He's the lovable former police officer who captured hearts accross the nation when he was crowned winner of the 2018 series of MasterChef Australia. Now, the Singapore-born Aussie kicthen whiz has stepped out of the reality TV frying pan and into the fire, with his pop-up restaurant, Gaja by Sashi, recently swinging into action. So, with the Diwali holiday just around the corner, we caught up with the inimitable father of two to find out what he's been up to since his silver screen debut, and how he'll be celebrating this year's festival of lights.   
 

FIVE MINUTES WITH SASHI CHELIAH


What is your favourite thing to cook for family?
Lamb biryani – that is one of our house favourites.

How did you get into cooking? 
I was born and raised in Singapore and, coming from a very traditional Indian family, they don’t allow boys in the kitchen. I was always the curious one – I liked to see what my mum and aunt were doing and how they cooked so I used to sit in the kitchen and watch them. It wasn't until I was probably 14 or 15 that I actually tried cooking for the first time. 

What would be in your dream kitchen?
I actually just built a new place in Mt Barker, in Adelaide, and the kitchen is massive. It has a five-burner stove, 900mm oven, induction cooktop on the side and a big island bench. Space is very important to me - I need a lot of room for my spices.

Must-have cooking appliance/utensil?
I don’t use a lot of fancy equipment. I still like simple, old-school cooking so I would always have to have a wok, saucepan and pot.

Three ingredients you always have in your fridge
Chilli, lemongrass and coriander.

If you could invite anyone to dinner – who would you have?
I have always wanted to meet Indian actor Kamal Haassan. I have already met my other idol, Gordon Ramsay. It was amazing. Getting to cook for him was the best moment in my MasterChef journey. My sons were quite taken with Nigella (Lawson) so i'd like to invite her, too. 

Favourite spice? 
Turmeric.

Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate. I love chocolate.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee.

Favourite Diwali memory growing up?
Diwali is massive at home. We always start the night before, preparing and decorating the house, making sweets and biscuits - like pineapple tarts and sweet crepes - and preparing the curry paste and all the condiments for the following day. 

How will you be celebrating Diwali this year?
I like to start the day with a very good breakfast and a prayer. On Diwali day everything must be new. It's a celebration of good over evil, darkness over light, so we buy brand new clothes, do prayers and start the day with sweet food. My family is a very big family. There are seven of us – siblings alone – plus a very big extended family, so it's always a big day of cooking and eating. We usually take turns to go to relatives' houses and there can be as many as 60-70 people. But they come in waves – they don’t come all at once!

Tell us a little about Gaja by Sashi.
Gaja is my very first food venture. We're only two and a half months in but I have already learnt a lot about business. I have never been in hospitality before and the food industry is not as easy as I thought! But serving people is something I have always wanted to do and the love that people are showing and the support I have had so far – I really appreciate it. 

What is your cooking philosophy?
My mottos are 'less is more' and 'flavour, flavour, flavour'.

Best cooking tip you ever received?
Your mood reflects on the food you serve. If you are happy,  the food will be delicious. I am always telling my guys that the environment in the kitchen should always be happy.

 

SASHI'S FAVOURITE DIWALI RECIPES

To celebrate the festival of lights this year, Sashi cooked up a storm at Metricon's exclusive Diwali event, held at the Sovereign show home in Glen Waverley, Victoria. The lucky attendees had the opportunity to taste Sashi's two favourite Diwali recipes: Gulab Jamun and prawn masala. 


Gulab Jamun

Ingredients
  • 80g self-raising flour
  • 2tbsp fine semolina
  • 200g milk powder
  • 1tsp ground cardamom
  • 60g ground almond
  • 60g ground pistachios
  • 250ml milk, warmed
  • 150g ghee, melted
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 50g Slivered green pistachios
  • 20g dried rose petals
  • 4 sheets edible silver or gold sheets
 
For the syrup
  • 500g castor sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 6 green cardamom, crushed
  • 2tbsp rose water
 
Method
  1. Sift the flour, semolina, milk powder and cardamom into a large bowl.
  2. Mix ground almond and ground pistachios.
  3. Mix warm the warm milk and ghee, pour onto the dry ingredients and mix gradually until a smooth dough forms.
  4. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the dough to rest for 15 mins.
  5. In the mean while start on the syrup, combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring it to boil and reduce to simmer, stirring the liquid occasionally until it thickens to syrup consistency.
  6. With wet hands, roll the dough into small, 20-25g balls and deep fry at 170C for 3 mins until golden brown.
  7. Add fried balls into the syrup and simmer for 10mins until the balls absorb syrup.
  8. Serve the Gulab Jamun while its warm with chopped pistachios and a small piece of edible silver or gold and dried rose petals.

 

Masala prawns with beetroot relish and tamarind date chutney

 
Ingredients
Masala prawn
  • 24 large tiger prawns, shelled and deveined
  • 2tsp ground chilli
  • 2tsp ground turmeric
  • 4 garlic cloves crushed
  • 2tsp salt
  • 3tbsp ghee
  • 4 shallots finely chopped
  • 2tsp finely grated lemongrass
  • 2 tomatoes peeled and chopped
  • 2tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp ground cumin
 
Beetroot relish
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 1tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 10 finely chopped curry leaves
  • 400g beetroot, peeled and grated
  • 2tsp cumin powder
  • 2tsp salt
  • 400g natural yogurt
 
Tamarind date chutney
  • 100ml tamarind puree
  • 1tsp fennel powder
  • 50g dates
  • 50g palm sugar
 
Garnish
  • 2 bunches micro watercress
  • 10 Birds Eye chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
 
Method
  1. For prawn masala, marinate the prawns with ground chilli, turmeric, garlic and salt.
  2. On a medium saucepan, heat the ghee and add shallots, lemongrass, tomatoes, ground coriander and cumin. Saute the paste until liquid evaporates and add the prawn and cook for 3-4mins.
  3. For the beetroot relish, on a medium saucepan heat the oil and add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds start to pop add beetroot, cumin powder and enough water to cook the beetroot for 10-15mins.
  4. Season the beetroot and allow the relish to cool before adding the yogurt.
  5. For tamarind date chutney, mix all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the palm sugar dissolves and the chutney thickens. Transfer the chutney into a piping bag and set it aside till needed.
  6. On a serving spoon, place a teaspoon of beetroot relish with few micro watercress and place one prawn and a small dollop of tamarind date chutney. Garnish with little sprinkle chilli and watercress.