You may know Ali Jadavji as the Ismaili MasterChef Canada contestant, but his recipes do much more than fulfill your culinary senses: they’re a culmination of several cultural influences in his life, all of which add a special flavour to his food. Read on about how Jadavji's creativity has informed his cooking style.

Ali Jadavji’s fascination with food started with a Gulab Jaman*. As a young child, he remembers his mom trying to shoo him away from the stove while she was frying dough and placing it in sugar water. Watching the small pieces of dough absorb water and swell up into large balls was mesmerizing for the young Jadavji.  “I thought my mom was a magician!” he said.

And perhaps she was, because the “magic” transformed Jadavji into a foodie. But Jadavji is not your average foodie; he took this passion to a whole other platform – that of MasterChef Canada –  a competitive cooking reality show, designed to identify talented home chefs; no participants are allowed to be professionally trained.

Jadavji knew he could bring something unique to the table: a recipe inspired by his own life. His father is from Moshi, Tanzania, while his mother, from Karachi, Pakistan - both bringing their unique cultural influences to the family. Add to that, his father’s travel-intensive job, which exposed Jadavji to a variety of cultures and cuisines throughout his childhood and teenage years. This not only gave him an adventurous palate but also nurtured his culinary creativity and passion to fuse cultures through food.

Creativity is Jadavji’s secret sauce. Even as a child, Jadavji was keen to take recipes to the next level – including a simple, pre-packaged mac and cheese: “I would throw in some herbs, use real shredded cheese instead of the cheese powder, add 10 percent, half-and-half milk to make it creamier,” Jadavji recalls.

Although simple, this idea of elevating food and making it unique stayed with Jadavji. Today, in all his interactions with food, his first thought is always, “How do I put my own spin on this to kick it up a notch?” It’s also what got him to MasterChef Canada.

But MasterChef didn’t come easily – Jadavji had tried once before, in 2015, and didn’t make the cut. “I had treated the audition like a job interview, focusing more on being someone I thought would win, rather than being myself,” Jadavji said. But in 2016, MasterChef Canada called him back and asked if he wanted to try again. “I hadn’t thought about it until then, but I agreed, and decided that this time, I would be true to myself, and stick to how I like to eat.”

His winning MasterChef recipe was a perfect testament to Jadavji’s cultural influences and his love for fusion style cooking, focused on modern South Asian food. He made his own version of a Papdi Chaat – a South Asian vegetarian street food made from a mixture of chickpeas, yoghurt, and tamarind chutney, topped with crispy fried papris and sev, and flavoured with chaat masala. Download recipe here.

“I’m from Alberta, Canada, so I knew I couldn’t make it a vegetarian dish,” said Jadavji with a laugh. Instead of chickpeas, he used East African short rib over the papris, and for a further kick, he replaced the sev with fried, pulverized chicken skin mixed with chaat masala. He topped his fusion creation with pomegranate seeds to complete what was the perfect amalgamation of his culture and background, winning the audition.

But for Jadavji, the MasterChef experience was about something larger than a recipe: it was a way to bring together all of his cultural influences on a single plate of food. “I got the opportunity to be in a room with 23 other diverse individuals who came from different regions, backgrounds and personal experiences. But we were all united in our love for food,” said Jadavji. “You truly appreciate how food can break barriers. Just like our communities may gather together on occasions like Eid-al-Fitr. We have diverse cultures and backgrounds, but we all come together and celebrate through our common passion for food.”

Although Jadavji was eventually eliminated and is back to his “real life” job as a designer, he can’t resist the aroma of spices or sizzles of the frying pan, and knows his food journey is long from being over.  “The experience taught me that there’s so much more out there. It’s lifelong learning,” said Jadavji. The experience has also opened up avenues for Jadavji that he didn’t think were imaginable, and he hopes to soon fulfill his dream of entering the culinary world.

* A South Asian dessert made with fried dough balls drenched in sugar water.

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Afshan Khoja is a career communications strategist. She has written for numerous publications and is currently working with The Ismaili Nutrition Centre as a TKN communications specialist.

Edits: Noor Pirani | Review of Grocery Shopping Guide: Sanja Petrovic RD. CDE. MSC