Jai Ganesh did not know how to cook rice up till he was 25.
But as a broke and homesick student in Australia then, he had no choice but to learn.
Shaking his head, Ganesh said, "In Australia, food is expensive! I thought it was time for me to stop eating out and learn how to cook."
Learned over the phone
Back then, Ganesh had trouble using even the rice cooker.
But everyone starts somewhere and for Ganesh, it all began with a phone call from his mother.
He learnt how to make his first dish — a comforting combination of fluffy white rice and piping hot curry chicken — from his mother as she listed the ingredients needed and patiently guided him through the recipe via the phone.
Soon, he found himself cooking for his small circle of friends and family and later on, for larger crowds during gatherings.
"I realised people loved every single thing I put on the table. And then I started finding myself cooking for no reason and Googling for new recipes to try."
As he enjoyed the process of cooking, he spent more time in the kitchen and soon upgraded from making white rice to whipping up flavourful biryani.
And it seems like he has mastered the craft enough to have friends telling him that he makes the "best biryani" they've ever had.
Left career in SAF to pursue passion
Ganesh returned to Singapore a couple of years later and while food is a lot cheaper here, it didn't wane his love for the culinary arts.
Just last year, the 31-year-old left his career of eight years in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to pursue his newfound passion.
Coming to that decision was a tough call to make, especially since it was a job he loved and the fact that he was accustomed to the structure and regimentation that came with it.
"There was no reason for me to leave, I enjoyed the military life," he said.
For an entire month, he would head home from work and debated himself on the several possibilities of making a career switch.
By cooking a different dish each day, plating the dish like how a five-star restaurant would, and then asking himself the following question: "Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?"
Here's a look at some of the things he has whipped up:
The answer he got for himself after the arduous 30 days? A resounding yes.
Knowing that it will take time to hone his skills in the kitchen, Ganesh thought there was no better time than now to pursue that passion.
"It's somewhat of a calling to me. I know this industry will take time and a lot of knowledge to become good at the craft. At this age, it was the right time to make a career switch so I have enough runway to become a good chef."
Dream school costs close to S$70,000
Now, many would think that the next step towards achieving his dream career is to put himself through culinary school.
However, enrolling into his dream school, the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in New Zealand, isn't going to be as easy as it sounds.
For context, an 18-month diploma course in the culinary school costs a whopping NZ$72,600, or roughly S$67,596.
But Ganesh is prepared to work doubly hard to live his dream.
Here's a list of things he does to save up for culinary school:
- Started his own small business as an acrylic artist and designing embroidery patches.
- Driving for Grab on a part-time basis.
- Cooking, selling and delivering biryani as a home-based business.
When asked why he did not choose to save up from his SAF job instead, Ganesh mentioned something about "passion" and "the right time."
"If there's one thing I learnt, it's about working hard now and enjoying later in the future. Even if I have to work 20 hours a day, it's all towards a greater cause and my greater cause is to put myself through culinary school."
Silver lining amid Covid-19
Alas, when the Covid-19 pandemic happened, it hit his various endeavours just as hard.
He shared that sales have "slowed down" for his acrylic and embroidery business.
Ganesh, however, sheepishly shared that the only thing to have done well during this tough period was his food business, reaffirming his talent in the kitchen.
After breaking into small laughter, he said: "We saw a boost during Covid-19 as everybody was ordering from home and weren't going out. That was a huge boost in my confidence as well because the people ordering from me weren't just my friends, but random strangers who contacted me to order my biryani."
For the uninitiated, The Biryani Brothers is a home-based business that Ganesh runs with his best friend.
They only have two items on the menu: chicken biryani and mutton biryani.
Each packet of biryani goes for S$10.
But that wasn't the only silver lining for the aspiring chef.
Auditioned for Masterchef Singapore
One fine day in August, his phone started buzzing non-stop and it's not because it was faulty.
Mediacorp had released an open call that very day looking for potential contestants for the second season of "Masterchef", and a lot of people within Ganesh's circle egged on him to take on the opportunity.
"My phone vibrated non-stop because every single friend that I've cooked for before messaged me and told me to apply for it. It was such a shock lah, I didn't know my friends had such confidence in me... It was really non-stop, I had like over 50 messages!"
With the blessing and support of his family and friends, he signed up to audition to be the next Masterchef in Singapore.
Military man through and through
Unsurprisingly, he treated the audition like a mission.
The first thing he did was to shortlist a few of his best dishes, prepared the few dishes and served it to his family for their feedback.
The chosen one was a fusion dish marrying his signature biryani with a side of western roasted rack of lamb.
Ganesh told me it took him an entire day to figure out the perfect method and timing for his roasted rack of lamb to go with the biryani.
After deciding on what to cook, he practised preparing the chosen dish within an hour, the time limit set for the audition.
While he considered his audition a success, Ganesh along with the other contestants won't know if they will make the cut until February 2021, when the show premieres on Mediacorp's Channel 5.
But if he does make it through the audition process, Ganesh thinks of it as a bonus.
His ultimate goal is to gain as much knowledge and experience to eventually serve affordable fusion-Indian food at his own restaurant in the next five to ten years.
"At the end of the day, this competition is going to give me a good gauge of where I stand because I've already chosen to pursue this as a career."
Top image from Masterchef Singapore and Jai Ganesh.
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