the MasterChef kitchen. Why is that?

I actually love Indian food, and probably the reason you haven’t seen me make too much of it is because I have real respect for it. I want to put something out there which I have mastered. The one thing that I understand about Indian cuisine is that it’s actually one of the most difficult cuisines – there’s so much flavour involved and there are so many layers to it. I would be very disappointed in myself if I try to pass off something as Indian. I have started experimenting a lot behind closed doors, and only when I have mastered it, it will come out.

When were you first introduced to Indian food?

In Australia… My best friend is actually Indian. Whenever I am craving Indian food, I actually go to his place and his mom cooks for me. Also, in Australia we have a lot of Indian food places but it’s very much the regular stuff, like Butter Chicken. There’s nothing special about it, but at my friend’s place, I get authentic food.

What have you tasted so far since you have arrived in India? Any particular favourite?

I have done the run-of-the mill stuff but my favourite is the Mutton Curry that I tasted in Hyderabad. I absolutely loved it, and once a year my best friend makes it for me in Australia as well. At the moment, I am trying to recreate the dish, bring in a European influence, with the original flavours of the Mutton Curry intact.

You recently collaborated with Swiggy in Bengaluru to introduce Indians to your signature flavours – Popcorn; Coffee Cardamom and Salted Caramel Ice-Cream with Potato Chips and Shaved Chocolate. Which one is your personal favourite and why?

Out of the three flavours that I did, I would say Coffee Cardamom is my favourite. Sinch both have robust flavours, they pair beautifully.

Matt Preston once said on MasterChef Australia that you consider your body to be a temple. With your understanding, are you curating recipes for the fitness conscious too?

My ice-creams are 100% natural. I have three children so I take great interest in what I am serving. If they are going to eat something it has to be natural. I think when you serve people food, you have the responsibility to do that. Lot of the ice-creams that you get in the supermarkets these days contain stabilisers – a really bad by-product that has an ability to withstand heat. If you walk outside with the ice-cream in your hand, the sun won’t melt it, imagine what it might do to your body.

So, what’s the shelf-life of your ice-cream?

It’s edible upto two weeks, but it won’t be at its peak.

You have been called the ‘Ice-Cream King’. In an interview you said that you would like to launch an ice cream store in Bengaluru. Why not Delhi?

(laughs) There are definitely things in motion and there might be something developing very soon.

You mentioned that you love Kulfi. Will we get to see a variant of it soon in your kitchen?

I have tasted three different varieties of Kulfi and my favourite is Pistachio. I wouldn’t mind learning to make Kulfi but I wouldn’t put anything out there until I am a 110 per cent happy about it.

Name three chefs that you look up to and how they have inspired you?

The first would be Heston Blumenthal. It seems like a run-of-the-mill answer, but he is an absolute genius. There will never be another Heston…there might be people trying to mimic and replicate what he’s done, including me, but he is a pioneer in terms of gastronomy. What he’s done is amazing; he has turned food into a science. Now, whenever I create a dish, I try to add an element of theatre to it.

The second would be Clare Smyth. She is a female chef and she carries herself better than any other man I have seen in the kitchen. I have had some work experience with her in the UK at her restaurant Core, which has two Michelin stars, and the food there is outstanding. I have a lot of respect for her.

The third would probably be Yotam Ottolenghi. He is an absolute gentleman and a very down-to-earth person who is really heroing vegetarian food. It might not be at a fine dining level, but the food he is serving is some of the best you will ever taste.

Any Indian chef you would like to collaborate with?

Rishi Naleendra of Cheek by Jowl fame, who recently got himself a Michelin star. I met him at Jakarta Culinary Festival where he presented Australian cuisine with a modern Indian twist. I would like to work with him because he is so confident and puts things on a plate which means a lot to him.

Rotterdam, Amsterdam, South Africa, Jakarta, Bangkok…and of course, India. How has your world tour been so far? Any particular incident that you will carry back home with you?

There’s one that really stands out. I was in South Africa, where I prepared dessert for 1,400 people. I was doing an on-stage demonstration when two women came flying out from the tables and started kissing me. Security escorted them down but after that I was completely thrown – I forgot things and I never expected something like that to happen. It actually put into perspective how big MasterChef Australia is. From my work travels, I have really been humbled with the reception that I get.

Ben Ungermann’s Toasted Coconut & Johnnie Walker Black Label Raisin Ice-Cream Recipe:

2½ cups – Milk
150g – Shredded Coconut (toasted)
3 Eggs
280g – Sugar
3 cups – Full Cream (35%)
50ml – Johnnie Walker Black Label
375g – Raisins Soaked in Johnnie Walker Black Label

* Completely submerge roughly chopped raisins in whisky overnight.

* Place egg and sugar into an electric mixer and whip until mixture is white and fluffy like a dense meringue. This will take 15-20 minutes.

* While this is mixing, toast the coconut in a pan until brown and then place in a blender with milk and blend. Strain using a muslin cloth and reserve 1½ cups of flavoured coconut milk.

* Place toasted coconut milk in a fridge until fat rises to the top. Pour flavoured milk through a strainer to catch any fat and add to stand mixer.

* Whisk with egg and sugar mixture for 5 minutes on high speed until bubbles form at the top. Add cream and mix on medium speed until thickened.

* Once mixture has thickened, place 50ml of whisky-raisin liquid and whisk quickly for only 30 seconds. Pour into machine and churn.

* When taking out of churner, mix drained raisins.

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