This year, Ajay John takes on MasterChef cooking and competing through a variety of heats, quarter finals and knockouts until the ultimate winner is crowned. Gregg Wallace and John Torode judge the dishes being served – with all the action, tantrums, successes and burning disasters caught on camera. The winner goes away with a trophy and the prestige of being The MasterChef of the series.
Ajay John – “I would like to think of myself as a Citizen of the world. I was born & raised mostly in India but lived my initial few years in Nigeria. My mom was born in Malaysia so we have traveled there when I was young. I moved to the US in 1998 to do my MBA and lived there for about 10 years. I have been living in the UK since 2008 and love to travel mainly to experience the food cultures of the world.
I am the Global Account Director at PGS Software which is a Poland based IT consulting company. I am responsible for all existing clients across all geographies.”
We spoke to Chef Ajay to find out more about his experience on the BBC1 show…
What was the reason in taking part in MasterChef ?
I have always wanted to be connected to the food industry and have watched the competition for years. I finally drew up the courage to apply last year. I would dream about being in MasterChef and play out the different situations & challenges in my head all the time. I really love to be in the kitchen and what better kitchen than the MasterChef kitchen is there for amateurs like me.
Is there a way to handle the criticism from the judges?
My philosophy in life is to always look at life positively. Every brick wall you hit, every feedback you get both good and bad, are experiences you learn from. If you go into the competition with that attitude, the harshest of criticism will be very easy to handle because you are learning and using that learning to your advantage in another situation in life.
What is the atmosphere like in the kitchen cooking alongside other chefs?
The atmosphere is buzzing but also very surreal. You suddenly realise that you are in the MasterChef kitchen that you have seen on TV for so many years and it feels very unreal. An absolutely amazing feeling and so glad I could experience it.
What is your approach to the imagination and creation of your dishes?
One of the many things I have learned from all my travel is that there are so many different ways to uses the same ingredients. Some cultures use the same ingredient that you have grown up with, in a different manner. This could make the original dish or some other dish from your tradition better. I tend to use this inspiration a lot when I imagine and create new dishes.
What is your cooking style and what can people expect from your food?
At the heart of my cooking is my mum’s recipes. I used to miss her flavors when I was in college in the US and started to do my versions of her food. Even today, I am asking her for recipes and adding my tweaks to her food. My cooking style is mainly South Indian, but with my own unique style. As examples of this, I used Guinness in my goat curry to completely alter the typical curry and make it better with the lovely caramel flavors of Guinness or using European cooking techniques to cook fish but keeping the essence of South India in the dish.
What is your greatest accomplishment during your time on MasterChef so far?
Just getting to be a part of the competition is an amazing feat. To be one of the 56 to get in from 6000+ who apply, getting selected in my first attempt and getting so much love and encouragement from so many people including complete strangers is simply amazing. To finish as a Quarter Finalist is also a great feat.
The competition has made me stronger, more confident, a better cook, found me more friends … there are too many accomplishments to call one out as the greatest.
Has there been any downsides?
Absolutely no downsides. To me, every experience is a positive one. I am a glass half full kind of guy. Plus, I was on BBC and folks from all over the world saw me. It’s an amazing experience.
Would there be anything you would change so far and would you recommend to a friend?
No there is nothing I would change. You live life once so no regrets. Yes, I would recommend that everyone out there who wants to be a part of the competition must definitely try to be a part of the competition. Go ahead & apply folks … it’s a great ride!!