Steaming white rice, her mum’s famous chicken curry, as well as kiwi fruit and aubergine curries, accompanied by classic Sri Lankan coconut and onion sambols… all served up on a banana leaf.
This was how Minoli De Silva created a delicious and flavoursome meal that won the hearts of MasterChef Australia’s judges and had Sri Lankans at the edge of their seats, hearts pounding as they crossed their fingers and waited anxiously for her to win that coveted white apron.
After she was eliminated from among the top 24 contestants in Season 13 of MasterChef Australia, it was her delicate Chocolate Oasis offering that won her way back onto the popular reality TV show – and turned her into one of the top 10 contenders for the title of MasterChef Australia.
Though the young Sri Lanka-born cook is in fact a chemical engineer, it is her love for food that had her entering the competition on a whim.
This petite powerhouse is proud of her heritage, and has created unique and stunning twists to Sri Lankan dishes that have showcased our beautiful island on every episode that’s been aired on television down under.
Full of life with an exuberant personality and an equally vibrant smile, we can all learn from Minoli’s life and experiences. A cancer survivor who lost her sense of taste during those traumatic months, she pushed through with a positive mindset… only to come back winning at life.
Minoli is now on a mission to create new recipes and share her distinctive twist on Sri Lanka’s popular flavours.
Ashwini Vethakan sits down with the culinary mastermind as she discusses her childhood, likes and dislikes, as well as plans and goals.
" I FELT LIKE I NEEDED TO BE PRAGMATIC AND POSITIVE BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT MENTAL RESILIENCE IS VERY IMPORTANT AT ALL TIMES "
Q: How would you describe yourself to our readers?
A: I’m an energetic, positive, food loving cook!
Q: What kind of child and then teenager were you?
A: I was a rather naughty child who got into a lot of trouble such as eating another kid’s Easter eggs or leaping over the fence to run to the lolly shop. And not surprisingly, most of my mischievous behaviour revolved around food!
Q: Could you give us an overview of your journey from when you were first diagnosed with breast cancer – and how you look back at that experience today?
A: I was diagnosed shortly before my 31st birthday. By then, it had progressed quite a bit, which meant I needed to start chemotherapy for about six months before moving on to radiotherapy and surgery.
This resulted in me losing my sense of taste at the time. It’s been a few months since I received the all clear. The whole episode makes me grateful to be alive and motivates me to pursue all the dreams I’ve ever had.
Q: Who or what gave you the most strength during those trying times?
A: I felt like I needed to be pragmatic and positive because I believe that mental resilience is very important at all times. But I was also ex-tremely lucky to have an amazing support system in my family.
Q: If it wasn’t for entering MasterChef Australia, do you think you’d still want to pursue a career in hospitality and food?
A: I always wanted to pursue a career in hospitality and food but thought it was too much of a risk. The way I saw it, it was risky to leave something I’d worked my whole life for and go into the culinary business in case it didn’t work out.
Going on MasterChef was the push I needed because it proved to me that it’s all about determination and hard work. And if you have a dream, you need to work towards it – because you’re the only person holding you back!
Breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast
Dinner for breakfast
Soup or salad
Baked or fried
Chocolate or vanilla
Netflix or cable
Facebook or Instagram
Online or offline
Beach or mountains
Ride or drive
Truth or dare
Dress up or dress down
Lipstick or mascara
Diamonds or pearls
Work or play
A combination of both
" IF YOU HAVE A DREAM, YOU NEED TO WORK TOWARDS IT – BECAUSE YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON HOLDING YOU BACK "
12 February –“I’m 35 yearsold – so you do the math!”
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology(RMIT)
Latin dancing – “I’m still learning to master it!”
Dinner parties with friends
Rudeness and bullying
Not cleaning up the dishes
People who chew with their mouths open
Her mother – “Because she’s the hardestworker I’veever knownand has taught me everythingI know.”
" I’VE ALWAYS LOVED COOKING; AND EVEN WHILE PRACTISING IN MY FIELD OF ENGINEERING AND CONSULTING, I WAS ALWAYS THINKING ABOUT FOOD "
Q: How does one go from obtaining a degree in chemical engineering to wanting to open your own Sri Lankan fusion food restaurant? Was this brought on by your MasterChef experience or were there other factors that contributed to it?
A: I’ve always loved cooking; and even while practising in my field of engineering and consulting, I was always thinking about food – it brought me a lot of joy.
Many people believe that a hobby can’t become your career but I think differently.
MasterChef definitely proved to me that I could follow my passion and make it a livelihood. I felt like I needed to take part in that pro-gramme; because if I didn’t go through the MasterChef journey, I don’t think I’d have taken that leap.
Q: What were your initial thoughts when you realised that you’d been selected to take part in MasterChef?
A: I was ecstatic and didn’t think it was real!
Having watched the show for so many years, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I’d get a chance to cook on it. Even walking into the MasterChef kitchen was euphoric and it has never stopped feeling cool!
Q: Was there ever a challenge on the show that you wish you could have handled differently – and if so how?
A: Probably the one with Poh Ling Yeow, Callum Hann and Reynold Poernomo. I was star-struck because they are what you would consider MasterChef royalty; and looking back at what I served, it didn’t feel authentic to me.
Even though I was busy trying to impress the judges, I didn’t present a dish that I was happy with.
I decided that if I do get the chance to go back, it would be to make sure that what I prepare is a true reflection of me as a cook and that the flavours I love are incorporated in my food. Because if it’s not unique to you, why would anyone want to try your dishes?
Q: And what was the most memorable critique you’ve had on the show?
A: An imbalance of flavours is probably what had me eliminated from the show. Balancing flavours when cooking Sri Lankan food is some-thing I’ve always taken for granted because it comes naturally to me.
But the judges said that my dish was quite jarring; and it was only after I was eliminated that I realised it was indeed jarring on the palate because I didn’t balance all the flavours in it.
However, it was a valuable lesson – one that has definitely contributed to improving the quality of my food.
Q: When it comes to creating flavours, what are your go-to ingredients?
A: Salt, chillies, oil and coconut.
Q: If you could pick any culinary connoisseur you’d like to work with, who would it be and why?
A: I’m a big fan of Massimo Bottura. I love the way he thinks and how he lets his palate create his dishes. And I’m simply mesmerised by how his brain works. So he’s someone I’d really love to work with and learn from.
Q: What’s your definition of ‘happiness’?
A: I feel that eschewing all attachments to material things, and simply being present in the moment, is what brings true happiness and joy.
Q: How would your family and friends describe you?
A: I think they’d say that I’m kind and a good listener – I give people my time because I expect the same from them. They may also say that I’m messy in the kitchen!
Q: If you find yourself stranded alone on a desert island, what are the five most important things you’d need?
A: A good book, a good knife, a hat, something to filter seawater and some clothes.
Q: Describe your ideal date…
A: It should be something quite chilled where we could have an actual conversation.
I also like engaging in fun activity on a date so that there aren’t any awkward silences and we would get to learn about each other while enjoying ourselves.
Q: If you could become an ambassador for a global cause, what would it be and why?
A: It would definitely be for mental health. It’s an area that impacts so many people and we need to create more awareness on the topic especially considering how our actions can affect another’s life.
Spicy miso ramen
Sri Lankan cuisine
EASY TO COOK DISHES
Her mother’s one pot chicken curry
Kiwi fruit curry
" EVEN WALKING INTO THE MASTERCHEF KITCHEN WAS EUPHORIC AND IT HAS NEVER STOPPED FEELING COOL "
Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
A: I wish I could be tidier in the kitchen! The MasterChef experience taught me how to do this and I’m definitely improving.
Q: So what’s next for Minoli?
A: I would encourage people to start following my page on Instagram because I’m going to upload a lot of content in the near future espe-cially on cooking tutorials and my thoughts on the hospitality industry.
" I FEEL THAT ESCHEWING ALL ATTACHMENTS TO MATERIAL THINGS, AND SIMPLY BEING PRESENT IN THE MOMENT, IS WHAT BRINGS TRUE HAPPINESS AND JOY "