In one of the more shocking eliminations MasterChef has seen, superstar home cook Depinder Chhibber was sent home from the Simpsons Gap in the Northern Territory on the show’s June 29th episode after failing to hero her native ingredients enough.
It was an exit that shocked not only viewers but Chhibber herself, although she noted that she was relieved she had put up a dish the judges had loved.
The aspiring cookbook author felt out of her comfort zone cooking with the Australian native ingredients, but also explained how wild, but spiritual it was cooking at Simpsons Gap in the middle of the desert.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, but battling with the elements was a whole other challenge,” she told The Latch following her elimination. “There was wind, there was sand blowing into our eyes, we were trying to make sure that the food stayed away from the sand and then there was the heat as well!”
She continued, “But honestly when the clock starts to tick, all you think about is focusing and getting your dish up and running. You literally fight through all of those elements. Overall, the Northern Territory was a fantastic experience and I’m counting my lucky stars that I got to go there, because, honestly, if I left just before I would have been gutted, absolutely gutted.”
Chhibber said she gained immense amounts of strength through competing in MasterChef and that she has truly learned to persist when she really wants to go after something, revealing that it was thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to apply in the first place.
Her ability to persevere, as well as her innovation and creativity, made Chhibber a powerful force in the competition with the 29-year-old explaining that she drew inspiration from her childhood memories of India and her family.
“I’ve been inspired by art and I’ve been inspired by my family, and my grandmothers,” she said. “My inspiration mostly comes from a lot of memories and certain foods that I grew up eating. I was fortunate enough to have a massive part of my childhood spent in India, where I experienced all of the food things that I talked about today, constantly. And, I’ve been blessed with the best of both worlds, because we ended up moving to Australia and that just solidified my food journey, and I became more and more passionate about it.
“So I draw inspiration from family members, my memories as a child, and emotions. And I think that’s what is so important. When you’re cooking with that emotion, it just takes your food to a whole new level.”
That inspiration led to Chhibber being granted immunity three times on the show, twice for individual cooks and once as part of a group challenge. Of course, contestants who are granted immunity then have the privilege of not only sitting out elimination cooks but cheering their fellow contestants on from the gantry.
Referring to the often debated value of calling down instructions to the cooks below, Chhibber said that 99% of the comments are organic and not fed to them by producers.
“You have an aerial view of everything which they don’t have the advantage of,” she said. “When you’re up in the gantry and looking down at everyone’s benches and what they’re doing you can really see things that are about to go wrong, or things that are going really well so I think that support and encouragement is just so crucial at that time because I know what it’s like to be down there.
“I know that when someone cheers my name it really makes me feel reassured and like I’ve got to keep pushing.”
On the flip side, Chhibber did note that it is also crucial to find the ability to filter out the noise and only take it what will be genuinely helpful during a challenge.
“Sometimes it gets really overwhelming when everyone is just yelling especially towards the end because the energy is just insane. And then the judges are saying ‘one minute to go’! and everyone is yelling at you,” she explained. “So you just have to stay calm and just block out the noise, really. But keep in mind that if they do say something useful, it’s a bit of both, you’ve got to listen out for all the good things, but then at the same time, you’re going to make sure that if there is a signal that’s sent to you pay attention to that as well.”
Since leaving the competition, Chhibber has been working on compiling her own recipes for a cookbook, has plans to open a small restaurant that celebrates regional Indian food and has been gaining experience with MasterChef judge Andy Allen at his restaurant.
“I taking a break from work in my day job [as a pharmacist] at the moment, and I’m currently doing some work with Andy at Three Blue Ducks and getting some experience to see where it takes me with food,” she revealed. “It’s such a different style, but at the same time it so rustic and I love that style of food. So I’m just learning and brushing up on my professional kitchen skills, because I had no idea what it’s like to be in a professional kitchen.”
Revealing how Allen is as both a mentor and, now a boss, Chhibber said that he could not have been more genuine when she reached out to him and that he welcomed her with open arms.
“I’m just so glad that I got to meet our judges and kind of got to know them personally as well because they have seen us in the happiest and hardest of times in the kitchen over the course of six or seven months,” she said.
“No one really knows us the way they do. And I feel like as a cook, I probably don’t even know myself as much as Andy, Mel or Jock would know me. They’d be able to identify certain things that I’m doing incorrectly or correctly, what are my strengths and weaknesses. So as a judge and as a boss I think Andy is just a really, really good guy.”