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Meet This Kashmiri in Masterchef AU Killing It With His Rogan Josh

This Kashmiri techie has been winning hearts at Masterchef Australia. 

Updated
What The Food
4 min read
Kashmiri man in Masterchef Australia. 
i

Sandeep Pandit was just eight years old when his family packed their bags and fled from Kashmir in the dead of the night in 1989. From Srinagar to Jammu to Bangalore, the Pandit family straddled two states to find peace and settle down after migrating. Though his upbringing and education was in posh Bangalore, Sandeep stayed close to his roots and explored the rich culinary heritage of Kashmir.

Thirty years later, Sandeep has not only made Jammu and Kashmir but all of India proud by being selected to compete in the prestigious MasterChef Australia. From Rogan Josh (mutton dish with red gravy) to Yakhni (mutton dish prepared in yoghurt), Hakh (collard green; the staple diet of Kashmir), Muji Chetin (reddish chutney) and Tehr (yellow rice), Sandeep expressed his feelings through Kashmiri cuisine and eventually impressed the judges.

Meet This Kashmiri in Masterchef AU Killing It With His Rogan Josh
(Photo Courtesy: Ishfaq-ul-Hassan)
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“Cooking has a special place in most Indian families, it’s special to us, and it’s spiritual. My passion for cooking started early, as I had to help Mom in the kitchen in Bangalore. When we moved to Bangalore, we had no money for the most basic amenities of life. As there was no fridge to store the food, Mom taught me how to heat food to keep it going for longer. I later fell in love with cooking, as it was my happy place in those turbulent times.”
Sandeep Pandit to The Quint

Born in Azad Basti Budshah Nagar in upmarket Srinagar in 1981, Sandeep completed a degree in Chemical Engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) in 2003. Later, he completed an MBA from Bangalore University and joined the IT industry in 2005. Given his professional acumen and body of work, he was sent to Australia in 2016 by his company, Cognizant, to head one of their projects.

Meet This Kashmiri in Masterchef AU Killing It With His Rogan Josh
(Photo Courtesy: Ishfaq-ul-Hassan)

Cooking, however, remained his first love and thus, when applications for MasterChef Australia were invited, he was among the first to apply. As luck had it, he was selected among the first 50 and later given the apron, which is exclusive to the 24 contestants who are selected.

“I have been a huge fan of MasterChef Australia even when I was in India. MasterChef Australia invites applications from across Australia. After the initial screening, 50 get invited to cook for the judges and 24 win the apron to cook for the title. These are called the Top 24 of the season.”
Sandeep Pandit to The Quint

Sandeep has been cooking since he was nine. From helping his mother in the kitchen to making tea and trying his hand at some old recipes, he has dabbled in all kinds of cooking to pursue his passion.

“My grandmothers always influenced my Kashmiri cooking. My mother further held my hand and taught me many Kashmiri delicacies. I am very proficient in making Dum Aloo, Rogan Josh, Nadru Yakhini... using Kashmiri techniques. Over the years, I have got better at cooking these traditional dishes, with inputs from many elders.”
Sandeep Pandit to The Quint

And it was his love for Kashmiri cuisine which stole the show and led judges to appreciate Sandeep for his deep insight into the culinary history of his motherland.

“Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston (two of the judges) are very well aware of Indian cuisine and they were super impressed with me for cooking traditional Kashmiri dishes. Rogan Josh, Hakh, Muji Chetin and Tehr made their debut in my audition dish and the judges were very impressed with my cooking. I didn’t have much time to tenderise the mutton so I was invited to cook again, and I won the coveted apron the next day.”
Sandeep Pandit to The Quint

In another challenge, he made Yakhni (lamb) and the judges were amazed at the simplicity of a complex dish as complex as that. “I am just fortunate to be able to showcase Indian cuisine at this level”, he said.

The show is currently on air in Australia and our prayers are already with the son of our soil.

For the 38-year-old techie, the MasterChef Australia journey is a stepping stone in realising his dream of setting up his own restaurant.

“If I win, I would like to pursue my food dream of opening a restaurant called `BBQ and Biryani’. I also want to document the recipes from Kashmir as I think we’re losing some of them with time. I would love to cook Kashmiri Dum Aloo for PM Narendra Modi, because it is a unique dish from the valley. Very few dishes champion potato, the way our good old Dum Oolav does.”
Sandeep Pandit to The Quint

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