Kitchen Spy: Rishi Desai

Natasha Rudra
Rishi Desai in his Queanbeyan kitchen.
Rishi Desai in his Queanbeyan kitchen. Photo: Graham Tidy

Queanbeyan public servant Rishi Desai gained the spotlight on reality cooking show Masterchef last year when he was one of two contestants from the ACT region. Desai got to the last four in the competition with his confident cooking and Indian flavours. He still works in the public service, still lives in Queanbeyan with his wife and young son. Desai has just published his first cookbook, Modern Indian ($45, New Holland) which is filled with unusual dishes from his homeland and recipes inspired by his mother's kitchen in Kolhapur.

Can't live without

Spices - I've got two drawers full of spices. This is just powdered spices, some of them I get here, some of them I get from my mother in India, she's got a spice shop back in India. These are all the raw spices which I blend up. That's the one thing I can't live without.  If you go to any Indian kitchen you'll find this spice box. There's turmeric, asafoetida, chilli powder, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and allspice mix. 

"My wife had the pantry redone while I was on MasterChef."
"My wife had the pantry redone while I was on MasterChef." Photo: Graham Tidy

Favourite food

My favourite food is Chinese. I love cooking Szechuan Chinese food. Every now and then I'll make a good Szechuan paste and then I use it whenever I need to use it. I just love it.

In the fridge

Spice tray.
Spice tray. Photo: Graham TIdy

I've got some pork ribs, some chicken - I usually like to get an entire chicken and then roast it but I'll debone it myself, separate out whatever I want to use and make stock out of that if necessary. I've got egg, spices, vegetables, and dates. I love dates and I like cooking Middle Eastern food and the dates come in useful for that. 

In the pantry

I just love the pantry. My wife got it all done while I was away on the show and when I came back it was like, "Aaahh!" and then "How much did you spend?" We've got to have a huge big pantry because we just have so many things. One day I'll feel like I want to make a dish and if I don't find [the ingredients] in my pantry, I panic. 


What was for dinner last night?

I made Chinese dumpling soup. My wife is vegetarian so I try to make two kinds of dumplings, I'll make mushroom and spring onion dumplings for her. I'll make pork or chicken dumplings for me, with a bit of garlic, chilli, pork and chives or spring onions. Just blitz it together, put it in a wonton wrapper and either steam them or dump them into the soup. The soup's got chicken stock, malt vinegar, soy sauce, shaoxhing wine, salt and a bit of brown sugar, chilli and a bit of grated ginger. I'll put a bit of Chinese broccoli or bok choy in it when it's boiling for a bit of green. 

Secret vice

Spice grinder.
Spice grinder. Photo: Graham Tidy

Chorizo. I cannot stop eating it. I'll sit with the chorizo and a glass of wine and keep eating it. It's always in the fridge and if it's not in the fridge I panic. [The one in the fridge] is just from the supermarket but if I go to Fyshwick markets I'll get it from the deli there. You can have it for breakfast with eggs, you can have that in your lunch, you can make a chorizo and basil and chilli pizza. And you can have it in your dinner, you can put it in a stew or when you're cooking chicken or pork. Instead of bacon in oysters Kilpatrick I use chorizo. It just lifts it.

Memorable meal

I went to a restaurant called Chianti  Classico in Adelaide this Easter. I was visiting my cousin and we had heard about this restaurant so we went there for dinner. I had a duck confit pappardelle that was absolutely mindblowing. The pasta was handmade and the confit duck - I could eat that every day. I went to the level of saying, "This is probably the best pasta I've had in my life." What I loved was the owner of the restaurant greeted everybody in the restaurant and that's how I want to be. If I had my own restaurant I want to be on the floor, talking to people, greeting them. 

Saturday night drink
Once a year I go off alcohol for about a month so I haven't been drinking for a while. But I love my wines. I'm doing a popup at the Truffle Festival and there's a really good Wallaroo riesling there.

Favourite gadget

If you are doing Indian food you cannot live without an Indian spice blender. The blades are very close to the bottom and you have the teeth and the edges and it grinds it down to a spice powder. You don't even have to sift it or anything.