She’s all of nine and loves ballet and jazz dance — but the moment she is handed a whisk and a little flour — she is sure to whip up a tiered-cake with absolutely no sweat! Indian-American girl from Chicago, Avani Shah, has got Indians across the world at the edge of their seats, as she is spreading the flavours of Indian food and winning the hearts of tough critics like chef Gordon Ramsay on the much-loved culinary show, Masterchef US Junior.
Like for many of us, little Avani’s cooking lessons started out of her love to eat pancakes, right when she was six! “It all started when I was making pancakes on the weekend with my dad. Then I learnt baking with my mom. Since then I started getting more advanced in what I would make. During the weekends, when I didn’t have school and dance classes, I loved to make cupcakes, tarts, chicken kebabs and Thai curries at home,” Avani, a resident of North River, Chicago, tells us in an interview. Her father is a Gujarati and mother, a Punjabi.
In the current fifth season of the show, Avani is the youngest contestant, but it was no big deal when you’ve got the food right, she says.
“I’ve always liked watching cooking shows but I never thought I would be on one! I wanted to challenge myself so I auditioned for Masterchef US Junior and I made it. I was so excited to receive the apron — it was a dream come true! But I don’t think age was a big factor. Even though other kids had more experience than me, I just tried to do my best,” she says, adding, “All the kids were always very supportive and helped me when I couldn’t lift things or reach out for ingredients in the pantry.”
With Chef Gordon Ramsay in the vicinity, even a Michelin-starred chef gets cold-footed, and it surely was a little intimidating to be under the pressure to impress him, Avani says. “He was a little frightening at first, but he turned out to be super nice and always pushed us to do the best we could. He could be tough at times, but he was always caring and wanted us to push ourselves.”
Even the foreign media has reported about how Gordon and other judges just couldn’t get enough of Avani’s coconut chicken over jasmine rice on the show, which airs on Star World every Sunday at 9 pm.
With her grandparents in Mumbai, Avani says a visit is due so she can get a taste of different cuisines in the country. “I’ve learnt a lot about Indian food from my grandparents — they’re great at Indian food. I haven’t been to the country since I was very young, so I don’t remember a lot. But, I do remember having fun time visiting my family in Ludhiana and Mumbai. We went to the Taj Mahal, which was amazing. Next time, I am in India, I can’t wait to sample all the great food from different parts of the country!” she shares excitedly.
Avani wants to carry the love for baking forward and dreams to open her own bakery — “I want to go to business school so I can learn how to own and operate a successful bakery business,” she signs off....