Masterchef Australia 2018 contestant Chef Loki Madireddi speaks to us about his interesting journey!

 

Loki Madireddi was born in Mysore, India and brought up in Chennai, India. He has always been interested in food and he says his earliest food memory is when he was a six years old child cooking crabs with his grandmother and mother in their backyard. All his adventures and stories growing up involve food in some way. “I never excelled in studies and fell from the third floor of my building while playing at age of 8 and survived. During the long recovery I cooked often at home with my family. I wanted to go to culinary school at age 19 but due to family pressures I could not. I ended up studying Information Technology and moved to Australia for further education. I have done a variety of jobs but never felt the passion I feel when I cook for others. So, at the age of 35, I finally resigned from my job and applied to MasterChef Australia and managed to get selected,” he says. After his journey with Masterchef Australia, Chef Loki spent a month at the popular restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok and that further sealed his love for working in a professional kitchen. As a result he organized a number of pop-ups in Melbourne, Australia where over 1500 people tasted some of his signature dishes.

His signature dishes include Pepper Chicken, Prawn Masala, Crab curry and over the last year and half he has been working on Indian regional dishes presented for the modern palette. Some of these dishes include Mirchi Bhaji 2020, MLA Pesarattu with chutney 3 ways, Cauliflower Biriyani. He moved to Bali Indonesia with his wife and son last year and has been immersing himself in discovering new spices and understanding how his food could find expression by combining what he knows well and what he is learning now. The talented chef also organised a food retreat last year in Binsar, Uttarkhand where he foraged for food and created dishes that celebrated local ingredients and produce. He intends to have more such retreats in the future. He is also passionate about creating an eco-system to support aspiring culinary creators and dreamers. It is with that intent Chef Loki Madireddi has set up the ‘The Fellowship with Loki’ which is currently in it’s second year. Last year Abinas Nayak was the first recipient of the fellowship – at the time Abinas was a home cook working in the IT industry. With the support of the Fellowship he went on to win MasterChef India in 2020 and is now working on a few collaborations with Chef Loki. In 2020 the application process has just been closed and Chef Loki and his team is currently reviewing these applications. 687 applications have been received from all over India and the top 15 applicants will be interviewed over the next few weeks to choose the winner. Chef Loki hopes to build this platform in the coming years and make it bigger and more inclusive so that more people get a chance to express and build their culinary dream project. More details on www.trusttheloki.com/fellowship for those who wish to apply.

What was the most important lesson participating in Masterchef Australia taught you? How did it change your life?

The most important lesson that participating in Masterchef Australia taught me was to believe in my food and my creative abilities. I have been a home cook since I was a 6 year old child and learning cooking alongside my grandmother but I never thought I could pull off ‘Masterchef’ level dishes. I was able to discover a totally new depth to my cooking that I wasn’t even aware I had. So the Masterchef journey changed my life in the sense that it showed me that food could be my career and I could totally focus on it. That clarity was worth everything.

 

What is your advice to aspiring chefs?

I don’t really like to advice much because I think everyone has to discover who they are through their own journey and choices. If I had to say something to aspiring chefs I would say know who you are as a cook, discover and understand your own language of food and express that. Too often there is a temptation to replicate someone else’s style – there is nothing wrong in being inspired by other chefs but definitely focus on finding your own expression of food and stay true to that.

 

What’s your comfort food and which is your favourite restaurant to dine at?

My comfort food is street food specifically Chennai Biryani and Parotta with Salan (gravy served with Parotta). Therefore my favourite restaurants are always the street food joints – I really believe the street food vendors are the real custodians of our cuisine. Their mastery of the dishes they serve day in day out totally amazes me.

 

Please tell us about your fellowship and what was the thought behind it?

The Fellowship with Loki was set up in 2019 with the intent to provide a platform for someone with an inspiring culinary dream who has the passion and the talent to pursue it and allowing them to do just that. The inspiration and intent of the Fellowship comes from my own food journey. I wanted to pursue culinary studies at age 18 and I couldn’t because I didn’t have the support or the financial means. I followed the ‘normal’ path of Masters in IT and did a whole lot of jobs only to realise 16 years later that food was my calling. This realisation was possible because of my wife and son and their constant support to find my happiness. So my journey is testament to the fact that financial support, mentorship and encouragement at the right time can play a big role in someone’s life. I really want to back people’s food dreams and this is my humble attempt to do so. The Fellowship provides AUD $5000 to the recipient to kick start their culinary dream. It also provides 1:1 support and mentorship which is so important as well as project collaborations.

Who is your inspiration?

I am inspired by different people for different things. From the culinary world I really admire Chef Massimo Bottura not just because he is a culinary genius but also who he is as a person and what he stands for as a human being. It’s truly inspiring.

I am also incredibly inspired by Indian cricket legend MS Dhoni and his demeanour. I aspire to have his mental strength, his disposition and laser focus. I am a bit emotional at times and I feel I lose my balance that’s when I always remind myself of Dhoni and how he might handle a tough situation. Closer home my 8 year old son Indryaan inspires me a lot. Kids have this uncanny ability to see things as they are and he is really my guiding light in many ways. He is the reason I participated in Masterchef Australia and he is the reason behind a lot of growth as a person.

 

Please tell us in detail about your retreats?

I had this idea of creating and conducting immersive food retreats where people spend a few days foraging, creating food, discovering their own food language. This idea came to fruition in October last year where I conducted a retreat in Binsar, Uttarkhand 7600 ft in the Himalayas. We spent time trekking, foraging, cooking and talking food and I invited all the finalists from my Fellowship to participate. We learnt a lot about local ingredients and sustainable food and how we as cooks and chefs can really use ingredients closer to home rather than importing things and increasing global carbon footprint. If you ask the participants they will tell you the experience was nothing short of magical. After that experience I believe that these retreats should be offered to others who love food, who love creation and also believe in learning about sustainable produce and using what’s near us to create incredible food. I am hoping to have another retreat later this year once things settle down – in India and also in Bali.

 

Do you intend to come up with a restaurant soon?

I am currently based in Bali and have been here since last year trying to understand the produce, the lay of the land and how my food can find expression here. I really like what Bali offers so I am thinking about doing something here but it’s very much at a conceptual stage. I also believe that my food doesn’t necessarily have to find its place in a restaurant. I love cooking and I am open to what expression that might take in the future.

 

How did it feel when Nigella Lawson scored you more than the professional chef on Masterchef Australia?

Have you seen the episode? I think everyone who watched the episode knows exactly how I felt. I jumped up and down like a 5 year old and that’s exactly how it felt inside. I was just totally savouring every moment of that cook and the opportunity. It wasn’t about the scores at all – I was just so happy that day! Alanna Sapwell is an extremely talented chef – and she was so gracious and generous as were all the judges. It was a memorable day in the Masterchef Australia kitchen.

 

Which is your signature dish/dishes?

My signature dishes are inspired by my childhood food memories and also the food I ate whilst travelling through Southern India by trains. I have added twists along the way and re-created them. The following feature regularly in my cooking:

 Madurai Pepper Chicken – Char grilled Chicken in a pepper based gravy
 Bagara Brinjal – Roasted spiced Brinjal with a spicy, rich peanut gravy
 Meen Moilee – Pan roasted Salmon with a Moilee sauce ( coconut gravy)

Tell us about your experience while working with Gaggan, Bangkok and how it has added to your experience?

I went to Gaggan, Bangkok right after my Masterchef Australia stint and I was supposed to be there for 2 months. I had to leave early due to a family emergency but I can tell you the experience was outstanding. I had never been inside a Michelin star kitchen and I learnt so much about the dedication day in and day out to serve food at that level. It was truly one of the best learning experiences of my life. It also cemented my thought that working in the kitchen was truly joyful and I could do that all day every day.

 

I am sharing my recipe of Madurai Pepper Chicken – it’s easy to make but flavoursome! I hope the readers enjoy it.

Madurai pepper chicken

Ingredients:

1/2 kg Chicken thigh
3 Tbsp Oil
1 sprig Curry Leaves
1/2 lemon juice
1 Tbsp Ginger paste freshly made
3 Garlic crushed
2 Onions chopped
3 green chillies
1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
Coriander leaves chopped
Salt to taste

Roast and pound:
2 Tbsp Pepper Corns
1 tsp Fennel Seeds
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 inch Cinnamon stick
3 Cloves
3 Dry Red Chilies

Method:

1. Marinate the chicken with lemon juice, turmeric, 1/2 tbsp ginger paste and 1 crushed garlic. If you can store the marinated chicken in the fridge for 12-24 hours it would be ideal.
2. Roast the spices and pound them to a fine powder.
3. Heat the oil and add curry leaves
4. Caramelise the onion and add the spice powder
5. Char grill the chicken to 50% cooked on charcoal or grill or even a hot skillet.
6. Add the chicken to the caramelised onion and cook till the chicken is tender and cooked.
7. Add the chopped coriander and toss well

 

Jyoti Balani