Shari Mukherjee of Rochester had a secret.
Watching the FOX-TV reality show series “MasterChef” at Little Thistle Brewing in Rochester with friends and supporters, Mukherjee already knew the outcome of Wednesday’s episode, because she was one of the contestants. The series had been filmed months before. But Mukherjee was contractually obligated not to spill the beans.
You might think knowing the outcome — whether she would win a coveted white apron or not — might take some of the edge off, lessen the anxiety. But it didn’t for Mukherjee. She couldn’t remember being so scared.
“It’s one of the most vulnerable times of my life,” Mukherjee said. “I’m putting everything I have into this, and it’s on national television. I was feeling so anxious.”
So if you haven’t heard: Mukherjee won a white apron and will compete for the title of “MasterChef” and $250,000.
It was an unlikely moment for the 34-year-old Rochester mom who, 10 years ago, considered herself an indifferent cook. After marrying her Indian-born husband, Mukherjee took up cooking to prove to her in-laws that their son wasn’t “destined for a life of bland chicken and tasteless salads.”
But it’s one thing to cook for your husband. And it’s quite another to satisfy the palate of Chef Gordon Ramsay, one of the most decorated and celebrated chefs in the world. Ramsay, the winner of 16 Michelin stars, spent three months living in India and studying Indian cuisine, so there was going to be no fooling him.
The chef judges are also known for being honest and blunt in their critiques.
So when Ramsay sampled her red snapper with coriander and coconut curry dish and pronounced himself pleased, calling it “authentic” and reminding him of India, Mukherjee was ecstatic. Looking at her, it was not the kind of dish one would have imagined coming from her, another judge said.
“It’s kind of the story of my life since I’ve been married to my husband,” Mukherjee said. “Because Indian food is really hard to learn. It’s the balance of the spices. It takes a lot of practice. I can see why people would have that misconception of me.”
As the winner of a white apron, Mukherjee now advances to a new round with 19 other contestants. The show promises future challenges. One of them involves lifting one of three boxes and cooking the ingredients underneath.
Mukherjee said her in-laws have been watching the reality series in India, which carries the FOX show.
“They’re excited to see how it progresses,” she said. “I think me getting my apron with an Indian dish — that was what was so special.”
Mukherjee doesn’t say how the contest ends. Or how far she goes. She keeps the secret close to her apron.
“Hopefully, I can keep my apron,” she said.