MasterChef 2018 finalist Moonira Hinglotwala reveals all
I love to work with food and I love cooking. So I definitely want to pursue a career as a chef. I have had many public requests for supper clubs and pop-ups.
Moonira Hinglotwala’s epic run on this year’s MasterChef cooking show made for enthralling television right up till her surprising elimination during finals week.
Inspired by her Gujrati background, the amatuer cook produced some stunning plates of food to wow judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace.
In the end though, and similar to the circumstances surrounding the exit of her sister-in-faith Zaleha Kadir Olpin (read her Exclusive Interview), which was even questioned by Malaysian PM Najib Razek, Moonira’s competition ended under a cloud of controversy, with Twitter erupting in support of her while criticising the judges’ final decision.
With the dust having settled somewhat, FtL caught up with Moonira, whose all round cookery skills and eye for presentation captured the hearts of so many across the country, to find out more about mother of two from Blackburn:
FtL: What made you want to test your culinary skills on MasterChef?
I have always been passionate about cooking and food from a young age, and I have always watched the show religiously. When last year‘s series finished airing, my son Ibrahim printed off the application form. I didn’t have the confidence to apply, but he encouraged me saying he had absolute faith in me. He is a child actor and starred in BBC One’s ‘The A Word’. So I took a deep breath and applied, not expecting to get on at all, and was shocked when I got the call to say I was selected for the show.
FtL: Were you confident knowing that you’d do this well? What was your mindset going in?
I was not sure how well I was going to do. For every dish I cooked, I thought about the task at hand and how to cook it in the best possible way. In the first round, I was really nervous, so it was tough cooking under pressure in a new kitchen. But I managed to pull myself together and deliver a dish that they enjoyed. As you get further into the competition, it makes you realise just how good everyone is, so this just added extra pressure to push oneself even more.
I am proud of my heritage, and was glad I managed to show a glimpse of traditional Gujarati cuisine.
FtL: And how has your family, particularly your two children, reacted to seeing you cook on TV?
My family, especially my husband and two children, were so excited and could not wait for MasterChef to air. The love and support shown by my family and the whole community was heart warming. It was really strange for me to see myself; but at the same time, I loved it.
FtL: Tell us a little more about you as a cook. Who have been your biggest influences and why?
My inspiration to cook comes from my mum, who learnt all her cooking from my grandma. I am proud of my heritage, and was glad I managed to show a glimpse of traditional Gujarati cuisine. Indian food is sometimes labelled under one roof, but different regions in India have very different cuisines. I have tried to showcase some of my childhood favourites on the show.
FtL: What would be your biggest strength and biggest weakness as a cook?
My biggest strength would be that I can play with spices. I can balance spices to bring out the flavours of a dish. As I have my own business, and I am constantly multi tasking, I am good at cooking lots of different things in a short period of time. I think this is why I excelled in the pressure tests on the show.
I can struggle if I am not familiar with the dish or its ingredients. As long as I had time to prepare and cook an unknown dish, I would be fine; but under pressure, this turned out to be tough.
I would describe my style of cooking as traditional Gujarati Indian that is refined for fine dining, with a twist of fusion.
FtL: How would you describe your style of cooking? Is it very much traditional or do you like to experiment by using other styles and techniques?
I would describe my style of cooking as traditional Gujarati Indian that is refined for fine dining, with a twist of fusion. I enjoy the traditional flavours that my food provides, but MasterChef has taught me how to refine these flavours and how to plate them.
I also like making British and European influenced food; though I do adapt these recipes so that I can add my spin to them. I am always experimenting using new ingredients to make different dishes.
FtL: Do you have any plans to further your experience as an amatuer cook after MasterChef?
I love to work with food and I love cooking. So I definitely want to pursue a career as a chef. I have had many public requests for supper clubs and pop-ups. I would also love to open my own cookery school or become a private chef. My dream would be to work on TV or open my own fine dining restaurant.
FtL: If you had the chance of collaborating with a professional chef, who would it be and why?
I would hope to collaborate with Heston Blumenthal. I absolutely love how he uses science in his foods to create dishes that are out of this world. I would love to apply some of these techniques to Indian food, in order to give a completely different experience to the diner.
I would hope to collaborate with Heston Blumenthal…. My favourite Indian restaurant is Benares in London.
FtL: Coming from an Asian background, what are your three all-time favourite Indian dishes and why?
I love food and I have many dishes that I love to cook and eat. My favourite has to be Biryani, as this reminds me of my childhood when my mum would cook it for special occasions.
Haleem is another one of those dishes that is so comforting on a cold, winter’s evening. It’s very hearty and very nutritious, and I could eat it everyday!
My final favourite is my take on the lasagna. This was one of the first dishes I tried to recreate using books and my knowledge of spices as a teenager. My parents had never tasted anything like it and it soon became a family favourite, as it was spicy and comforting at the same time. This dish made me realise that spices can sometimes change a boring dish into quite an exciting one.
FtL: What’s your favourite Indian restaurant in the UK and why?
My favourite Indian restaurant is Benares in London. The first time I visited, I was impressed with the plating of the dishes, and the flavours were similar to that at home. The service they provided, especially to my children, was out of this world! They didn’t charge for the children’s meals, and made my children feel very special. I think Atul Kochhar has done really well and he is a great inspiration to me. I would absolutely love to meet him one day.