Ambassador of Indian food
Born in Srinagar, Sandeep Pandit was still a kid when he along with his family had to leave Kashmir in a truck and got separated from his family in the 90s, and fate brought the family to south India, Bangalore. He grew up in the IT capital and got himself through MBA and began working in an IT company. All this while his love for cooking was blossoming as he helped his mother and along the way learn the secrets of cooking from his mother and grandmother. He learnt about traditional Kashmiri cuisines, and by virtue of living, he was getting acquainted with south Indian delicacies as well. In 2016, he shifted to Australia on work, and eventually became a permanent resident of the country. And it is there that he wanted to try his luck at Masterchef Australia, a show he diligently would watch back home.
"It was an insane moment. I was there selected to participate in my favourite show, and whenever I watched it in India I would look out for an Indian participant. I was standing there waiting to get my apron, and I knew the entire responsibility to showcase India was on my shoulders," shares Sandeep, who was the only Indian contestant on Masterchef Australia Season 10.
Evidently Sandeep cooked a lot of Indian food, beginning with Kashmiri Rogan Josh and Dum Aloo – his two favourite dishes. When he made Kashmiri dishes in the first round, it was a heart-stopping moment when the meat didn't turn out well. "My confidence again rose when I was given a second chance, and this time the name that was called for the third apron was mine," shares Sandeep, who says he ensured that his demeanour and the way he presented himself reflected the country he represents. "I was proud to showcase the values I have grown up with and show to the world that this is how we do it in India. I also wanted to showcase the rich culinary tradition," he adds. Once he made Basil Lachha Paratha with tomato curry and celebrity chef had a taste of it that left celebrity guest chef Rick Stein raving about it.
While the entire world and the judges on the show were rooting for the Indian-born Australian IT professional, there were comments that he always made curries. "This is the perception I want to change that Indian food is only curries. Dosa, biryani in Hyderabad, Avakaya and tomato chutney of Andhra - there is a whole gamut of dishes from India, and I wanted the world to know about Indian food. Infact Melbourne is known as the food capital, but all people know of Indian cuisine is Butter Chicken, and this has to change," he shares.
Sandeep had to leave the contest due to a back injury, but not before yet another defining moment that will remain memorable in the history of Masterchef Australia. It was the episode where he gets perfect score from all the three judges - Restaurateur and chef Gary Mehigan, chef George Calombaris and food critic Matt Preston.
And the quintessentially south Indian dish that got him 10/10 from all the three chefs was lemon rice and raita, and lemon pepper chicken which he plated beautifully, and the chefs were absolutely thrilled with the explosion of flavours. "I asked myself which is the one dish I remember for its ingredient. And for me it was what we call in Bangalore Chitrannam. I felt it was one of the most versatile and under-appreciated dishes," states Sandeep, who has proved himself to be the true ambassador of Indian cuisine in its myriad variants.
"In future, I hope to do YouTube videos and shows on television on Indian food. I hope to talk to the west and educate them on how Indian food is beyond curries," he states. Sandeep is back to his routine of working in IT industry, blogging on his website, but one day, he aspires to start his own restaurant that will make biryanis and Indian barbeques. "I love Hyderabad's KachheGosht ka Biryani. It is the best," he says.