Sashi Cheliah has been crowned the winner of MasterChef Australia 2018, beating out runner-up Ben Borsht in a tense two-round finale. He won with the highest score in the show's history, scoring 93 out of a possible 100 points. His runner-up Ben scored 77.
"It's a very weird feeling," the winner admits. "I never thought this would happen!"
"I was very happy that I was able to achieve something that I had been dreaming about, and doing it in front of my family, friends and other contestants… it was a very emotional moment for me. I was literally jumping up and down screaming and cheering. It's very hard to explain but it was a very beautiful feeling."
In the finale, Ben and Sashi first faced-off in a 90-minute challenge. They were tasked with creating a starter and a main for the three judges.
Ben served up blue swimmer crab with avocado cream, coriander and finger lime for the starter, and battered whiting with parsley and garlic emulsion and crushed peas for the main.
Sashi leapt to the top of the leaderboard after serving up a starter of sambal prawn with crispy prawn heads and herb salad, and a fish curry with cumin rice for the main dish.
With Ben scoring 41/60 and Sashi scoring a near-perfect 57/60, there were 16 points separating the contestants as they made their way in to round two.
Sashi, who worked as a prison officer before entering the competition, says the impressive lead gave him the added confidence he needed to succeed in the pressure test.
"It was really encouraging. It gave me a lot of confidence going in to the next round with a 16-point lead. I know Ben is very good at pressure tests, so that lead was important for me to win the competition."
Round two saw Ben and Sashi battle it out in a pressure test led by Heston Blumenthal. The complicated 'counting sheep' dish involved 19 elements and more than 80 ingredients, with the contestants being given five and a half hours to complete the mammoth task.
The dish consisted of light malt meringue pillows with milk ice cream inside, to remind them of the lightness you feel before you fall asleep. It was also made up of coconut ice-cream, steamed sponge, panna cotta, lychee gel, earl grey caramel, coriander yoghurt and yoghurt snow.
"I couldn't even figure out what was there! I was lost for a while," Sashi says of the dish.
Sashi made one major mistake during the pressure test, when he forgot to insert his frozen discs in to the mousse before putting them in to the freezer. Thankfully, he managed to correct his mistake.
"I had made very similar mistakes previously, reading the recipe wrong, or understanding it wrong, or rushing it. I tried my best not to repeat the same mistakes again.
"Somehow, I did make a mistake once and I was just lucky it didn't cost me the whole competition. I made a mistake but I recovered quickly," he says.
Sashi admits he was relieved when he finally served his dish.
"It was a very big relief, I was just very proud of what I had done in the end. Putting up Heston's dish… some professional chefs take months of practice! So to be only given five and a half hours… I was very proud."
Sashi and Ben both received high praise from the judges for their pressure test recreations, each scoring 36/40 in the final challenge.
Sashi was awarded the title of MasterChef Australia 2018, and $250,000, after taking out the top score of 93/100.
"My wife was speechless," says Sashi. "So happy she couldn't even speak, she was fighting for words! After I finished Heston's dish my youngest son came running down crying, so it was all very emotional and at the same time very happy. We will be celebrating tonight!"
Sashi plans to open his own business, but says he wants to learn more about the food industry before he opens a restaurant.
"The prize money is going in to my business, that I'm working on starting… I don't know when! I definitely have an idea of starting a restaurant, so that money is going in to my business."
Sashi continues, "[I want] to learn more about the food industry. I know I can cook good food, but cooking alone is not everything in the food industry.
"I want to have some training. I want to learn about how to run a proper business, run a restaurant and how to employ people. There are a lot of things for me to learn."
Congratulations to both Sashi and Ben for their incredible work in the MasterChef Australia grand finale!