MasterChef fans, rejoice: 2018 series winner Sashi Cheliah has returned to his hometown of Adelaide to launch his very own restaurant, GAJA by Sashi.
Singapore born and bred, Sashi developed a passion for cooking at a very young age, spending much of his childhood watching his mother and aunties cook in their family cafe.
“Food is a huge part of my culture and there’s always plenty of food to prepare at every cultural festival or celebration. I can still remember being in the kitchen at ten-years-old, watching my mother cook and smelling the spicy aromas,” Sashi said.
Believe it or not, Sashi hasn’t always worked in the food industry. For twelve years, he worked for the Singapore Police Force in the Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) unit, where he specialised in solving kidnappings, rescue operations and counter terrorism.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Sashi moved to Adelaide to pursue a career as a prison guard, enabling him to strike a better work-life balance and landed him in the kitchen with more time to cook for his family.
After seeing a Facebook post calling for the next cast of MasterChef, it was then that Sashi decided to apply on a whim and was accepted into the tenth season of the popular Channel 10 series.
In the Masterchef season ten finale, Sashi received a victory-winning score of 93 out of a possible 100; the highest ever score received in any MasterChef finale. Whilst riding the victory wave, Sashi went on to open a pop-up restaurant in Melbourne called GAJA by Sashi, which was the first stepping stone that led him to eventually open up his latest permanent restaurant space in Adelaide by the same name.
So what can patrons expect on the menu? Sashi has teamed up with Head Chef Miles Davis (who has come from Hotel Longtime) to carefully curate a one-of-a-kind menu featuring a mix of Indian, Chinese and Malaysian influences on Asian-inspired dishes, sharing plates and cocktails. And yes, you can even try the signature dish that earnt Sashi his Masterchef title; the critically-acclaimed “Cari Vit”, also known as Lychee Duck Curry.
With architectural and interior design elements inspired by Colonial Singapore, Adelaide-based interior design company Malbarosa & Co. have created a spacious and inviting atmosphere that is suave and sophisticated.
Not only is the interior aesthetically pleasing, but many elements hold much more meaning than meets the eye. A beautiful mural of a sparrow flying out of a cage lies on the rear wall of the restaurant in the casual lounge seating space that Sashi calls “the birdcage”, an area which has been dedicated to his rehabilitation initiative that provides former prisoners with employment within his restaurant.
The centrepiece that lies at the heart of the restaurant is a large, vibrantly-coloured mural of an elephant, which is the meaning behind the name ‘Gaja’.
“It comes from my love of elephants: GAJA means Elephant in three languages – Sanskrit, Tamil and Malay. A GAJA personifies a number of positive attributes, including abundance, fertility and richness, boldness and strength, and wisdom and royalty,” said Sashi.
GAJA by Sashi opened their doors to for an early sneak peak launch event on Friday 8 November, before officially opening to the public on Monday 11 November.
GAJA by Sashi // 4/86 Pirie Street, Adelaide, SA, 5000
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday 12pm – 9:30pm