Return of the native
After winning the love of judges and audiences for his Indian dishes on MasterChef Australia Season 11, Sandeep Pandit is travelling across India to experience his home country again
A simple-yet-complex dish of lemon pepper chicken with lemon rice is what got Sandeep Pandit the perfect score and immunity pin on season 11 of MasterChef Australia. Little did he imagine that within two years of moving to Australia from Bengaluru, he would go on to not just participate but also get adulation for his Indian preparations, which wowed judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston and guests like Rick Stein. While Pandit went back to his full-time IT job post his elimination on the show, he has been busy with pop-ups across Australia. In Mumbai to prep for a pop-up and a demo on Kashmiri food coming up in January, Pandit talks about rediscovering cooking and his love for food.
We see that you have been exploring Indian street food while here.
I was rediscovering my Indian food heritage [while on the show], and everyone saw how deeply I was connected with it. Though I know the length and breadth of the country, I took it upon myself to travel around and experience local food to discover new flavours, something I have been documenting on my IGTV show Spice Angels in India. I want to show what Indian food is about. We do get Indian spices in Australia, but shopping for ingredients at the Khari Baoli market in Delhi and picking up something from one of the biggest spice markets in the world is quite different.
Your pop-up in Mumbai is about Kashmiri food, it's been postponed though,we hear.
Everyone loves Kashmiri food, but there are not enough people cooking it. It's not celebrated as much and I feel it's my duty to showcase it well. Sadly, authentic Kashmiri ingredients like Morel mushrooms are difficult to get, hence the delay.
What do you feel has led to the popularity of Indian food in Australia?
The popularity of MasterChef Australia in India and there stems from the India visits of chefs like Mehigan, Ramsay and Stein. When here, they ate at simple places and saw how complex Indian food is, it's not just one curry. Sushi has taken Japan to the world, and showcases its culture. Our food has so many layers and we haven't we received that recognition yet.
What's life like after the show and what were some of your learnings?
The love that I got has touched me. The comments on my Instagram are incredible. I come from a Kashmiri migrant family and childhood was a struggle. I am thankful to God that at 38, I dared to dream and those dreams came true. The kitchen teaches you humility, it's nothing less than a spiritual abode and I connected with myself there. It taught me that I can falter and it put me up on a pedestal too. So, perhaps I am good at what I do, but I have a long way to go. I also learnt that you don't always have to cook with fancy ingredients or use fancy techniques such as sous vide or foam. You just need to know what's feasible.
What's your favourite Indian ingredient (after garam masala) and what do you crave most in Australia?
The Kashmiri chilli, its mild heat has fans among the best chefs in the world. I miss pani puri there and I will be taking back some Kashmiri qawah with me.
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