Abinas Nayak, the 27 year old lad from Odisha is the young and feisty contestant of the Amul Master Chef, Season 6. His circumstances led him to evolve into a creative culinary expert from an engineering professional. His passion for cooking set him on an uncertain and difficult path in comparison to his much safer and lucrative engineering career. However, his aspiration to see Oriya cuisine at an international level has brought him to a platform which might just be the start to achieve his dream. In conversation with Asian Chronicle, Abinas talked about the important milestones in this interesting journey, his love for food and passion for cooking.
From electronic and communication engineering to cooking how did this all happen?
I was a foodie person from childhood itself. I always used to watch food , travel and cartoon on television. I was always into food. But as career I chose Engineering because I loved science. But after my first job in Infosys. I had to go to Trivandrum, my first posting was there. I used to cook for myself and I was lucky enough as my roommates use to cook good food. But,unfortunately they could not help me much as our shifts were different. I started experimenting with food after watching a few YouTube channels and also asking my mom the recipes of food. I started loving the whole process of cooking and the food that ,I used to cook. Then, started experimenting with the plating ,as I used to watch food and travel shows like Amul Master Chef and loving the plating pattern. Moreover, I was a painter so was always keen in making my plate beautiful. So, from here, people started appreciating my work and from here my whole journey started.
Tell us about the Haldiram Hungry 2018 contest where you were the winner?
By that time , I was cooking for two years. The challenge was to cook something using haldiram products. I sent my recipe of litti chokha cone. I modified it by making the cone out of the dough and stuffed it with haldiram products such as chanachur, moong dal(Split Green gram) and shev. I made a blend of shattu(Gram Flour) using haldiram products, so I made bharta(Fills) and topped it on a creamy element as an ice cream.
Tell us about the experiments ,you have done with your traditional food?
I started doing experiments when I was in Thiruvananthapuram, as I don’t use to get oriya food easily and I use to search for recipes online and I didn’t get much results online and the only source i had is my home. Then thought why is it happening and I found that we don’t document much especially our Oriya traditional food. So, then I started experimenting, the idea was to influence our generation as well as the upcoming generation so that, they will take it forward and the way,I thought to connect is by making it Instagram friendly and plating it properly in a modern way.So,I took inspiration from modern plating and modern contemporary techniques to influence the traditional flavours . I created Dalma Ratatouille, Mithi Kichri, Kanika Arancini with Mithi Chatni, Tamatar Katha Jol, Chicken Besara, Stuffed Rasgulla. My main intention is to keep the flavours constant and to introduce modern techniques and new ideas to the traditional dishes.
Who is your inspiration in all these processes?
Talking about culinary things, a lot of people have inspired me. First of all our three judges . They have inspired me a lot because they have taken Indian food to the next level.and talking out regional cuisines , I follow Chef Thomas Jack from Bombay canteen and chef Manish Mehrotra. So,I took bits from all the chefs and then I try to influence my style into that idea and create a dish. So there’s not a single person whom I’m inspired from , each and every chef of food world helped me to do something.
What are your most famous dishes?
The most favorite dishes are meetha khichdi, Karnika bhato(Karnika rice), my favorite daalma.
How did you feel by seeing the expression of three judges after tasting Chicken Besara ,your first dish in Amul Master Chef?
Before me, there were many people going in and having half an hour conversation and chefs were asking everything about food. So I was pretty nervous about what questions they will ask and whether they will like it or not. When ,I entered Chef Ranbir was very strict. All the chefs were angry,as they didn’t get any good food . When, he tasted the first bite , he was silent. So I was confused whether they are playing tricks with me or they are actually happy. I was completely puzzled. He gave me the apron , I thought they are kidding with me because people entered the judging room for half an hour and they are coming out happy and sad. For me it’s not even two minutes and they are saying that you are into masterchef, so I thought they are kidding with me and finally when they said you are in masterchef, It was unreal and like a dream. It was magical.
Is it important to take degree from some institute to be a chef ?
No. Not at all. For me cooking is not about degree or culinary post. For me it is about experimenting with what you love to eat and what you don’t like to eat and making yourself comfortable in the kitchen. The process is important and not the degree.
Tell us about your achievement in Masterchef Lookicooks Fellowship 2019?
Loki is an Indian who stays in Australia and started a fellowship where he could support a food dream in which candidates come from Australia, India and Indonesia. When I saw the article, I applied as I was in search of an opportunity that time. So whatever was coming i was applying as i just wanted to cook and experiment.Then the advertisement came and I applied the form. There were two rounds after that- the first was to apply the form , the second was the face to face interview and third was the results. I just gave it a thought and hoped for the best. I was shortlisted for the second round. There were 390 applicants out of which 89 got selected for interview round. I was one of them. After,that conversation I felt Loki’s and my thought process is quite similar-the type of work I want to do, even he wanted to do the same thing with regional cuisines and cooking with primitive method and taking that to the next level, sustainability and cooking for a good cause were all his ideas.We connected very well during the interview. Finally he declared that I’ve been selected for the fellowship. I was so happy because first of all it was mentor-ship. Whatever ,I was planning to do throughout my food journey he will guide me to pursue that. Apart from that he was sponsoring me 5 thousand Australian dollars. It was like investment from his side and whatever I wanted to do it in food thing, he would sponsor me. I was on cloud 9. I was very confident that whatever,I am planning and wanting to do , someone is there who will officially guide me, mentor me. I’ll get good direction of what I want to do. We are planning a lot of things ahead . When you dream of something, it is like virtual world for you and someone is trusting on that and supporting you is like giving that path that you are doing good.
How did you feel when you got first immunity pill in Amul Master Chef season 6?
It was a pretty honorable challenge because you have to cook along with Chef Vineet. He is very skilled and experienced. But we three did very well and we completed the dish. After that,me getting the immunity pill and start of the Master Chef journey was the biggest confidence booster. I was confident that my dish is good but the other two were also close enough , so getting the pill was a big thing.
As a chef, where does your strength lies?
I would say, I am good with experimenting new flavours and new techniques. I’m a very experimental chefs if something new is given I try to adapt the new flavours and the best thing is my plating and the way, I present the food. Those are my strengths.
What does a healthy diet mean to you as a chef?
I’m not a person who cooks lots of healthy dishes. But ,I believe whatever you eat you get to digest it , burn it out. For me, it is eat fresh things and whatever you eat , just try to burn it, that healthy for me. I don’t think, I will tell anyone to not eat sweet food and junk food. Eat whatever you want to eat but burn the calories. Then everything is equal, everything is healthy because people shouldn’t miss out good and tasty food. For nutrition , people tend to miss a lot of food and crave for dessert but don’t eat just for the sake of being healthy.