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WHEN the top 24 contestants on MasterChef Australia season 10 had their first Mystery Box challenge, Sashi Cheliah’s box revealed a replica of the MasterChef immunity pin.

Introduced for the first time in this series’ history, this gave whoever lucky enough to receive the replica the chance to pick the ingredients to be put in the mystery boxes that all the other contestants had to cook with.

When asked during a recent tele-conference if he now sees that as a sign he was going to win, the 39-year-old prison officer said: “I don’t know about that, but when I posted my first Instagram after that, I said I felt like a winner. At that point, I felt very good. Maybe it was like a sign!”

Six years ago, Sashi, who was in the Singapore Police Force dealing in special tactics and rescue operations, relocated to Australia. After a stint with the Justice Department in Melbourne, he and his family moved to Adelaide, where he now works at a women’s prison.

Married with two sons, Marcus and Ryan (who he dedicated much of his food inspirations to), Sashi was someone viewers identified with on so many levels throughout the recently-concluded season of this popular reality cooking competition.

He seemed to have this laidback personality one would not associate with being a prison officer.

“What you see on TV is my cooking face. Once I have my uniform on, you will see a totally different personality. I am a bit more regimented when it comes to my work.”

Still basking in the afterglow of victory after going head to head with the other finalist Ben Borsht, Sashi is in the midst of preparing for the opening of his very first pop-up restaurant, Gaja by Shasi, which offers Singapore-style Indian, Chinese, and Malay dishes in Melbourne.

He has taken no-pay leave in order to take part in MasterChef Australia, and if all goes well, he won’t be returning to his old job.

Sashi also has the distinction of being the only competitor in the series’ history to win the much sought-after immunity pin twice.

For a home cook to win the pin, which can save the cook from elimination in a challenge, he or she must pit skills against a guest professional chef, and turn out the better dish.

“The second [win] was a very memorable one,” he recalled. “I [had] dedicated that dish to my kids, and I cooked something close to my heart that my kids loved, which was lamb and peas.”

This season’s contestants also seemed to go for more homestyle dishes as opposed to previous seasons.

“I think for me, I am very much into home-cooked food which is what we grew up with,” said Sashi, who started cooking when he was about 10 or 11, helping his mother in the kitchen.

However, it was only when he moved to Australia that he really started to get into cooking.

He added that one reason he took part in MasterChef Australia was to show the world what Asian home-cooked food is all about, and how to elevate that to restaurant standard.

“That was what I was trying to achieve and I think I have done justice to that,” he said.

Right off the bat, Sashi proved to be one of the strongest competitors. When asked who among the home cooks he initially thought would have a chance at winning the title, Sashi cited Brandon Pang, Reece Hignell, and Khanh Ong.

He also recalled how he was over the moon when his idol, British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey who is the head judge for MasterChef US, appeared as a guest judge on the show.

“I really idolise him,” exclaimed Sashi. “I love the way he cooks. When I saw him walk into the kitchen, I went nuts!

“I was happy that I performed well that week. I was the mystery box winner that week, and he praised me for that dish. I also joined him for the immunity challenge and I won my first pin.”

He also got a chance to cook for Prince Charles during one of the team challenges.

“I was so happy. How many people can say they cooked for royalty?

“It was so nice of Prince Charles to take time out to meet us, greet and talk to us. That was not even a part of his plans. He took photos with us and really appreciated what we cooked that day.”

Catch the repeats of the last two episodes of MasterChef Australia season 10 on Lifetime (Astro channel 709) this Saturday at 8.45am and Sunday at 5.30pm.

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