Before the event, we chatted to Sashi about his preparations to open his first restaurant in his beloved hometown, Adelaide.
Can you believe the journey you’ve been on?
It’s like a dream. A lot of times I wake up and think, ‘is it real? So far I haven’t stopped, but my family has really supported me, and that has kept me going.
Preparing to open Gaja by Sashi must be stressful? Was Diwali cancelled this year?
Ha. No. Diwali was really good. We went over to a friend’s place and had a great time. Everything has to stop. It’s all about food, friends and family. Whatever problems you have throughout the year, for that one day you let loose and forget all about it. But I will say I’m glad it fell on a Sunday this year…
How did the Melbourne pop-up prepare you for opening your restaurant?
I joined MasterChef to gauge whether I was ready for this. Since the show, the pop-up has given me the confidence that I am in the right place, doing what I love. I also spent a year practising with events like pop-ups at cricket matches and traveling to South Africa, Malaysia, India and Singapore.
How did the pressure in the pop-up kitchen compare to MasterChef?
On MasterChef, the pressure is for an hour or two maximum. But during the pop-up, there was a queue from the minute you opened. We were serving something like 500 people a day, non-stop. On top of cooking, you have to understand a lot about the laws and rules, the safety practices. So far I’m managing to cope pretty well, thank god
Did you focus on the new kitchen design, or are you involved in all aspects of the Adelaide build?
I’m involved in every element. I wanted a venue with a big, empty space so I could create everything from scratch. We managed to get an amazing spot at 86 Pirie Street with full-height glass windows, so everyone can see everything that’s happening in the kitchen. The design concept is old colonial Singapore.
Tell us about the thought process behind your menu?
I've kept it very versatile so that it can be Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Chinese or Malay. I think a lot of people will be very excited about trying my duck leg Kaeng Ped Pett Yang curry. It’s the only dish I’ve taken from my time on MasterChef.
What surprised you most about the build?
Everything. Haha. When it comes to designing something on paper, it
might look pretty straightforward, but actually putting that into the
space. Well, there were a lot of things that didn't go to plan. We had a
lot of electrical issues, and I had to do some plumbing too. That was
something that I never thought I’d be involved in. So from being a
prison officer to becoming a chef, now I’m like a tradie too.
Is it great to share the joy of Diwali with new people?
So much so. Last year at the Metricon event, I was blown away by how excited everyone was. We had a splendid time.
What are you most excited about in the year to come?
Of course the restaurant opening up, and I’ve also just launched a
range of products available in Woolworths Australia-wide. Just today, my
son brought them to school to show his friends haha.
What does your family think about you being a celebrity?
They’re coping pretty well. My wife’s been working very hard too,
supporting me in the business and at the other end, making sure
everything is running smoothly at home. They are very proud, and it’s
nice to see the kids enjoying the experience.
Learn to cook Sashi’s tasty Diwali meals by following the recipes below.