Masterchef Australia 2018 contestant Chef Loki Madireddi talks to us about his interesting journey.
Loki Madireddi was born in Mysore, India and grew up in Chennai, India. He has always been interested in food and says his earliest memory of food was when he was a six-year-old child cooking crab in the garden with his grandmother and mother. All his adventures and stories growing up are about food in some way. “I never excelled in my studies and fell from the third floor of my building while playing at the age of 8. I survived. During the long recovery period, I often cooked at home with my family. At 19, I wanted to go to culinary school, but due to family pressure, I couldn’t. I ended up studying information technology and moved to Australia for further education. I worked a variety of jobs but never felt the passion I feel when I cook for others. At the age of 35, I finally quit my job, 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 Gaggan restaurant in Bangkok, which further sealed his love for working in a professional kitchen. He then organised a series of pop-ups in Melbourne, Australia, where over 1500 people sampled some of his signature dishes.
His signature dishes include Pepper Chicken, Prawn Masala, Crab Curry, and for the past year and a half he has been working on Indian regional dishes to showcase for the modern palette. These dishes include Mirchi Bhaji 2020, MLA Pesarattu with 3-way chutney, Cauliflower Biriyani. Last year, he moved to Bali, Indonesia with his wife and son and immersed himself in discovering new spices and understanding how his dishes could find expression by combining what he knows well and what he is now learning. The talented chef also organised a food retreat in Binsar, Uttarkhand last year, where he went foraging and created dishes that celebrated local ingredients and produce. He intends to conduct more such retreats in the future. He is also passionate about creating an ecosystem to support aspiring culinary creators and dreamers. With this in mind, Chef Loki Madireddi has launched The Fellowship with Loki, which is currently in its 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 scholarship, he won MasterChef India in 2020 and is now working on some collaborations with Chef Loki. The application process for 2020 has just closed and Chef Loki and his team are currently reviewing these applications. 687 applications have been received from across India and the top 15 applicants will be interviewed in the coming weeks to select the winner. Chef Loki hopes to expand this platform in the coming years, making it bigger and more inclusive so that more people get the chance to express and realise their culinary dream project. More details at www.trusttheloki.com/fellowship for those who want to apply.
What was the most important lesson you learned while participating in Masterchef Australia? How has it changed your life?
The most important lesson I learned from participating in Masterchef Australia was to believe in my food and my creative abilities. I’ve been a housewife since I was 6 years old and learned to cook alongside my grandmother, but I never thought I could prepare dishes at “Masterchef” level. I was able to discover a whole new depth to my cooking that I didn’t even know 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 focus on it fully. That clarity was worth everything.
What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
I don’t like to give advice because I think everyone has to discover who they are through their own journey and choices. If I had something to say to aspiring chefs, I would say: know who you are as a chef, discover and understand your own language of food and express that. All too often there is a temptation to copy someone else’s style – there is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from other chefs, but definitely focus on finding your own expression of food and stay true to that.
What is your comfort food and what is your favourite restaurant to dine at?
My comfort food is street food, especially Chennai Biryani and Parotta with Salan (gravy with parotta). That’s why my favourite restaurants are always the street kitchens – I truly believe that the street vendors are the true custodians of our cuisine. Their mastery of the dishes they serve day after day completely amazes me.
Please tell us about your fellowship and the thought behind it?
The Fellowship with Loki was founded in 2019 with the intention of providing a platform for someone with an inspiring culinary dream, who has the passion and talent to pursue that dream, and enable them to do just that. The inspiration and purpose of the Fellowship comes from my own culinary journey. I wanted to pursue culinary studies when I was 18 and couldn’t because I didn’t have the support or the financial means. I followed the “normal” path of a Masters in IT and did quite a few jobs, only to realise 16 years later that food was my calling. This realisation was possible thanks to my wife and son and their constant support to find my happiness. So my journey is a testament to the fact that financial support, mentorship and encouragement at the right time can play a huge role in someone’s life. I truly want to support people’s nutrition dreams and this is my humble attempt to do so. The bursary 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 only because he is a culinary genius, but also who he is as a person and what he stands for as a person. It’s really 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 his laser focus. I get a bit emotional at times and I feel like I lose my balance, then I always remember Dhoni and how he could handle a difficult situation. Closer to home, my 8-year-old son Indryaan inspires me a lot. Children have this uncanny ability to see things as they are and he really is my role model in many ways. He is the reason I participated in Masterchef Australia and he is the reason for a lot of growth as a person.
Please tell us about your retreats?
I had the idea to create and run Immersive Food Retreats where people spend a few days foraging, creating food and discovering their own food language. This idea came to fruition in October last year when I led a retreat in Binsar, Uttarkhand 7600 ft in the Himalayas. We spent time trekking, foraging, cooking and talking about food, and I invited all the finalists from my community to participate. We learned a lot about local ingredients, sustainable food and how we as chefs and cooks can really use ingredients closer to home instead of importing things and increasing the global carbon footprint. If you ask the participants, they will tell you that the experience was nothing short of magical. After this experience, I believe that this retreat should be offered to others who love food, love creation and also believe in learning about sustainable products and using what is around us to create incredible food. I hope to hold another retreat later this year when things settle down – in India and also in Bali.
Do you have any plans to open a restaurant soon?
I am currently living in Bali and have been here since last year, trying to understand the produce, the nature of the land and how my food can find expression here. I really like what Bali has to offer, so I’m thinking about doing something here, but it’s still in the conceptual phase. I also think that my food doesn’t necessarily have to find its place in a restaurant. I love cooking and I’m open to what expression that might find in the future.
How did it feel when Nigella Lawson awarded you as the professional chef on Masterchef Australia?
Did you see the episode? I think anyone who has seen the episode knows exactly how I felt. I was jumping up and down like a 5-year-old, and that’s exactly how it felt inside. I just completely savoured every moment of this cook off and the opportunity. It wasn’t about the score at all – I was just so happy that day! Alanna Sapwell is an extremely talented chef – and she was as gracious and generous as all the judges. It was a memorable day in the kitchen at Masterchef Australia.
What dish or dishes are your signature dishes?
My signature dishes are inspired by my childhood memories and also the food I ate on my train journey through South India. I have added twists and recreated them along the way. The following is a regular occurrence in my kitchen:
Madurai pepper chicken – grilled char in pepper sauce.
Bagara Brinjal – Roasted spiced brinjal with a spicy, rich peanut sauce
Meen Moilee – Roasted salmon with a moilee sauce (coconut sauce)
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