Lunch with Neha Sen – Masterchef’s dancing cook

Small in size but extra big in personality, Neha Sen graduated from burnt rice and carbonised dahl to the Masterchef kitchen in just six years.

Her elimination over a silly baking paper mistake is now history but nothing is going to stop this girl from taking on the cooking world like a culinary whirling dervish. I expect it won’t be long before I can walk into a supermarket and buy Neha’s delicious  King Island Kulfi  with a sesame snap (looks like ice cream, but denser and creamier and tastes like heaven) straight of the shelf. 

I lunched with Neha and her husband Marcus on the back deck of their inner city Brisbane home enjoying Neha’s Indian/Australian fusion recipes including Kangaroo Kurry with Coconut Rice (see the recipe below).

Although her conversion to cooking is recent, there’s no doubting Neha’s expertise. One mouthful of the Kangaroo Kurry confirms she has a deft hand with flavours but according to Neha, some members of her family still need to be convinced.

"I didn't learn to cook at all until I came to Australia from India to further my education," she says.  "I was living in Townsville attending James Cook University and living on takeaway pizza and Coke when my Singaporean- Indian landlady took me in hand and introduced me to cooking.

"I also started Skyping with my mother back in India and had quite a few long distance cooking lessons. That was really the beginning of my fascination with blending the flavours of India and Australia.”

Blending has been a key word throughout Neha’s life. As a child, Neha travelled throughout India and gained an early understanding of its diverse regions and customs.

"Both my parents are doctors and my father served in the Indian Army for more than 20 years. Every few years he would be transferred and I was exposed to different cultures, languages and food every time we moved.”

Neha filled the water jug with mint and slices of lemon and cucumber which was deliciously refreshing.

It was a laugh-filled lunch as Neha shared stories of her fabulously eccentric family, her early cooking disasters and her journey from living on takeaway pizza and Coke to the kitchens of Masterchef.

Neha holds a Masters in Information Technology and an MBA from James Cook University and has been working as a senior marketing and communications adviser for an information technology company in the Brisbane CBD, but she now intends to make food the focus of her professional life.

"I am passionate about the food of India, but also about all that Australian food has to offer. I want to devote my energy to projects that showcase the food and dance of each country to the other, that combine the two in interesting ways.”
"Being in Masterchef exposed me to some of the best chefs and industry professionals in Australia. It made me realize that food was where my future lay and that it was up to me to pursue my dreams."

"Masterchef undoubtedly increased my culinary skills and brought me a step closer to doing this but now the hard work really begins."

"My long term goal would be to own a restaurant serving contemporary Indian and Indian-inspired dishes that express who I am as an Indian Australian, an elegant place that showed my love of art, design and food. However, my immediate venture is to work on Indian inspired ice creams for Australian palates. I’d love to work on TV shows with a mix of food and culture - a bit like 'Food Safari' but with the dance floor in the mix!"

"I’m happiest when I’m cooking, sharing and eating in the company of family and friends. I want to move this love for food from being my passion to my profession."

Neha's cardamom kulfi

Filled with the warm inner glow that comes from time spent in good company with good food, I can only wish Neha every success.  Not that she will need it once the world tastes her kulfi.

Coconut rice and Kangaroo Curry are the front two dishes

Neha’s Kangaroo Kurry with Coconut Rice


Kangaroo Kurry


1 kg kangaroo meat diced into 1inch pieces
4 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp garam masala powder
4 tbsp veg oil
4 medium sized onions chopped fine
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp ginger finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder- add more if you like the curry hot
2 large tomatoes chopped fine
2 tbsp ghee
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
Sugar to balance flavor
Half bunch chopped coriander

Curry Powder mix:

2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
7 cloves
2 inch cassia sticks
2 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods
2 pieces of mace
2 tsp nutmeg powder

1. Marinate the kangaroo in yogurt and the garam masala overnight
2. In a heated pan, add all the ingredients of the curry powder mix expect the nutmeg and roast till they are aromatic. Allow them to cool and grind them in a spice grinder. To this powder, add the nutmeg powder, mix together and keep aside.
3. In a pot, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add the onions and sauté them till they are light brown and soft.
4. Add the ginger and garlic along with 2 tsp of salt and continue to sauté for another 10 minutes till it starts to become a paste. Add a bit of water, if the mixture starts to stick at the bottom of the pot.
5. Add tomatoes, turmeric and chilli powder and sauté for another 10 minutes till the tomatoes are cooked and merge with the paste consistency. Add a bit of sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes and check if it is sticking to the base of the pot. If it does, add a bit of water and mix.
6. Add the marinated meat and mix and cook for 5 minutes. Cover the pot and let it cook for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, uncover and check the meat. It should have left its own water.
7. Add the curry powder mixture and mix, cover the pot and let it cook for an hour. Check the pot from time to time to see if it needs a bit of water, mix and let it cook again. If you like a thicker curry, uncover the pot and reduce the water content of the curry.
8. Once the mutton is tender, check the seasoning, add the lime juice and stir in the coriander and serve.

Coconut Rice:

¼ cup coconut cream
¾ cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1 cup basmati rice
2 bay leaves
2 cassia sticks
4 green cardamom pods
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar


1. Soak the rice in water for an hour and then drain the water.
2. In a pot, heat the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, cardamom and 
cassia sticks and fry for a few seconds till it is aromatic.
3. Add the rice to the pot, and fry in the spices for a minute.
4. Add 1 cup of water, coconut cream and milk and stir.
5. Add sugar and salt and cover the pot and cook the rice till done.
6. Serve hot.

Kerry Heaney

Disclaimer: Ed+bK was invited to lunch with Neha.