I love it when an under dog wins. And Brent Owens’s journey on MasterChef Australia was just that. A dark horse if you may, running stealthily and silently towards the finish line without anyone noticing. A dark knight if you may, performing his tasks and challenges quietly and perfectly to the best of his abilities. While everyone cheered for Sarah because of her Indian roots, or Laura because we were all amazed at this young girl’s ability to perform magic with Italian cuisine, or ‘panna cotta’ lady Emilia and her no-nonsense demeanour, a man in the foreground began to steal my heart.
I first noticed Brent Owens for the same reason every woman noticed Brent Owens…he was so darn cute! And every time I saw that half ponytail on his head while he cooked my heart skipped a beat. A bobcat driver, who gave up his job after being forced to audition for the sixth season of the world’s most popular cooking show courtesy his girlfriend of many years; his was the turn-around, success story that was guaranteed to grab eyeballs and warm hearts. On his recent visit to Mumbai, to promote the upcoming seventh season of MasterChef Australia premiering in May, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet him thanks to The Grand Hyatt and Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI).
Greeting us wearing folded khakhis, rolled up shirt sleeves, and a mysterious glint in his eyes, Brent is effortlessly good looking. But when you get talking with him do you actually realize what a warm, friendly person is. Easy to talk to, patient enough to answer all of our randomest questions, and generous enough to oblige all the ogling women at the table with a peck on the cheek, I was floored. And then I tasted the meal he had especially curated for us at Celini, and I was floored so bad that I never wanted to get up.
His First Impression of India:
This is Brent’s maiden visit to the country, and he was taken back by the sheer amount of people on the streets. He was also amazed at how popular the MasterChef show is here.
His Take on Indian Food:
‘Spicy’ is the word he uses to describe Indian cuisine. During his entire stay in the city, he’s been brave enough to try local street food. Pav Bhaji from Juhu beach, Vada pav off the street, and tons of chaat, his favourites being Dahi Batata Puri and Falooda – ‘the drink with noodles in it’. On asking how his stomach is holding up, he gives us a grin and a thumbs up sign.
On What The Future Holds:
Apart from his cook book deal, he plans on visiting newer countries and taking the MasterChef brand along with him. Though the ultimate plan is a restaurant of his own, which I hope to visit someday.
His specially curated four course meal that evening was absolutely MasterChef worthy. The technique, presentation and produce used in each dish was exquisite, something that would make even George, Gary and Matt nod in appreciation.
Course 1 – Appetizer: Lobster and asparagus garden with parsley pesto potato
Put pesto on anything, and I’ll like it. This salad was a surprising medley of a bunch of micro greens, a juicy piece of lobster, asparagus stalks and a potato chunk seasoned in the most beautiful pesto. Individually distinct elements, but so beautifully cohesive, a true mark of a good salad.
Course 2 – Soup: Cold sour topinambur, leek cream with smoked salmon and caviar
I’m weary of cold soups, but I am a proud convert after tasting this one. Artichokes blended into a broth so fine, topped with a flavorful leek cream, this was a soup made with the finest of ingredients. The addition of smoked salmon and a topping of huge pearls of caviar, provided not only texture but also a taste of seafood that lingers on in your palate long after.
Course 3 – Main Course: Bread crust lamb rack with ginger balsamic reduction and berries relish
Two medium rare racks of lamb look at me lovingly, swimming in a swamp of a relish made of berries, that perfectly accompanies and provides a tart taste to offset the ginger reduction. I look back at the lamb lovingly, thanking him for his sacrifice, and shed a silent tear at how pleased my stomach was going to be. #FoodPorn
Course 3 – Main Course Vegetarian: Beetroot and port wine risotto with crispy parmesan flake
A bright, pink risotto that looked like it belonged in Barbie world, but tasted like it belonged in a Michelin star restaurant. Creamy, al dente risotto rice, coated in a beetroot and port wine cream that had an overpowering taste of neither. And that crisy parmesan flake on top was so delicious, it left us fighting over who would get that last bit. A vegetarian dish that stands out, and how!
Course 4 – Dessert: Trilogy of Dessert
You know what I like more than dessert? Three desserts – A melange of a moist chocolate cake, milk chocolate mousse with oats crumble, and an olive oil ice cream. The chocolate cake could have been a tad bit more moist, but when it was paired with that stunner of an ice cream, everything was forgiven. The olive oil ice cream is Head Chef of Celini, Alessandro Persico’s trademark dessert. An ice cream that came with a drizzle of olive oil on top, and a faint flavor of olives in it, it was savory yet sweet at the same time. Superb stuff, this!
Very rarely does a good meal play second fiddle to a chef, but on that night it did. Brent effortlessly floored us all, and I’m yet to meet a man of his caliber who is so down to earth, without a single starry air in him. We left Brent in the safe hands of two giggling, star struck ladies dining at the opposite table, who insisted on clicking a dozen selfies with him. And Brent being the gentleman he is, obliged.
Meeting him made me realize he’s a lot more than just a good cook which is evident on the show. He is a lovely person. I sincerely hope I cross paths with him soon someday. Maybe, at his restaurant in Australia. Or take him on a street food walk when he plans to visit the country next, which is soon. Brent Owens, you deserved that title. You truly did!
(The author dined at Celini, The Grand Hyatt on invitation, after winning a Twitter contest. Can you believe her luck?)