Exclusive interview with Nikita Gandhi, winner of MasterChef India 4
“Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.” – Wolfgang Puck
On Sunday, 12th April 2015, Nikita Gandhi created history as the youngest winner of MasterChef India – the Indian version of the world’s most popular cooking show.
After 11 weeks and 67 episodes of hard work and nerve-racking challenges, Nikita had become the proud winner of MasterChef India’s golden coat as well as Rupees one crore prize money.
Another significant achievement was when India’s biggest celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor selected one of her dishes to be added to the menu of his restaurant – Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor.
Originally from Gujarat, the 21-year-old business and finance graduate, was born and brought up in Abu Dhabi. Even though her parents were open about her career choices, she chose to ‘play it safe’ by opting for a business degree from USA. However destiny took her to where she always wanted to be – the culinary world.
In an exclusive interview with NRICafe, Nikita Gandhi talks about the MasterChef journey, how it feels to win the show and her plans for the future.
We hear that you were a champion cook since schooldays, winning many competitions. How did it all begin? Did you always dream of being a chef?
It all began at the age of 8 years when I tried baking my first batch of chocolate cupcakes that were a complete disaster. Like any other child, I was fascinated by the pretty iced cakes at pastry shops. However, unlike any other child, I wanted to recreate them at home rather than just eat them. My passion for baking and eventually cooking grew from here.
I never dreamt of being a chef but I did and still do dream of being a restauranteur.
Being a vegetarian, were you apprehensive about participating in MasterChef India since all the previous seasons had non-veg dishes?
I surely was quite apprehensive. Prior to the auditions, I had decided to learn the basics of cooking meat from friends who were meat-eaters.
But also at that point, my goal was just to appear on TV once (as the thought of winning seemed surreal), just once so my family could see me on there and feel proud.
How was the audition process for the show?
We had four levels of auditions of which the fourth level was televised.
What were your proudest and toughest moments on the show?
My proudest moment was when my mother was called to surprise me on the sets of MasterChef because she always said while watching the previous seasons of the show “one day you will go on MasterChef and your family will be called on set too”.
And the proud moment followed when my entire family was called for the Grand Finale.
My toughest moment was probably the second chocolate balloon task during finale week.
How was the experience working under some of India’s finest chefs?
It was an experience I will remember for a lifetime. All the 3 judges — Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Vikas Khanna, Ranveer Brar have become more than just mentors, they have become family.
They have served a huge role in my win and I certainly wouldn’t have seen this day in my life without their teaching, dedication and their guidance even after winning the show.
You are an NRI from Abu Dhabi and public voting was only open to Indian residents. Did you feel your chances were limited?
It did worry my family quite a lot. Being a strong believer of destiny myself, I knew I had given my best through the show and it was time to let fate reveal itself.
What was it like hearing Chef Sanjeev Kapoor proclaim you the winner?
The actual winning moment seemed even more surreal than just the thought of winning that I had in the beginning. Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s voice shouting out my name and proclaiming me as India’s 4th Master Chef still hits me sometimes, in my sleep.
Becoming a celebrity can be exciting as well as challenging. How different is your life after MasterChef?
It’s teaching me to be more organized than I ever was (or wasn’t?), haha
What are your long term plans?
Starting a cooking workshop studio, a restaurant (the ultimate dream) and maybe even writing a book. Again, I know destiny will play its fair part.
Judging by the number of followers and comments on social media, you were the public’s favourite since the start of the show. What’s your message for your supporters and aspiring chefs?
Needless to mention how thankful I am towards all my supporters as they are the ones to get me here through their immense love, support and votes of course.
My message to all of them especially my miniature supporters/aspiring chefs (surprisingly they accounted for the largest viewing audience) is “Follow your passion and your dream will follow you.”