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What’s cooking, Kishwar?

Kishwar intent on prepping a dish

It’s not easy to win praise from star judges in Masterchef Australia, but Kishwar is doing just that. Kishwar Chowdhury, born in Australia but of Bangladesh origin, is playing to her strengths in Bengali cuisine and creating quite a stir in Masterchef Australia Season 13. This mother of two is at centre stage in the competition, but how?

In a telephonic interview, Kishwar replied, “Coming to Masterchef was the biggest challenge to me. It was difficult to leave my family, my children and stay so far away for so long. It is quite an unknown journey, no one knows what lies ahead. There are highs and lows. Surviving in the contest is a huge challenge.”

But survived she has. And she has become quite popular on this immensely popular show.
Kishwar is showing the world a new side of Bangladesh through this show – its culinary side. She’s given a fresh twist to the Bengali favourites on the show – bhortas, hilsa, fish and gourd, duck, phuchka-chotpoti, sweets and more. Not only is she forging ahead in the competition, but she’s taking Bangladeshi cooking along with her too.

Till 1 July, 54 episodes of the season have been aired and they’ve come down to the top 6 – which includes Kishwar. Now the contest to for a place in the top three and then the Masterchef winner!

A few days ago the contestants were taken to Uluru in Australia. Kishwar said, “This is a place of Australian heritage. We went around and stayed there. I tried to combine traditional Australian ingredients with Bangladeshi ingredients and come up with something new. All this will stay with me forever.”

Happy to win the judges’ approval

Kishwar’s culinary skills have made her a star overnight. But she’s not quite comfortable with the celebrity status. She says, “I am just a regular woman. I want to show to the world what the Bengali food we cook at home, what my mother cooks. I don’t consider myself a star. I studied cooking to survive in the show. I worry about being able to give my best. You have to learn so many new things about different foods. You have to have the courage to be able to serve your dishes to the world’s best chefs. And it is really tough to represent a culture. I have chosen to do so and working hard at it.”

Kishwar inherited her taste for Bengali cooking from her father Kamrul Chowdhury and mother Laila Chowdhury. She picked up her penchant for cooking in her mum’s kitchen. She says, “I never really planned to cook. Cooking and Bengali food was just a part of my growing up.”

Her mother would ask her to help cutting up the fish, marinating the chicken and so on. Then as she grew, her mother would ask her to cook certain dishes. Her mother also taught her to speak in flawless Bangla.

What is most important to being a good cook? “A good understanding of taste and combinations,” came the quick reply.

Among Bangladeshi dishes, ‘ilish machher paturi’ (hilsa cooked in leaves) is a favourite with Kishwar. She says, “There is no fish as tasty as Bangladesh’s hilsa. My mother-in-law makes a delicious ‘ilish machher paturi’!” There are favourites which her mother-in-law often brings over – jam (jamrul), green mangoes, kamranga. Kishwar loves to make bhorta with these fruit. Then there is chotpoti and phuchka of course!

Kishwar in the Masterchef kitchen

Once the Masterchef contest is over, what next? Kishwar plans on bringing out a cookbook. She also wants to create a media platform to regularly share all sorts of things about cooking, particularly what she cooks every day.