'He’s Learnt Sinhalese And I Actually Cried': 'MasterChef Australia's Savindri Perera On The Power Of Language In Her Relationship & Beyond

The Sri Lankan-origin contestant explains how food and language can play an important role in connecting to one's culture and others.

MasterChef Australia contestant Savindri Perera

MasterChef Australia contestant Savindri Perera. Image Source: Channel 10


Food can play a beautiful role in forging a connection to culture and identity, and MasterChef Australia has certainly been proof of that. For contestant Savindri Perera, aka Sav, cooking Sri Lankan food in particular has helped her feel connected to her culture after she moved to Australia from Sri Lanka when she was 18. It has also allowed her to feel close to her late mother who passed away in 2017 – a role model who cooked some of the most delicious traditional dishes for Perera and her family and friends. 

Of course, identity and belonging is multi-faceted, and Perera’s journey of self-discovery since moving to Australia has been multi-layered as well. Besides food, she says language has played an integral role in not only navigating her sense of self, but in how her relationships have evolved. 

At the start of this season of MasterChef, judge Andy Allen tasted a particularly spicy dish of Perera’s and asked her if she cooks for anyone at home, to which she responded, “I have a boyfriend, it’s new”. 

“Is he Sri Lankan, or…?” Allen cheekily asked, to which Perera replied, “Oh, he’s like a block of white chocolate”. 

Interracial relationships are becoming increasingly common amongst South Asian communities, especially when it comes to younger generations. Perera says that besides her romantic partner tasting her Sri Lankan dishes, speaking her mother tongue has been another way for them to connect with her culture and one another. 

“He’s learnt Sinhalese and I actually cried, because no one I’ve ever been with has made an effort to communicate to me in my language,” Perera tells Draw Your Box

“It’s a very meaningful form of intimacy to be able to speak to someone in their mother tongue. To his credit, he’s learned all these Sinhalese phrases and word… [and sometimes] it takes me a minute to clock that he’s said it in Sinhalese,” she laughs. 

The 30-year-old says it’s only in recent years that she has become more confident with other practices that are a cultural norm in South Asian communities, but perhaps have been frowned upon by wider society at one point in time.

“I think Australia is also in a position now where if I am eating with my hands, it's accepted,” she says. “Very few people are going to look at you and go, ‘Oh, that's gross’. Whereas 10 to 15 years ago, people would have been less receptive to cultural practices.”  

Perera's been one of the most-talked-about contestants on MasterChef this year, particularly after getting a second chance to return to the competition. In a recent Instagram post, she addressed some of the public criticism she has received in relation to her appearance, personality, and coming back to the reality show after being eliminated.

"The criticism has concentrated on how I am not 'feminine' because I’m not bubbly & high energy. How I am 'arrogant' when I show confidence & I’m backing myself, how I am 'aggressive' when I respond to anything, how I am 'obnoxious' when I am stoic & outwardly non-reactive to the pressure of this competition. Perhaps the most painful though, were comments that opening up about the passing of my mum is 'playing the dead mum card'. It’s not been easy to read all of this — but this is nothing new," she wrote on her social media account.

Perera went on to highlight that women of colour are often held to higher standards than others, and that the backlash she has faced is yet another example of this.

"Often, women, esp women of colour, are told to smile more, grovel more, be softer, be more feminine," she wrote. "Women are constantly met with impossible standards in the public eye - WOC even more so. This is why it’s important that people see me as I am."

Perera entered the MasterChef competition alongside 21 other home cooks for a chance to win $250,000 in prize money. They are Alex Crisp, Darrsh Clarke, David Tan, Gillian Dinh, Harry Butterfield, James Holmes, Jonathan Hooper, Josh Clarke, Josh Perry, Juan De La Cruz Torales Villarreal, Khristian Walker, Lachlan Whittle, Lily Davies, Lourdes Leschen, Mimi Wong, Nat Thaipun, Snezana Calic, Steph Griffen, Stephen Dennis, Sue Bazely and Sumeet Saigal.

The judges this year are Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow, Sofia Levin and Jean-Christophe Novelli. 

MasterChef Australia 2024 airs Sunday to Wednesday at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10 Play.