Chef Shipra | Global Indian

Chef Shipra Khanna: MasterChef India champion and culinary trailblazer

Written by: Bindu Gopal Rao

(December 10, 2023) Chef Shipra Khanna entered the limelight when she won the second season of MasterChef India back in 2012 and her star has been constantly on the rise since. She has been awarded at the House of Lords for popularising Indian cuisine around the world. Chef Shipra is also the first Indian to win the World Gourmand Award and the WIBA Award at Cannes. She is an Indian cultural Ambassador, health ambassador of India, Culinary Ambassador to Spain, and Culinary Ambassador to Australia. The author of nine cookbooks and the host of immensely popular culinary shows aired in the USA, UAE and Canada and teaches at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris.

Chef Shipra Khanna. Photo courtesy: Chef Shipra Khanna

Eureka Moment

As a nine-year-old at a family gathering, at her home in Shimla, Khanna vividly recollects a chaotic yet enchanting kitchen scene where various aromas mingled, laughter echoed, and all her aunts pitched in to create a feast. “I found myself entranced by the sizzle of spices and the symphony of flavours emerging from the pots and pans,” says Khanna, in an exclusive interview Global Indian. To her, the kitchen had transformed into a “magical realm where simple ingredients transformed into culinary masterpieces.” One day, she decided to experiment on her own and attempted her own recipe with whatever she could find in the refrigerator. “The kitchen became my laboratory, and as the aroma of my creation wafted through the air, I realised I had discovered my true calling,” she smiles.

The unforgettable joy of crafting something delicious and seeing the delight on her family’s faces would mark the beginning of her journey into the culinary world. “That day, as pots bubbled with potential and spices danced in harmony, I embraced my culinary destiny, fuelled by a newfound passion to explore, innovate, and create never ending extraordinary experiences through my dishes,” she reminisces.

In pursuit of excellence

Growing up in the enchanting hills of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Chef Shipra Khanna’s culinary odyssey started with her grandmother and mother, whose prowess in the kitchen transformed their home into joyful haven where the fragrances from delectable dishes wafted constantly through the air. “Our family gatherings were festive feasts, where the kitchen was a lively stage for the creation of gastronomic wonders.” Drawn to this array of delectable smells and the finesse her grandmother and mother showed in the kitchen, Khanna was captivated by the art of cooking.

Her pursuit of excellence, however, extended well beyond the kitchen. As a student at Loreto, Shimla, and St Bede’s, she excelled academically. She also dabbled in gymnastics, basketball, running, drama and dancing. And just like the mingling of spices in her kitchen, her own life was a harmonious blend of diverse experiences, and these formative years, she says, laid the foundation for her journey.

A rocky road

She went to college nearby, at St Bede’s in Upper Kauthu, where she graduated with a degree in Economics and Psychology. Khanna married young, and the relationship ended several years later, leaving her as a single mother with two children to care for when she was still in her twenties. Her daughter was differently abled and could only eat at home and Khanna put her skills to the test at home once more, this time to invent new, healthy culinary experiments in the kitchen all the time. She would reinvent her daughter’s favourite fast foods and give classic Italian favourites her own twist.

The MasterChef

The MasterChef journey for her was a rollercoaster of flavours, challenges, and personal growth. From the nerve- wracking auditions to the intense pressure of invention tests, each moment pushed culinary boundaries and tested her creativity. “One memorable episode involved a mystery box challenge where the ingredients included an eclectic mix of international spices and exotic fruits,” Khanna recalls. She ended up crafting a fusion dish that not only impressed the judges but also became a defining moment in her MasterChef journey.

The elimination rounds, she says, were particularly demanding, and she vividly remembers one particular dessert challenge where time was of the essence. She channelled her passion for desserts into a masterpiece, she says, “that not only saved me from elimination but also earned me high praise from renowned chefs.” As the competition progressed, her belief in her own abilities grew – she took strength from the positive feedback received and also from the support she got from her fellow contestants.

Even so, the finale was particularly intense, where the challenge was to create a three-course meal. Suspense mounted as the judges sampled her creations, adding to the tensions. “It was a surreal experience when the announcement was made, and I was named the winner of MasterChef,” says Khanna. The disbelief soon turned into overwhelming joy. The countless hours of dedication and passion that had been poured into each dish had culminated in a victory that would change her life.

Chef Shipra Khanna was the winner of MasterChef India Season 2

Culinary High

After that, there was no looking back for the talented chef. A year later, in 2013, she opened her first restaurant, H.O.T. – House of Taste, in Ahmedabad. It wasn’t an easy journey either – Khanna was responsible for all the decisions, from choosing the perfect location to curating the menu. A surprise visit from a renowned food critic, who gave her a raving review, turned the tide in her favour. Collaborations with fellow chefs followed and Khanna was participating in culinary events around the world. “Representing my culinary heritage across the globe became a source of immense pride for me. I was connecting with chefs from diverse backgrounds and fostering a global culinary community.” The MasterChef experience also taught her to function in high pressure situations. “Balancing creativity with business acumen became a skillset that extended beyond the kitchen,” says Khanna.

World as her oyster

Life post MasterChef also brought opportunities like travelling over 50 countries learning and teaching, working with world renowned chefs, Michelin star chefs to local chefs from Austria to Brazil, she has done it all.  Khana has represented India abroad, being the cultural Ambassador, health ambassador of India, Culinary Ambassador to Spain, and Culinary Ambassador to Australia. She mentors aspiring chefs, teaches at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and is the host of immensely popular TV shows that air in the USA, UAE and Canada.

Khana is also the author of nine cookbooks all while working on her YouTube Channel Shipra’s Kitchen, she has been as busy as a bee. In 2023, she became the first Indian to win the WIBA Award at Cannes, and was awarded at the House of Lords for popularising Indian cuisine around the world. She’s also the first Indian to win the World Gourmand Award. While the path has always been demanding, the impact of MasterChef on my career remains immeasurable. It laid the foundation for a dynamic and fulfilling my desire of turning my passion into a career. It is path breaking in the culinary world, where each milestone serves as a testament to the transformative power of passion and perseverance,” says Khanna.

The influencer chef

Chef Shipra Khanna is the first Indian influencer honoured at the prestigious Cannes Influencer Festival, which is a moment of pride for her. “To see Indian influence acknowledged on an international platform not only validates personal efforts but also opens doors for greater representation and cultural exchange amongst the best of the best in the world,” she says. She goes by the username MasterChef Shipra Khanna on Instagram and has over 5 million followers. Recently, she became the first Indian female chef at the highly esteemed World Paella Day competition in Spain, an experience she rightfully terms ‘truly surreal.’ A female culinary pioneer making a significant impact on the world stage she admits it is quite overwhelming to see something she always wished for, happen for real.

“When women come to me and tell me how they are making a living via food whether it’s in the kitchen or blogging or sharing recipes on social media, I realise that there was nothing else that I wanted to do more than this. To inspire and pave a path for the future generations of women in the culinary world.” Her life lesson is simple, ‘to be successful in life one doesn’t need to be a genius, rather be consistent and disciplined.’  Her future is bright as she is working on a new show in India and aboard, working on my ninth cookbook ‘Sinfully Yours Two’ and has lots of travel in the pipeline.

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