Celebrated chef Sandeep Pandit is known for the amazing dishes he created on a popular cooking show in Australia. Originally from Kashmir, Pandit has launched his own line of spices called 'The Spice Angel' in Australia, which is now available in India as well. He was in Goa last week at hotel Jasmin where he whipped up an Australian BBQ for a sundowner. He has also curated a similar menu in Mumbai at the Novotel in Juhu. Pandit spoke to NDTV Food at length about his personal favourite cuisines, his experience with the reality show, and foods that he finds overrated.
1. While creating new recipes, do you test them on your friends and your family?
- Whenever I create a new recipe, I first do a taste test myself. If I like it, in then ask for my son's and wife's opinion (They're both brutally honest). If it passes the immediate family taste test, I then offer it to my friends and neighbours. I have a philosophy in life, that I'll not serve anything that I'd not prefer to eat myself or if I didn't like the taste.
2. How important is it to understand the cuisine to enjoy the food?
- It's a complex question to answer because it's like a chicken and the egg situation. Sometimes you may be surprised with something that you didn't know and the other times, you may have just sampled something wrong and disliked a cuisine!
I prefer to know more about cuisine as a cook, however, to enjoy a cuisine you need not know about it. It's a very personal choice I reckon.
3. Did you grow up in a foodie family?
- Absolutely! Mealtimes were a massive affair during my childhood in Kashmir. We did have to be a lot more austere during the period of my family's forced exodus. But whenever we met the extended family, it was always about food and conversations. I reckon Kashmiri culture (like most other Indian subcultures) has food as a pivot. From daily meals to festivities, every day is a feast to enjoy for my family.
4. Your favourite cuisine when you are dining and your favourite when you are cooking?
- The answer to both these questions is INDIAN cuisine! India is so vast and Indian food is so complex and versatile, that it'll take a lifetime or more to explore it all. I've been fortunate to travel across the country and enjoy the delicacies from most parts of our nation. Having said that, I'm still discovering the joys of the North Eastern Kitchens.
5. A lot of people have developed a penchant for food and novel food trends, with everyone talking about things like seasonal and local produce. What excites you about food now?
- My excitement is not just around using seasonal and local produce, but also about the kind of fat that gets used in cooking!
I reckon that the onset of refined oils has stripped a major flavour (and health) component from the dishes. I use more and more virgin, unrefined oils. The use of fats such as Ghee, butter, mustard oil, Olive oil etc, bring an additional dimension to the food and are a signature of a region, just like any other produce.
6. How did the Australian cooking competition help shape your career in the food industry?
- It helped me become a household name in many parts of the world and above all, it humbled me as a cook! I realised that there's so much more that I need to learn about Indian and global cuisines. It also opened my eyes to the magnificent Australian local and native produce.
7. A childhood comfort food that continues to be a favourite?
- The answer to that is simple... Sambar and Rice, with fried papad on the side.
8. One overrated food trend according to you, also suggest a trend that you would like to replace it with.
- I find the Keto diet significantly overrated. Don't get me wrong, I respect everyone's choice for a meal, however, Keto (according to me) is highly overrated. I'd prefer that people switch to mindful eating habits recommended by ancient cultures. The ayurvedic diet provides one such alternative. A disciple in the diet is a lot more beneficial than indulging in a complete protein and fat-based diet.
9. The one invention in the food industry which needs to be around by 2050.
- We definitely need a machine that can make Biryani (multiple versions) on demand! And makes it incredibly well. Also, we need a 'Smellovision' to replace the modern TVs and help chefs like me to make our food more appealing.
10. What's the modern kitchen gadget you couldn't live without?
- Definitely a microwave! It makes cooking and prep an easier affair!
11. A cooking tip that changed your life.
- "Always season (with salt) a dish in stages, because there's always a cure for an under-seasoned dish and no comeback from a salty mess", a tip I heard as a young boy from my Dad.
12. Three things you would take with you to a deserted island? Could be kitchen tools, spices or any food.
- I'd take some rice, a cooking pot and a fishing rod! The rest of the things, the island can provide!