Kenneth Gopinath On Being MasterChef India's Youngest Contestant

For most of us, our teenage years are about hanging out with friends, studying and generally finding our way in the world. But for 18-year-old Kenneth Gopinath, it’s been a time to lay the foundation for an epic culinary career. The Bangalore native recently made history by becoming the youngest ever contestant to make it to the Top 12 of the worldwide cooking show phenomenon MasterChef India aired weekly on SonyLIV. 

He always harboured a passion for cooking and has wanted to bring this dream to life, and when MasterChef auditions came to his city, he jumped at the opportunity and has been wow-ing the judges and audiences with his skills and dedication to the craft ever since. As Season 8 of the show heats up we caught up with Kenny to learn more about what makes him the chef he is today.

Video Credits: SonyLIV/YouTube

What are some of your earliest memories of cooking?

When I was 6 and being too noisy and mischievous, my mum gave me some chapati flour and water to keep me quiet. After that I didn’t ask for toys, I was happy and quiet with the flour and water. After a while, I started making and cooking chapatis. So I don’t think it really came from one particular place, it’s just always been in me. 

How did this shape your decision to make cooking your career?

From chapati, I started making breakfast and other meals, and then when I felt confident enough, I started baking. So when I finished my 12th standard, I realised I needed to choose what to do with my career and I realised Culinary was the way to go for me. As I said there was always this passion in me so I spoke with my parents but they didn’t want me to join a culinary or hotel management school. Indian parents have this thought that in Hotel Management it takes a lot of time to work and settle down in life so we looked at culinary schools but they were just too expensive so they admitted me into a Law School.

How did you feel about that and how did you change their minds?

I knew I had to prove to them that I didn’t belong in Law School and that I should be cooking so when I saw that the MasterChef India auditions were going to happen I started practising at home, trying different cuisines and gaining a lot of knowledge from books and articles. And when I gave my auditions, I thankfully got selected and I can prove to my parents that they were wrong. 

What was it like being one of the youngest people at the MasterChef India auditions?

During the auditions, I saw a wide range of people. At the Bangalore auditions, there were around 500 people and when I came to Mumbai, oh my god, that was such a huge crowd I couldn’t count! But I was still confident because at the end of the day, we have to cook, and we have to bake and I don’t think I’m too young to do that or some people are more experienced or whatever. I believe the magic is in your heart and in your brain. During my audition I never thought things like ‘I’m too young to be doing this”, but now while doing the weekly challenges sometimes I feel I’m lacking a bit of experience and maturity.

What are some of the biggest learning experiences from your time there?

When we’re cooking at home, there are no time restrictions and we’re not under pressure, we don’t have these 5-minute pantry pick-ups and all. MasterChef has made me a thousand times stronger and now I’m confident in myself that I can do something really good in my life and I can make MasterChef-worthy dishes. And of course, I’ve learnt so much about cooking, flavour pairings, how to build a dish, how to think about a dish, what perspective to take on a dish, and how a cooking workflow should be. I’ve learnt so much from the judges and my co-contestants, so this has been a wonderful learning experience. 

How would you describe your style as a Chef?

I think I’m equally good at savouries and desserts – that’s what people say too – but somewhere in my heart, I love desserts more. I have a big sweet tooth and I enjoy making them more than savouries. So while I can cook both, my heart chooses desserts. My favourite dessert is Tres Leches with a twist, which I made for my audition too.

Who are some people who have inspired your cooking the most?

The chefs I admire most of all are Vikas Khanna and Garima Arora, I love Indian chefs who have gone international and are blowing everyone’s minds. Along with them is Chef Marco Pierre White whom we met on the show. It was a dream for all of us, to meet such a culinary legend. Also, Chef Gary Mehigan from MasterChef Australia is a great inspiration for me. 

What advice would you give to young people also looking to follow their culinary dreams?

I get a lot of DMs on Instagram saying things like “This is my dream and you’ve been living it.” or “You’re proving that age is just a number,” and I totally agree with that, age doesn’t matter. This is cooking, all cooking asks for is love. When you cook with love, everything will be taken to the next level. And of course, work hard for it, work towards it with a good plan. Don’t think that ‘this is not the right age to do this’, just give your best and if it works it will take you ahead and if it doesn’t worry not, try again and prepare yourself to be better than the last time but do not stop until you succeed. 

What’s the next stage of your culinary journey?

Since the main part of coming to MasterChef was to prove to my parents that I belong in the culinary world, the next step is definitely to build a career here. It was the motto before coming to MasterChef and it will be after it’s over too.

Quick Fire Round

  • Your go-to comfort food: Rasam and Rice
  • One must-have kitchen essential: Sugar
  • The meal I’d eat if it was my last night on earth: Biryani
  • My fondest memory of food: My friends and I used to pretend to cook with paper and bits of wood in earthen pots when we were very small.
  • Your dream foodie destination: It would be Japan, because I love Ramen, Tempura and Sushi