Singapore-born Sashi Cheliah in MasterChef Australia’s top 24

Prison officer Sashi Cheliah, who is based in Adelaide, started cooking regularly because he missed the food in Singapore.
Prison officer Sashi Cheliah, who is based in Adelaide, started cooking regularly because he missed the food in Singapore.PHOTO: MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA

It took a move to Adelaide six years ago to push Singapore-born prison officer Sashi Cheliah into cooking.

He says in an exclusive phone interview with The Straits Times from Adelaide: "I missed the food in Singapore when I moved, so I started cooking regularly. I would get recipes from my mother and watch YouTube videos. Fellow Singaporeans as well as Malaysians in the area would come and eat my food."

After seeing advertisements for MasterChef Australia's Season 10 auditions popping up on his Facebook page, Mr Sashi, 40, decided to try for the reality TV cooking competition and has since made it to the top 24.

The show debuts today on Lifetime Asia (Singtel TV Channel 302 or StarHub TV Channel 514) at 8pm. It airs on weekdays at 8pm.

Mr Sashi impressed the judges - chefs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan and journalist Matt Preston - with his platter of chicken rendang with coconut rice, pineapple achar and roti jala (netted crepes).

He says of making the roti jala during the audition: "That was nerve-racking. I had to make sure the batter was of the right consistency. A lot of thoughts were going through my mind, but I could see their reaction and I was very happy."

As the judges eagerly ate his food, Mehigan called the rendang "absolutely wonderful", while Calombaris added that he "can't stop eating".

Mr Sashi dedicated the dish to his late aunt as it was one of her favourites. "It is close to my heart and represents our culture as well," he adds.

His wife, a 39-year-old nurse, as well as their two sons, aged 10 and 12, were also at the audition to cheer him on.

On his "foodie family", he says: "My sons are my biggest critics, I'm so afraid of them. If it's not good, they will say, 'Not nice, papa.'"

Before moving Down Under, he was a police officer in Singapore for 12 years.

"Back then, my life was more about adventure activities like rock climbing and running. That was me. Food was for eating, not cooking," says Mr Sashi, who counts char kway teow, chicken rice and Indian rojak as some of his favourite local foods.

His wife had studied in Wollongong, New South Wales, back in 2000 and they took a liking to the lifestyle in Australia. It took them 10 years to plan for their move to Adelaide.

Should he win the competition, his dream is to open a restaurant serving Indian and South-east Asian cuisine. "There are a lot of good courses in prison such as food-handling and pastry-making," he says. "But employment after getting out of prison is very limited. It would be great if I could do something for the ex-convicts."

On the experience of being on MasterChef Australia so far, Mr Sashi says: "There is stress and dealing with the unknown and time constraints. You have to think on your feet. If anything goes wrong, you have to rectify it. You have to be on your toes all the time."

• MasterChef Australia 10 premieres today on Lifetime Asia (Singtel TV Channel 302 or StarHub TV Channel 514) at 8pm. It airs on weekdays at 8pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore-born cook in MasterChef Australia's top 24'. Print Edition | Subscribe