After clinching first place in MasterChef India Season 2, chef Shipra Khanna is all set to take her passion for cooking to a global level. As the culinary ambassador from India to Spain, the multi-cuisine chef is all set to battle it out at the coveted World Paella Day Cup. Ahead of the big day, Travel+Leisure India & South Asia catches up with the finalist to learn what her idea of a perfect paella is, how Spanish cuisine found its way to her life, and more.
Excerpts from the interview with Chef Shipra Khanna:
T+L India: Tell us about your culinary background and how you started as a chef?
Chef Shipra Khanna: I was nine years old when I discovered my passion for cooking. After cooking my first dish, my passion took off and I never looked back. After winning MasterChef India, I decided I wanted to make [cooking] my career and learn more about it. That’s when it turned from passion to profession!
T+L India: What inspired you to represent India at the World Paella Cup 2023? What does the competition mean to you personally and professionally?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Food is a vast subject, and I don’t’ think any one person can learn or experience every cuisine across the globe. Being the Culinary Ambassador to Spain, I got lucky and travelled extensively. I got the chance to experience cuisine from Basque Country, Cordoba, Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona, and Madrid. My love for Spanish people and cuisine grew bigger with each visit. When I got nominated for the World Paella Day Cup, I didn’t think twice. I truly wanted to do it so I could learn more. To me, competitions are a medium to learn and make new friends.
T+L India: How did you develop an interest in Spanish cuisine?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Like I mentioned, being a culinary ambassador of Spain gave me the opportunity to explore the country. That’s when I grew fond of its people, culture, and cuisine. I learned from local and Michelin star chefs and worked with them to understand the cuisine and flavours better. The country welcomes with open arms!
T+L India: You’re representing India on a global level. Does this add pressure? How do you cope with it?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Yes, it’s a lot of pressure. But I don’t panic. I just know that I love to cook, and I know my food, skills, and flavours. I’m just going to do my best and try to get the Cup back to India.
T+L India: According to you, what is the secret to making the perfect paella?
Chef Shipra Khanna: It’s all about the melody of flavours and getting the texture of the rice right. The timing of adding ingredients and being careful with salt’s proportions [is just as important]. In a paella, if the salt is less or more, there’s no way to correct it so one needs to be careful!
T+L India: What is your philosophy on seasonality and sustainability in the culinary world, and how do you incorporate these principles into your cooking style?
Chef Shipra Khanna: I stand for sustainable practices in cooking. [This includes] no wastage and eating fresh and seasonal. I advocate for the same on my social media channels – whether it on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook. As chefs, we need to be more mindful about what we cook, eat, and serve. I feel it is my duty to put this at the forefront so that others can understand and practice [sustainability] as well. Some of the practices I follow in my menus include using farm-to-table methods, locally sourced ingredients, supporting small business and farmers, and introducing plant-based menus.
T+L India: What types of cuisines and cooking styles are you most passionate about?
Chef Shipra Khanna: I love preparing a fusion of world cuisine, both savoury and sweet. It has become my signature since winning MasterChef India, and you will see it across all my menus.
T+L India: Judges often search for unusual flavour pairings. What is a flavour or ingredient combination that you find intriguing or unexpected?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Unusual flavour pairings can lead to exciting and unexpected culinary experiences. [I like] the sweetness of chocolate [and how it] can complement the tangy and salty notes of blue cheese to create a unique balance of flavours.
T+L India: What are some of your favourite Spanish dishes, besides paella, and why?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Tortilla Española. [I appreciate] this Spanish omelette for its simplicity and versatility. It’s a comforting dish with a soft, potato-filled interior and a slightly crispy exterior. Gazpacho is a refreshing, chilled soup that is perfect for the hot weather. It is a blend of ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and garlic. [I even like] Churros con chocolate, for their crispy exterior and soft, doughy interior. When dipped in thick, warm chocolate sauce, they become an irresistible sweet treat! Spanish ham, particularly the premium Jamon Ibérico, is celebrated for its melt-in-the-mouth texture and complex, savoury flavour.
T+L India: A destination in Spain that you’d like to visit or revisit for its food?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Basque Country for tapas and bacalao with pilpil, Madrid for the tapas and vibe, Valencia for paella, Sepulveda for lamb, and Segovia for cochinillo.
T+L India: Apart from culinary travels, if you had a chance to revisit Spain, where would you like to go and why?
Chef Shipra Khanna: Cadiz since it is known as a beach paradise.
T+L India: Any advice for budding chefs?
Chef Shipra Khanna: The only way to success in this field is passion, hard work, focus, perseverance, and dedication. Never let this spirit die, come what may!