Devaki Vijayaraman on winning the MasterChef Tamil title

The title winner of ‘MasterChef India — Tamil’, Devaki Vijayaraman, talks about how the cooking reality show helped her find her feet in the culinary world

In this remote bylane of Thillai Nagar in Tiruchi, a banner congratulating Devaki Vijayaraman for winning the title in the first season of MasterChef India — Tamil works better than Google Maps in helping us locate the low-profile victor’s home.

But Devaki blushes when we mention it to her. “My husband and school friends put it up, even though I was not for it. Participating in MasterChef Tamil and winning the inaugural season feels like a dream to me; I haven’t woken up yet!” laughs Devaki.

Prepping, as every chef is fond of saying, is everything when it comes to the culinary world. But for Devaki, preparation has been often overtaken by her passion to try new things.

Despite being interested in cookery from an early age, Devaki was not encouraged to make it a profession by her family. “So I graduated in Commerce, and then did my MBA, and worked in an IT company for a few years. After marriage, my husband and I were based in Chennai, but we decided to return to Tiruchi when we were expecting our first child,” says the 28-year-old.

Lockdown bakes

A few months after her son Dhruv was born, Devaki attended a baking course, and started posting pictures of her cakes on her WhatsApp and Instagram accounts. “I went a bit cake crazy after the course,” she admits, with a shy smile“I set up a baking and icing station in my drawing room just so that I could get the perfect product.”

What started out as a hobby became a business idea during lockdown. With commercial bakeries downing shutters last year, Devaki found herself flooded with orders from friends and neighbours. As her venture took off, so did her dreams.

“I am an ardent fan of cookery shows on TV; when I watched [Singaporean] Sasi Cheliah win the MasterChef Australia title in 2018, I became passionate about contesting in the show,” says Devaki.

Devaki Vijayaraman won over MasterChef judges with her talent for fusion food.

Devaki Vijayaraman won over MasterChef judges with her talent for fusion food.
 
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“But it wasn’t about winning anything, I would have been happy just to qualify or get an apron at the most,” she says.

Filmed in Bengaluru and telecast by Sun TV, MasterChef India – Tamil was hosted by actor Vijay Sethupathi. Professional chefs Harish Rao, Aarthi Sampath and Koushik S were the judges. There is no doubt Devaki has achieved far more than what she had initially hoped for: besides winning the title and trophy, she has also got the coveted MasterChef gold-trimmed coat, and a cash prize of ₹25 lakh.

Also Read | ‘MasterChef Tamil’ will make you think, says host and actor Vijay Sethupathi

After clearing two audition rounds in Madurai, Devaki was among the 12 shortlisted contestants who headed to Bengaluru, where a further 12 people joined the competition.

She was one among the 14 finalists who eventually progressed to the advanced stages of the show.

“After the initial shyness and despite the difference in our ages and experience, we all became good friends, and would spend our free time discussing food and cookery techniques. Everyone had a unique perspective, and we also researched ideas for every episode, in our free time. “I learned a lot about food and cooking in the six months of filming the show,” says Devaki.

Interacting with the charismatic host was a major highlight. “Vijay Sethupathi is so down-to-earth; when we were waiting for the chefs to evaluate our work with knots in our stomachs, he would ease the tension with light-hearted banter,” she recalls. By contrast, she says, the judges were strict. “We could talk only about the food we had cooked, and listen to their technical assessment of our skills.”

Devaki Vijayaraman runs a successful home baking business in Tiruchi.

Devaki Vijayaraman runs a successful home baking business in Tiruchi.
 
| Photo Credit: SRINATH M/THE HINDU

Twist of taste

Though she found cooking on camera to be nerve-wracking, Devaki started warming up to the vibe as the show progressed. “I focussed on that day’s challenge. If I could make it through, I was happy.”

Devaki presented recipes that capitalised on a continental flavour with a southern Indian twist.

Whether arancini (fried Italian rice balls stuffed with cheese) made with karuvepillai sadam (curry leaf rice), or dianthus poothrekelu, a floral take on the papery Andhra rice batter dessert served up with white chocolate, her yen for fusion cuisine stood out. “I felt that I had finally reached some level of expertise when judge Harish Rao took a selfie with me after I presented the dianthus poothrekelu, because I had tried a complicated technique with the available materials in the studio, replacing an earthen pot with a dosa tawa,” she says.

In the finale, Mayajalam, an iced lemon cream quennelle with a paruthi paal (cottonseed extract) mousse filling won over the judges, with its sweet and tart flavours. “Though it was a Tamil programme, MasterChef is also about food from other cultures. I tried to do my best with what we have here in South India, mixed with international tastes,” she says.

Devaki hopes to secure a portion of her prize money for her son’s future, and also expand her bakery business. “Winning the MasterChef India — Tamil title has given me a new identity and self-confidence. My customers in Tiruchi have been very supportive and proud to have bought a cake from the season’s winner,” she laughs. “Their trust and love are the best prize.”

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