Rochester Magazine: I’ll list a few of the ways you describe yourself on online sites, you give me a sentence or two about each.
Shari Mukherjee: OK.
RM: “Mom to two spunky boys.”
SM: Spunky. Yes, very spunky. Arjun is 5 and Rohan is 3. They are right here with me right now. I love getting to spend this time with them.
RM: “Fueled by coffee and curry.”
SM: Oh, yes. I never understood a mother’s reliance on coffee until I had my second kid.
RM: “Buy me a latte, we’ll be friends forever.”
SM: That’s what it’s all about, right? I love getting to sit down and meet people and spend time with people. I’ve sure missed that during quarantine.
RM: How many motocross events have you been to?
SM: Oh, plenty. It was mandatory, growing up in Millville [home of Spring Creek Motocross]. I even used to work there in high school. I worked the front gate, took tickets.
RM: Ever ridden a motorcycle?
SM: I tried one time. I think I was wearing a dress. It was like for my confirmation or something and I rode the motorcycle up the top of the hill and wiped out. That was it.
RM: Favorite local restaurant meal in Rochester?
SM: The chicken and rice at the little place on Third Avenue Southeast by the ear of corn water tower. Muna Halal.
RM: I’m not even sure I knew there was a restaurant in there.
SM: It’s small but very good.
RM: Did you go to culinary school?
SM: Oh, no. I went to University of Minnesota-Duluth and majored in cell biology. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to get into medicine, so I decided to work for a year. I ended up working in the Mayo Inpatient pharmacy for 11 years and really loved it. Then I met my husband, Piyush. ...
RM: ... who I know from chess club. So, Piyush opens with pawn to e4, how do you counter?
SM: I guess I probably move one of my horsies [laughing]. I never really learned to play chess. That’s Piyush’s thing. He used to play a lot, but he’s played less since our kids were born. He’s been getting back into it now.
RM: I’m sure you’ll never let him live it down, but your husband actually entered you for “Worst Cooks in America.”
SM: Yes. I saved his email to the show. They actually contacted me to audition for the show, but I didn’t want to be on it. Then I saw an episode of the first season of “MasterChef,” and said “That’s the show I want to be on.”
RM: So what happened between Season 1 and Season 10 that got you to that point?
SM: My husband is from India, and I wanted to learn to make Indian foods. So I started practicing. Going to the local Indian groceries and trying different spices. I threw away a lot of bad dishes. Then I started getting better.
RM: And you decided to audition for Season 10 of “MasterChef.”
SM: I saw they were having auditions in Minneapolis. I figured I had nothing to lose.
RM: And you made it. Then the top 20. Then the top 6. Amazing run. How scary is Gordon Ramsay?
SM: Well, whenever anyone could possibly spit out the food you just made on television, that’s scary. But he’s really a nice guy.
RM: Best behind-the-scenes story?
SM: You can’t believe how many people it takes to put on a show like this. Also, people don’t realize how tough it is being away from your family. I was gone for three months and my youngest was only 15 months old. We could only call maybe once a week and someone would be sitting there to monitor what you were saying. That was the toughest part.
RM: OK. We’re about to find out how much you really know about Indian food.
SM: Uh oh?
RM: This sweet is made from deep-fried, thick sugar syrup and shaped into a large, pretzel-like shape, usually orange in color.
RM: Right. This South Indian curry is prepared mainly with the juices of tamarind or tomato along with a few spices.
SM: That would be rasam.
RM: Good. What is the main ingredient of chapati?
SM: Wheat flour. I’m actually making chapati right now.
RM: As we speak?
SM: Yes. And I have three pans of macarons in front of me right now just waiting to go in the oven.
RM: I know you make macarons. You also offer a service called a micro-patisserie.
SM: It’s like a small, niche bakery. I love to make really good food on a small scale. More like artisan food.
RM: You really do love cooking.
SM: Oh, yes. I consider it to be my art, and I can use it to bring people—like our family—together, around a table.
RM: And maybe other people, too. Like, say, people who write stories about you, or whatever. I could buy you a latte ...
SM: Yes! That’s what good food is about. Bringing people together.