In conversation with Kishwar Chowdhury
When did you decide to apply for MasterChef Australia?
I applied for MasterChef Australia during lockdown last year. My son was on my back until I handed in my application, and the rest is history!
You have very strong roots here in Bangladesh. In fact, your family is quite well known and well respected in Melbourne amongst the Bangladeshi diaspora. What do you think of the reactions that you are getting from your friends and family in Bangladesh and Australia?
My father is from Bangladesh, and was a freedom fighter. He moved to Australia about 50 years ago as a student and met my mother, who is from Kolkata. I was born and brought up here in Australia. I moved to Dhaka and lived there for five years for work. My in-laws are based in Dhaka and I used to travel there four to five times a year pre-Covid. Therefore, living and working in Bangladesh played a role in shaping me. What do I think of the reactions? Pretty overwhelming.
It is common knowledge that you have always liked cooking. However, when did you actually begin to cook like a professional in your kitchen?
I just cook. I always had a knack to put flavours and combinations together, being inspired by the ingredients that were available to me. I drew inspiration from my travels, places I have eaten in, and just listened to my heart. If I could not buy some food, I would learn to make it. From fresh pasta and crystal dumplings to smoked duck and crab curry -- I spent a lot of time in my home in Dhaka making dishes I would regularly eat in Melbourne and when I wanted a good deshi meal, I would go to my in-laws. My mother and father in law really spoiled me. They would buy the best Elish (with the roe) and save the biggest pieces for me. They still do.
What was the most challenging dish that you had to prepare in the MasterChef kitchen till now? In addition, which one was the easiest?
I cannot tell you because they haven't aired that particular segment yet, you'll have to keep watching!
Tell us about one dish that you would like to prepare for the judges, if given the opportunity and unlimited resources.
Something that I can eat on repeat forever is my haleem, but given unlimited time and resources, I would make my smoked pastrami. It takes 10 days to brine and for the tendons to break down in the beef, before being cold smoked for at least 16 hours. It is a slow, and very worthwhile labour of love.
It is great to see that you are not only presenting fine dining from the Bengali kitchen, but also spicy snacks from the streets of our universities and workplaces! What kind of street foods of Dhaka (or elsewhere) did you grow up eating and do you plan to present most of them at the MasterChef Kitchen?
Melbourne did not have a huge street food scene – It did, however, have some fast food, food trucks, and food festivals. I looked forward to canteen food like sausage rolls, lamingtons, and ovaltinies. But when I would visit Dhaka during winter holidays, I loved all the snack food from Town Hall and Puran Dhaka. There were these little orange containers with dried ginger and little toy lanterns filled with colourful candied fennel. At my grandparents' house, I loved laal shak (red spinach), green mangoes, fresh steamed peas, phuchka, khattakhat, and naan. To be honest, I do not have any plans to cook or not cook anything in the MasterChef kitchen. I am a versatile cook with affinity for all different cuisines, like any metropolitan person. When I do cook Bengali food though, I get a sense of pride. I think that shows.
Follow Kishwar on her Instagram handle kishwar_chowdhury and on her Facebook page Kishwar Chowdhury to get a sneak peak of her journey behind the scenes!