If you found yourself in an elimination round on MasterChef’s third season, and you just happened to have Kumar as a competitor, chances are you weren’t going to make that week’s MasterClass. He was the Kumanator, but since leaving the show, Kumar Pereira has been flat out teaching people what he knows best; cooking! From upcoming Sri Lankan tours, a new book in the works to just helping out at the local veggie garden, Kumar was grateful enough to speak to us here at Throng about life after MasterChef.
Courtney: Thank you very much for doing this interview with us, we really do appreciate it.
Kumar: That’s OK.
Courtney: Do you still get interviewed often?
Kumar: Yeah (laughs), a little bit but I think the worst was the day after the elimination when it just went non stop for a day.
C: Well we’ll try to keep this one short. Basically Kumar, what have you been doing since leaving MasterChef?
K: Well, quite a bit; I had a holiday, a bit of a break, but it was a working holiday. I went to Sri Lanka for three weeks with my wife and a couple of friends. It was good travelling around; I haven’t been for nine years so it was nice to see the place and I also had to check out a few of the places I’ll be visiting and cooking at for the Sri Lankan culinary tour.
C: This culinary tour, what can you tell us about that?
K: Well, we are taking two groups of people at different times of the year, and we’re going around the country to introduce them to the food of Sri Lanka and giving them a taste of the different regional specialities. We work our way around the country, visiting historical sites and the cultural triangle, we will have meals cooked by local chefs, I also do a bit of cooking myself and explain ingredients, methods and techniques, it’ll be really good, and I also get to share my childhood stories with them
C: So when will they be held?
K: I’m going to be doing one at the end of March and then there’s another one planned for September.
C: I bet you’re looking forward to that!
K: Oh yeah, I love the place, I mean, I grew up there and I haven’t lived there for forty-something years and to me, it’s a bit of self discovery as well because there’s so much there and every time I go back there’s something else I have to do or discover and that’s a great thing. The produce is wonderful so I’m looking forward to cooking with it and just showing off a bit of the place!
C: So how many people are going?
K: We’re hoping for groups of 15; 10 to 15, and they’re trying to make it very competitive in a sense. Some people want a bit more luxury than others so there’s two different structures; those who want more upmarket places to stay and those who want something a little bit more affordable. But we’ll all be cooking in some really lovely hotels, old houses and travelling all over the country, so I’m really excited for that.
C: Sounds great, where can people find out more about this tour?
K: The tour is being run by Sri Lanka in Style and they have a rep in Perth. The person organising this and dealing with enquiries is named Maria and she is contactable through her email. (Provided below) Right now, we’re tying up all the loose ends for the first tour and they asked me to do the second tour [in September].
C: It sounds like it’s going to be very popular!
K: I hope so! I’m really excited about it.
C: So what else have you been up to?
K: Well after coming back from my holiday, my wife went away on work, I went to Townsville for two weeks, cooking for the opening of a large shopping mall which is something I’ve never done before, which was great fun, working with great people. I’ve been doing a lot of appearances for kid’s schools, and doing cooking workshops for disadvantaged kids. I’ve also been tending the garden as well, haha.
C: Well, Tending to the gardens seems to be a relaxing past time.
K: Oh I love it, I’ve always loved gardening and I love using my own produce in cooking. Unfortunately, all the travelling has meant the veggie patches have gone unattended but things survive and it’s apart of the whole process.
C: Well I’d imagine Sri Lankan cooking utilises a lot of fresh produce.
K: Oh yeah, the quality of the produce is really amazing so I can’t wait to get into it. When I was in Sri Lanka, I had to cook for about 20 of my cousins which was great fun! I’m enjoying it.
C: With all this travelling, have you found time to sit down and work out what you want to do in cooking, like in a professional sense, or are you going to travel down a different path?
K: Well I’m not a professional cook, I’m not qualified as a cook, the only qualifications I have are in teaching and design. As a cook, I am an amateur and I do what I like doing, and I love doing what I’m doing now which is giving demonstrations and helping people to cook. I think it combines two things I love doing, teaching and cooking. I love teaching kids to cook as they lap it up and it’s very satisfying.
C: Sounds rewarding! You also have a new book coming out; can you tell us a bit about that?
K: Yes, it’s been taking up a bit of my time recently. I’ve been cooking for it, illustrating it and writing it which is time consuming, but I really enjoy the process. I’m half way through it now but there’s still another three or four weeks to go and there’s a lot of stuff I have to get on with. I’ve done it all in a notebook; all hand written and it is a very informal sort of thing. I love doing illustrations. When I was on [MasterChef], one thing I did to keep myself sane was to keep an illustrated diary. It was my way of stress release and when I got home I could show my family what I did.
But this book is just a personal journey for me as it includes things that have influenced me throughout my life
C: Any title for the book?
K: There is a working title [which can’t be mentioned at this time]. It’s a scrapbook really. I did a sketchbook on Sri Lanka, years ago with a friend, which was a guide to the country. For this book, the publishers wanted me to write about the stories of me growing up in Sri Lanka. It has a lot of recipes and contains things that makes me who I am.
C: So who or what is the main inspiration for the book?
K: I think it probably was my mum. She was the one who got me into cooking and made me interested in food. That’s where it all stems from; I’ve always loved cooking since I was about six, so that was my biggest influence. It is also very special as it means I’ve been able to do things that she wasn’t able to do.
C: So the recipes have been passed down through the family?
K: Sort of, I’ve just taken things I’ve learned from her and things that I’ve cooked for my family over the years. The initial concept came from wanting to teach these things to my kids. It all started two years ago when my wife and I went off to England one summer, and my sons asked what and how they were going to cook. I told them that could do all the stuff I do, and when they requested more detailed instructions I started writing out recipes and did illustrations and that’s how the whole thing started off. It built up and they loved it and used it. I took copies to England and my friends loved it so it snowballed from there.
C: So will we see any recipes that you attempted on the show?
K: Possibly. There’s been a lot of requests for the prawn curry that got me into the top 24. A couple of things I’d planned to do but didn’t have the opportunity to do will be in there. That was the nice thing about MasterChef, you actually had to come up with ideas and create meals.
C: Any exclusives in terms of recipes?
K: Haha, the publishers don’t want me to spill the beans.
C: Understandable!! So is this book going to be aimed at the everyday cook or are we going to see something a little challenging?
K: Ahh, I think most of it will be just for the average cook. It’s all the stuff I cook myself but I was talking to my sons and they said ‘no, you’ve got to have challenging things as well’ so I might include things that are a little more creative for the more adventurous.
C: Will the book feature prominently Sri Lankan style cuisines or can we expect cuisines from other cultures?
K: Sri Lankan? No, not really. People typecast me and think I only cook Sri Lankan food but I actually include cuisines from the places I have lived in and have drawn inspiration from that experience, from the four countries I have lived in; Sri Lanka, UK, Hong Kong and Australia.
C: You’re probably concentrating on this book, but do you have ideas for any others down the track?
K: Oh, no, definitely only taking it one step at a time. I do have ideas, but not for books. I want to do a series of cards that are food related. That’s something I have in the pipeline but I will be waiting until I’ve finished this book.
C: Can fans expect to see you on television or hear you on radio any time soon?
K: There’s a couple of things in the pipeline that I can’t really talk about, but of course there will be some publicity associated with the book but I don’t really know what’s going to happen.
C: I hear you are partaking in the South Pacific Food & Wine festival. What will you be doing there?
K: I’m actually doing it with two other contestants, Rachel McSweeney and Craig Young (both MC’11) and we’re going to be teaching kids how to cook. We’ve come up with a workshop for them using local produce and we’ve come up with things that are fun, easy and tasty and we just want to inspire them to cook.
C: Also, you’ve been appointed the ambassador for Seniors Week 2012. How do you feel about that? Must be quite an accolade!
K: It’s weird, I can’t understand why. I just find it difficult to get used to but I love getting it across to society that you can do whatever you want at any time. That’s my philosophy. I don’t consider myself old, I don’t consider myself young. I just enjoy doing what I am doing and I want to encourage people to do the same. That’s been my mantra all the way through.
C: That’s a fantastic philosophy to have. You yourself are doing brilliantly; it’s the reason why we’re doing this interview- we’re excited and interested to find out what’s next for Kumar!
K: I just like being active! Physically active and mentally active, I just can’t stop. It’s what’s kept me going through all these years; that and a sense of adventure.
C: Definitely. So MasterChef is coming back soon with its fourth season. Is there any advice you can offer upcoming contestants, or people who want to try out for future editions of the show?
K: I think you should just do what you love doing; that’s what got me there. Just be yourself, basically. Put aside any pretensions and do what you like.
C: And have you yourself kept in contact with any former contestants?
K: Yeah, we have a really nice network. When I was in Townsville I caught up with a few of the contestants there. I think that one of the nice things off of that whole show was that I can now go almost anywhere in Australia and there will always be someone there who I can spend time with. It’s a lovely thing and it is nice to know that you have that connection. We have spent a lot of special time together but we were quite isolated. It was natural that we bonded. I know I was referred to the oldest contestant [as a stereotype] in the house but it wasn’t so; we were just a nice bunch of people.
C: Well that was the great thing about MasterChef. It is friendly. It is less about the competition and more about the food.
K: Yeah, it just taught us a lot about ourselves. It is hard to describe to someone who has never been in it but I just think it was a lovely process and I was glad to do it.
C: Well thank you very much for setting some time aside to do this interview; it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you, Kumar. We wish you the best with the book, the tour and anything else you have in the future.
K: Well thank you so much for that.
Kumar Pereira’s book will be released soon.
For more information about Kumar’s Sri Lankan tour, contact Maria at email@example.com.
And as always, you may visit Kumar’s website, kumarpereira.net.