In conversation with Jyoti Arora at Amritsari Food Festival – Jyran, Sofitel – Mumbai

Master Chef 2 contestant jyoti arora
Gone are the days when TV was synonym with idiot box. Today its changing lives and providing opportunities to people that never existed. Singing, dancing and cooking shows have swarmed the country with scripted reality and has brought out untapped dreams and aspirations. Masterchef is one such show that transforms a common man into a chef stirring up exotic dishes with more than millions watching across the country.   

Masterchef season 2 contestant, consulting chef for multiple hotels, working on a cook-book, mother of 3, living & running her household with in-laws and husband – Jyoti Arora – comes across as a resolute woman dedicated to making her mark in the culinary world. While Jyoti was eliminated from the season, it was her home-style simple cooking that won the hearts of many including Chef Vikas Khanna who praised her for maa ke haath ka khana.

Excerpts from her interaction
Talk to us about your Masterchef experience.
Masterchef is a world of its own. Housewives and commoners like me come from parts of the country who believe in their traditions and flavours that have survived through generations. Masterchef takes your home-cooking and elevates it to a different level. Mentoring of the chef judges teaches you more than books can. Special classes are organised to teach professional cutting & chopping, basic cooking techniques, plating techniques etc. It opens your mind to innovation and experimenting. Today my expertise is not only in Punjabi and north Indian food, I am well versed with Mexican, Italian, Chinese etc.

How has life changed after Masterchef?
Life is far from being what it was before. Though I still cook at home with my mother in law like I used to, she is the one who supports me to go all-out and explore the world. The day my episode aired on TV, the phone at home didn’t stop ringing. My family has been extremely supportive and accommodating of my new found career. I travel a lot, meet new people, speak to diners and chefs that has benefitted in my skills. Apart from that, the menu for dinner at home has become a lot fancier. Instead of routine dal-chawal, it’s Mexican or Italian for dinner.
Your husband has supported you through-out. How important was that for you?
Though I was never really the couch potato to begin with. I used to study a lot and got married very early. For many years I was a normal housewife. I joined MBA after 8 years of marriage. My husband used to see season 1 of Masterchef and he pointed out to me “This is the place for you. You are far better than the contestants”. He was the one who took initiative to fill the registration for me. When I came to Masterchef, I called him with fear that people here are far more learned than me. He simply told me that they have knowledge but you have practical skills that are far more important than knowing books.

Who is the next Masterchef in your house?
While my 2 daughters can cook very well, it is my son who takes on me for passion of cooking. He experiments on new food in the house and while he is only 13, I have learned few things from him. Kids today are far from like we were; they are informed and well read. He is 13 and we don’t let him cook directly, he takes help of anyone at home to rustle up what he wants to prepare. He is my budding chef.
How did Food festivals happen?
Westin contacted me after my stint at the Masterchef and due to personal reasons I couldn’t associate with them then. Later JW Marriot approached me to partner with them for a food festival that i did. It went on to become a huge hit. That boosted my confidence. Swiss hotel Kolkata came next. I went to Kolkata and that’s how festivals started. I have now done multiple festivals with hotels and restaurants.
What brings you to partner with Sofitel?
I wanted to explore something new – new set of customers, different backgrounds, different demands, and different expectations that pushes me to break new boundaries. From what i had heard (and now seen myself) this hotel has a very different set of clientele than other hotels. People are open to experimenting. While they want simple food, they want it done well. The team at Sofitel is also very warm and welcoming. I have been to many hotels and sometime kitchen teams are not very adaptive to visiting chefs. But here, they have been very open to my suggestions and recipes. They have far more experience than me, yet I feel part of the restaurant already. I am now working with them to bring some permanent additions to the menu.
Tell us about the Amritsari Food Festival?
This one is very special to me as I am from Amritsar. People have misconceptions about the food from this region associating it with lots of ghee, butter and cashew gravies. Amritsari cuisine is nothing of the sort. I have recreated here home-style version of food. Gobhi-matar, gajar matar is similar to what we would cook at home – simple and without gravy – just more flavourful. There is no dal-makhni here; we have Amritsari maa ki dal. Lamb and butter chicken, lachcha parantha and amritsari fish. Centred on Baisakhi, it is a great thought.  The festival started yesterday and we have had very good response. It was a sold out dinner. I got fantastic feedback from customers who love the food. .

What is on your plate now?
Multiple things! I am working with Chef Vikas Khanna on recreating some north frontier dishes dating back to undivided India that have gotten lost with time. Chef Vikas has some pictures of those times and we are working to bring them back. That takes me to elderly who live to tell the recipes. Alongside I am working on a book of my own that’s taking longer than I expected. I have a small academy at my house. I teach culinary skills to local people. It’s doing well and I also get foreign tourists groups who want to induct themselves into Indian cuisine.  I am also doing 2 cookery shows – on DD Punjabi and Fastway channel (local Amritsar channel). 
Ask Jyoti about her typical day and she is just like any other woman packing lunch boxes for her children and juggling multiple roles she plays in her life. The journey that started with Masterchef didn’t end with the shoot. It morphed a housewife into a chef. 

Disclaimer – This review was done on an invitation from the establishment. Views expressed in the review is entirely ours and without any bias. Pictures of the dishes are not the standard portions, they are sample portions.
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A certified coffee taster and training & development specialist by profession, i am food experimentalist by palate. My flavours makes my head spin like nothing else in the world. Finding perfections in imperfections, my vision is to break boundaries of connotations attached to routine food and make experiential dining an everyday routine

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