Avani Shah is like most young girls; she loves to dance, perform and enjoys creative writing. However, unlike most other 8 year olds, Avani is also a master chef, at least she hopes to be! A student at the British International School of Chicago, she is all set to make her television debut on FOX’s MasterChef Junior Season five on Thursday, February 9. Avani is the youngest competitor this season and is all set to show off her culinary skills. Although she has no formal training, she was chosen for her enthusiasm and willingness to be creative and have fun in the kitchen. She will be one of 40 contestants vying for a trophy and a $100,000 cash prize. We, at DissDash, spoke with Avani about her love for the culinary arts and her experience on the show.
Avani’s zeal for cooking came from being inspired through watching culinary competitions like Masterchef Junior and Cupcake Wars. “My dad let me make pancakes on the weekends and that was one of my first starts cooking on my own in the kitchen. I started to get more independent and creative in making different flavored pancakes and that’s where my interest in cooking began!” she told us. She loves to bake and try all types of dishes, sweet and savory. We asked her if she likes Indian food as well, “I love Indian food, and love cooking Indian food, especially the dishes that my “Papa” (grandfather) has taught me. He is an amazing cook and loves to teach me all his favorite recipes.”
Her family is certainly benefitting from her endeavors, as she loves to cook for her them and her friends. ”Mostly I cook for my family, especially my brother! But lately some of my friends have asked me to bake for them. I recently baked a coconut chocolate cake with homemade frosting for my friend’s birthday,” she said.
After watching Chef Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen and thinking he was not, at times, the most pleasant person, we had to ask Avani about whether she was nervous over their meeting. “I was actually more excited than nervous at first, but he made us feel so comfortable,” she told us. “He was so nice, and always encouraged us to do our absolute best. I was actually even more nervous to meet Chef Christina Tosi because I really admire her as a baker and love her famous Milk Bar chain of bakeries.” Avani hopes to one day have her own chain of bakeries, as she does admire people like Christina Tosi and Candace Nelson, who are both successful business women doing what they love everyday.
With her desire to pursue baking as a career and become a mogul, we had to ask Avani what her favorite dish was to make and eat, “Kheer is one of my favorite Indian desserts to make at the moment! It’s winter in Chicago right now, and nice warm rice pudding is perfect on a cold day!” Avani also shared her own recipe with our readers!
We asked Avani to give us a hint on what we could expect to see on the show. Like previous seasons, the much-awaited fifth season will be exhibiting the ability of the children to create original dishes. “The first two episodes are called ‘The Battle for the White Apron’ where the top 40 junior chefs all battle it out to get one of the 20 coveted white aprons with the famous Masterchef logo. I can’t give away any secrets, but there are a lot of fun surprises in store. Tune in to watch, and cheer me on!” We will certainly be doing that and we hope our readers will be rooting for this delightful young girl as well. Again, Masterchef Junior will air on Thursday, February 9 on FOX. Be sure to check your local listings for the time and check out Avani’s recipe for saffron kheer below and let us know what you think of it!
Saffron Kheer (Rice Pudding)
5-10 strands of Saffron
1/4 cup Basmati Rice
3 1/2 Cups Milk
1/2 Cup Condensed Milk
4 Tbsp Sugar
3 crushed cardamom
2 tbsp butter
(Optional for toppings: nuts, dried fruits, rose petals)
This recipe is one that is perfect for a lazy day. You leave it in a large pot and let it simmer, but you will need to stir often because you don’t want the milk to burn or the rice to stick to the pot. Always make sure you never have the heat on too high!
- Soak your saffron strands in a small bowl of milk and set to the side.
- Rinse the rice very well, you want to make sure that after several rinses the water is clear. Once the water is clear, drain the water.
- Place your large pan on medium heat and add your butter. (Ghee is another option besides butter)
- Add your drained rice, stir for about 1-2 minutes
- Add milk and slowly bring to a simmer- (not a heavy boil)
- Once the rice becomes close to a cooked texture, add the sugar, condensed milk, and saffron.
- Continue to cook on low for another 10-15 minutes to let the flavors mix. Make sure to keep stirring the rice.
You can top the rice to make this dish plate so pretty! My grandmother uses rose petals and sliced almonds. I’ve also done mixed dried fruits. You can also serve this dish chilled or warm.
Click here to see Avani when she stopped by at DissDash: