Last Sunday saw the end of photographer Shamsydar Ani and housewife Sharon Gonzago’s MasterChef Singapore journey when they were booted out, leaving IT manager Zander Ng and culinary student Genevieve Lee to duke it out in the final showdown on Oct 21.
On the show, Shamsydar, 28, is so skillful at mixing spices that she earned the nickname Sambal Queen. But to her fellow contenders, she has another special power: telepathy. Turns out she can predict, rather accurately, the challenges the contestants have to face.
“Throughout the competition, when I arrived on the set in the morning and I would say, ‘I wonder what today’s challenge is?’ And whatever I said came true,” Shamsydar tells 8 DAYS. This happened four times — Ep 1’s sambal and fried rice challenges, Ep 5’s supermarket team challenge, and Ep 6’s durian-themed Mystery Box challenge. “At some point, everyone was asking me, ‘Are you working for the producers? Did you get [the information] from the producers?’”
Shamsydar chalks her clairvoyance up to pure luck — and being a devoted fan of the MasterChef franchise. “I’m just thinking like a producer, If there were a MasterChef Singapore, what challenges would I include?’ Based on the other international editions of MasterChef, I figured they would probably localise the challenges and make us cook something very local like fried rice or char kway teow.”
Sadly, she lost her soothsayer prowess in last week’s elimination challenge where the contestants were tasked with cooking anything with whatever ingredients from the pantry. Anything? Wait, the challenge was too easy, and MasterChef doesn’t do easy — there’s always a twist, and it was one which Shamsydar didn’t see coming: the contestants had to switch their baskets of ingredients. D’oh!
“I won’t have minded if I had gotten Zander’s basket because his was actually quite full,” Shamsydar recalls. “Unfortunately, I got Gen’s basket. Gen is known to shop for just enough items to make one dish, while I’m the kind of person who likes variety. I had to work with very few items.”
8 DAYS: If you had your way, you would’ve made satay beef with spicy sauce with ingredients of your choosing. But you ended up with Gen’s basket.
SHAMSYDAR ANI: I had a lot of things — mushrooms, pastry, lamb, spices, beef, coconut milk, peanuts… Gen had a big pineapple and everybody kept asking me what I was going to with it. I don’t want to do anything with the pineapple — I don’t like pineapples. If it’s pineapple tarts, fine. Otherwise, I don’t like pineapples. She only had one packet of coriander seeds and very little things to make the food flavourful. I found out later she wanted to make a soupy dish. I was stuck with my staple pantry items. I made a stupid decision to make a veloute because Sharon [Gonzago] made it when we were at The English House and I kinda liked the taste.
Your replication of Chef Ming Tan’s Asian lobster bisque in Ep 5 was named best dish — and you’re allergic to shellfish!
When they said we had to follow Chef Ming to make this Asian bisque, I was like, What is a bisque? Halfway through making the bisque, I realised, Aren’t I making laksa? So let’s screw this bisque thing and call it laksa. So I trusted my instincts and that was when I picked up the pace. I just kept listening to Chef Ming’s instructions; I didn’t deviate from his recipe at all.
What are the highlights of your MasterChef stint?
Previously, the only people who tasted my food are my family and friends. My friends aren’t the best foodies; they don’t know what good food is. So they eat everything and say, nice, nice. Whereas my mum is a Tiger Mum. On the first ep, when Audra [Morrice] said my dish was good. I went home and told my mum about it, she said, ‘Your sambal is not a pass to me.’ So it’s really nice and heartening to see qualified chefs to taste my food and give me constructive comments and that they genuinely liked my food. That really gave me the confidence and motivation.
And the lowlights?
It was when I served undercooked chicken in [Ep 5’s team challenge]. It was my most ‘down’ moment. I remember at the end of the day, I called my then-fiance, now husband, crying like crazy. He said, ‘Girl, just chill.’ I was really upset with myself. Chicken is my favourite protein.
What skills did you pick up from MasterChef Singapore?
Definitely I [learn more about] mixing spices. I can now rely on my guts instead of my mum screaming at me. The thing that bumped me out the most was that I was saving for the finale menu my mum’s rendang, which my family love. I only recently started cooking it; I dared myself to do it because I am very scared of doing something my mother has made, fearing she may not like it. But I have cooked it for her and she likes it.
Speaking of the finale, had you made it to the final round, who would you love to face off with?
I would have loved to go up against Gen definitely. She’s a force to be reckoned with!
What’s next for you? Are you going to ditch photography for F&B?
I can do both. I’m doing more food photography now. At the same time, I’m also developing a rempah blend to sell.
You’re called the Sambal Queen on the show. Is that going to be on your name card?
Maybe, maybe. I still haven’t got a brand name for my rempah blend yet.
Catch the MasterChef Singapore finale on Oct 21 on Ch 5, 9.30pm. It's also on Toggle Catch-up.
Photos: MasterChef Singapore