In­side the FOOD­SHALA

au­di­tions with Fri­day read­ers

Friday - - Front Page -

I t’s 11am on a Satur­day morn­ing and all is calm in the plush lobby of the Meliá Ho­tel in Bur Dubai. A few cou­ples stroll by, no doubt look­ing for­ward to a leisurely brunch. Con­trast this with the fre­netic at­mos­phere in Sig­na­ture, award-win­ning Chef San­jeev Kapoor’s iconic restau­rant in the ho­tel, which is the site for au­di­tions for the UAE’s hugely pop­u­lar re­al­ity food TV show, Food­shala.

A throng of more than 100 ex­cited women and three men have been gath­er­ing in the restau­rant since 7am and are ea­gerly wait­ing for their chance to au­di­tion for a place in sea­son three of the show.

Clasp­ing their home-made dishes with which they hope to im­press the judges – for­mer ra­dio jockey and now TV star Gau­rav Tan­don, UAE-based chef and Fri­day food stylist Alexio Pasquali, and Ak­shay Nay­yar, ex­ec­u­tive chef at Sig­na­ture restau­rant Meliá Ho­tel – many of the crowd are also clutch­ing golden tick­ets, the VIP fast-track coupons printed in the last two is­sues of Fri­day, which guar­an­tee that one of the fi­nal 12 con­tes­tants on the show will be a lucky reader.

“I came to know of the Food­shala au­di­tions through Fri­day’s Face­book page and then saw the ticket in­side the mag­a­zine,’’ says Su­maya Baig, a 30-year-old Dubai-based house­wife.

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in food and be­ing on tele­vi­sion talk­ing about food, so this is an op­por­tu­nity I couldn’t miss.”

She’d ex­pected to be the first to ar­rive but was sur­prised to see there were scores al­ready at the venue. In front of her was Megha Mane, a budding chef. “I was here at 7am for the au­di­tions, which are sched­uled for 2pm,’’ she says. “I can’t wait for the au­di­tions to start.”

As soon as the doors open, the ea­ger con­tes­tants rush in to reg­is­ter, are given their num­ber badges and then ad­journ to the wait­ing room be­fore they are called through to see the judges. They have all brought metic­u­lously pre­pared dishes, their myr­iad aro­mas waft­ing across the room to fill the ho­tel with a de­li­cious med­ley of spices.

Friends Kavita Chugani, 32, and Champa Lala, 34, from Dubai are busy dis­cussing the dishes they pre­pared.

“I’ve been re­ceiv­ing a lot of praise for my cook­ing at home and when

Food­shala was ad­ver­tised, I felt it was time to move out of the kitchen,’’ says Champa, a house­wife.

Kavita chips in, “I’ve seen so many re­al­ity shows on tele­vi­sion and when I read about the au­di­tions in Fri­day, I was keen to par­tic­i­pate. And thanks to the Fri­day voucher we were able to get into the fast-track line. I hope we will be able to make it to the short­listed 12.”

By 11.30am – an hour and a half af­ter the reg­is­tra­tion counters opened – the num­ber of Fri­day VIP en­tries has the reg­is­tra­tion desk flum­moxed. “We’ve al­ready clocked around 100 en­trants into the Fri­day fast-track lane,’’ says one of the or­gan­is­ers. It’s a num­ber that fi­nally reaches 300.

By 12.30pm the hold­ing area is packed as par­tic­i­pants, ac­com­pa­nied by sup­port­ive fam­i­lies and friends, stream in steadily. “Bring more chairs,’’ shouts a crew mem­ber as ef­forts are made to ac­com­mo­date all the en­trants.

It’s been a long wait for the chefs-in-the-mak­ing. Pro­duc­ers of the show, Kri­tika Rawat and Gau­rav, who head the pro­duc­tion house K Kom­pany, drop by the wait­ing area to boost morale and pep up the con­tes­tants. “Are you guys ready?’’ asks Gau­rav and there is a re­sound­ing “yes” from them.

As the clock ticks to­wards the ap­pointed au­di­tion hour – 2pm – Gau­rav leaves the wait­ing area to join fel­low judges Alexio and Ak­shay in the judg­ing area in­side the main restau­rant. Out­side, ex­cite­ment

‘I’ve re­ceived a lot of praise for my cook­ing at home and I felt it was time to move out of the kitchen’

continues to hot up among the con­tes­tants. Naseem Akhtar ap­pears a tad shy as she pre­pares for the au­di­tion. “I am quite con­tent be­ing a home­maker,’’ she says. “But my chil­dren con­vinced me to show­case my skills on TV. They love my cook­ing and felt I should step out.’’

Her daugh­ter Shak­ila, a class 12 stu­dent, grins. “What­ever the judges might say, I think the tan­doori chicken and biryani ricemy mom will serve the judges to­day is top-notch,” she says, look­ing at her mother lov­ingly. “My mom has de­voted all her time to tak­ing care of the fam­ily, cook­ing for us and see­ing to our needs. It’s her time to shine now.”

Shak­ila feels that Food­shala in the Mid­dle East is a great ini­tia­tive that gives house­wives – and a hand­ful of men brave enough to face the swarm of women cooks com­pet­ing – a chance to be­lieve in them­selves and pub­licly show­case their tal­ents.

Next to her, Selma Imran, 45, an avid Fri­day reader from Dubai, is hold­ing her VIP voucher and count­ing down the min­utes. “Thanks to Fri­day I’m in the fast lane,” she says.

There is a sense of bon­homie among the par­tic­i­pants. This bowls over Kri­tika when, an hour be­fore au­di­tions be­gin, they unan­i­mously de­cide to al­low con­tes­tant Charu Kulka­rni, 27, to go first. “She has a one-year-old kid with her and has been wait­ing for so long,’’ says Selma.

The cat­fights are per­haps be­ing saved for the round two cook-offs.

The ge­nial at­mos­phere trans­forms to pal­pa­ble ex­cite­ment when the crew ar­rives and the cam­eras start rolling. Food­shala sea­son three has of­fi­cially be­gun. Sud­denly there is a flurry of ex­cite­ment as ev­ery­body be­gins to ad­just their hair, dress and prac­tise their smiles for the cam­era.

While the pro­duc­tion team starts lin­ing up the con­tes­tants, the judges are wait­ing to meet the first one in the main restau­rant, now a makeshift stu­dio.

Nerves start sur­fac­ing as the home cooks won­der if they’ll man­age to plate up and gar­nish their pre­pared dishes within the five min­utes pro­vided, be­fore they’re scut­tled off to face the ul­ti­mate check of their culi­nary skills.

“Don’t worry guys, you have microwave ovens to heat up the food and time and space to plate up. Last sea­son we had to serve cold food,” re­as­sures Ki­ran Sachdev, win­ner of sea­son two as she works in the wait­ing area of­fer­ing tips, ad­vice and in­spi­ra­tion to ea­ger con­tes­tants.

Last year Ki­ran shed a lot of tears as she had to choose be­tween com­pet­ing for the Food­shala ti­tle and at­tend­ing her son’s wed­ding in Mum­bai In­dia. She chose the show.

And it was all worth it: Ki­ran walked away with loads of prizes in­clud­ing house­hold ap­pli­ances from Emax and vouch­ers from Lulu.

“In the pre­vi­ous sea­son, a to­tal prize money equiv­a­lent to Dh100,000 was given away,” says Gau­rav.

“This sea­son, Geant will give away Dh15,000 worth of shop­ping vouch­ers. Emax will give Dh15,000 in vouch­ers; Splash is plan­ning a huge gift. These are just a few of the prizes.’’

But most of the con­tes­tants are not here for the money or prizes. They sim­ply want to be the best. Kavita and Champa, who hav­ing vis­ited and been in­spired by the menu at Sig­na­ture, know the ef­fort it will take to be­come a win­ner. Af­ter all, one of the judges is a chef here. “It’s a lovely restau­rant and the food is amaz­ing. So I can only guess what the judges will be look­ing for,’’ says Kavita.

Anusha Bhag­tani, mother-of-two and self-con­fessed food re­al­ity TV show junkie, doesn’t like be­ing in the lime­light un­less the rea­son is her food. Her saf­fron jewel cake has al­ready caught the eyes of the cam­era crew. “I’m a re­ally good baker, a per­fec­tion­ist,” she says. “But a lot also de­pends on luck.”

As the au­di­tions fi­nally start and Charu heads off, the hold­ing area be­comes a hive of ac­tiv­ity with par­tic­i­pants get­ting ready for their turn. When Charu re­turns a few min­utes later, the oth­ers in­stantly clam­our around her, ea­ger to know what lies in wait for them. “They seemed to like my goose­berry rice and okra raitha I fi­nalised only this morn­ing,” she con­fesses.

In con­trast, Mad­hyama Naswa, an ef­fer­ves­cent 23-year-old stu­dent

from The Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong, a Fri­day VIP en­trant and prob­a­bly the youngest con­tes­tant around, says it took her “two weeks to de­cide on my ex­per­i­ments at fu­sion cui­sine – an in­ge­nious shahi chicken me­thi tart and a gin­ger spicy choco­late with hazel­nut base.

She comes out of the au­di­tions beam­ing. “The judges seemed to love what I pre­pared,’’ she smiles.

In­side the judg­ing area, judges Gau­rav, Alexio and Ak­shay are on the hunt for in­no­va­tion, style and taste.

The min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior-style of Sig­na­ture restau­rant, which on any

‘The first episode of drama has al­ready hap­pened… she was cry­ing from the word go’

other day would be the epit­ome of tran­quil­lity, is for the du­ra­tion of the

Food­shala shoot so thick with ten­sion you could slice through it.

The judges take their time to ex­am­ine each dish, taste it, savour the flavours and aroma be­fore pass­ing their judge­ment with­out minc­ing their words. While some con­tes­tants leave the room smil­ing, there are many home chefs who are re­duced to tears. One con­tes­tant, up­braided for a dish that was too greasy, bursts into tears. “Don’t cry,’’ con­soles Gau­rav, walk­ing over to her with a box of tis­sues and a glass of wa­ter. “Mis­takes hap­pen.”

Af­ter she leaves the room, he slips back into his judge’s chair. “The first episode of drama has al­ready hap­pened. I don’t know why but from the word go she was cry­ing. But when I asked her to sing she was OK, only her singing made me cry,” he says with his typ­i­cal wicked sense of hu­mour.

But the judges are also quick to give credit where it’s due. Hold­ing on to a mut­ton kheema dish that they en­joyed so much, they lav­ish praise on it and were seen tuck­ing into it even af­ter the con­tes­tant left.

Food stylist Alexio ini­tially found some of the dishes lack­ing vis­ual ap­peal. How­ever he was soon won over with a con­tes­tant’s chicken paan (bee­tle leaf ) dish. “That was ex­cel­lently plated in fil­i­greed brass uten­sils and so beau­ti­ful that Ak­shay wanted to take it home,’’ he says.

“Some of the dishes have not been up there but there’s no deny­ing that the con­tes­tants have a flair for colour and com­po­nents that go into styling their food. There were sev­eral dishes which were re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

Sig­na­ture’s Ak­shay feels sea­son three has es­tab­lished the show’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism with the un­ex­pected dishes the judges have been pre­sented with so far. “If the num­ber of people who turned up and the va­ri­ety of cuisines they have cre­ated are any­thing to go by, this sea­son’s judg­ing is go­ing to be re­ally dif­fi­cult.”

Alexio adds, “I’m sure we’re go­ing to see a lot more in­ter­est­ingly pre­sented dishes be­fore we end the au­di­tions. It’s been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for both the con­tes­tants and judges – I’ve come across so many new In­dian dishes.

“Ak­shay and Gau­rav have been teach­ing me Hindi too!”

Gau­rav is thrilled with the turnout. “This sea­son of Food­shala will be a re­al­ity check for the par­tic­i­pants – for some it’s the tough rev­e­la­tion that, ‘Oh, this isn’t as easy as I thought it would be’ while the ones who are good re­alise their tal­ents.

“This sea­son, Food­shala will tell con­tes­tants where they re­ally stand in terms of their cook­ing skills.”

Six hours later, the crowds is still ex­cited when the last of the hope­fuls pre­sents her dish at 7.30pm.

De­spite what the re­sults may be, the ex­pe­ri­ence has helped par­tic­i­pants re­alise their pas­sion for cook­ing. Anirudh Verma, 26, an as­sis­tant man­ager at a fast food chain and one of only three male con­tes­tants, stands out in the crowd of women. His am­bi­tion is to work with his idol San­jeev Kapoor.

“This au­di­tion is the first step to my dream and my dish of chicken cheese balls is sure to catch the judges’ eyes. I’m ex­cited – not ner­vous – be­cause I know Food­shala is fi­nally my chance to start cook­ing af­ter be­ing part of the food in­dus­try for 13 years. It was a fab ex­pe­ri­ence. If noth­ing, I’ve proved that my food is worth pre­sent­ing be­fore some of the top food­ies in Dubai.” The 12 fi­nal­ists will be an­nounced in the first episode of Food­shala Sea­son 3 on Col­ors TV on March 1 at 11pm.

Hun­dreds of keen cooks were ea­ger to show their skills

Alexio, Ak­shay and Gau­rav are ex­pect­ing an ex­cit­ing sea­son

This chicken paan dish im­pressed Alexio

FOOD SPE­CIAL With just five min­utes to plate their food, ev­ery sec­ond counts

The Fri­day voucher gave con­tes­tants a fast-track op­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.