Fans of “Masterchef Australia” were stunned when a 39-year-old prison guard won the competition in one of the most lopsided victories in show’s history.
The Singapore-born, Indian-origin Sashi Cheliah took home the prize late last month after wowing the judges with a series of dishes that included a main course of the Malaysian curry chicken lemak and a pineapple tart with lime ice cream as a dessert.
“MasterChef has been an amazing ride for me — I never thought I would come this far in the competition and to win is icing on the cake,” Cheliah told reporters after the competition ended. According to news accounts, he decided to apply for the show after seeing a casting call on Facebook.
We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about Cheliah and his unique journey into the culinary world.
He wants to help the formerly incarcerated
As a prison guard in both Singapore and Australia for nearly two decades combined, Cheliah said he saw many of the challenges those convicted of crimes experienced after they were released. “There are a lot of good courses in prison such as food handling and pastry making,” he noted to the Straits Times. “But employment after getting out of prison is very limited. It would be great if I could do something for the ex-convicts.”
One of Cheliah’s goals is to eventually open a restaurant that serves both South and Southeast Asian food and he said hiring ex-offenders would be part of his business plan.
He is relatively new to cooking
Perhaps the biggest reason Cheliah’s “Masterchef” victory was so startling is because he actually only began cooking after moving from Singapore to Australia in 2012. The major factor that drove him to the kitchen was one that many immigrants could probably understand: he missed the Singaporean dishes he had grown up with and could not access them in his adopted country.
His first pop up restaurant is already in the works
Cheliah is not slowing down after his big televised win. In a Facebook post shortly after the season finale, he revealed that his next project will soon be opening. Gaja by Sashi is set to debut on August 17 in Melbourne. Ever true to his roots, the restaurant will in many ways be a tribute to Singapore. “Pretty much I’m trying to incorporate three different cultures into the food; Chinese, Malay, and Indian,” he told Delicious Australia. “It represents Singapore, which is a mix of different cultures, so in my menu you will be seeing all three.”
Wondering if you can emulate Cheliah’s unique cooking style? Check out his cereal prawns recipe below.