Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Posted at: Mar 9, 2019, 1:43 AM; last updated: Mar 9, 2019, 1:43 AM (IST)INTERVIEW : AMNINDER SANDHU

Cooking to fame... slowly

The only Indian chef to appear on Netflix’s Final Table, Amninder Sandhu is introducing ancient kitchen techniques such as cooking over sigrees and stones at her swanky restaurants in Mumbai and Pune

Protima Tiwary

Amninder Sandhu is the executive chef at Arth (Mumbai and Pune), a fine dine establishment that aims to introduce diners to the oldest methods of Indian cooking. The ‘no gas’ concept followed here is much talked about. We catch up with her to understand what inspires her and makes her stand out in an industry dominated by men.

Was it a childhood dream to become a chef?

I’d be lying if I said yes. I was a fussy eater and only loved the fancy food that my mother cooked when she threw her famous parties. I’ve grown up in Assam and we’ve led a simple, unassuming life. We had our own kitchen garden and my mother would make some great dishes by innovating recipes. Her brother would take us fishing where we would cook the fresh catch over a bonfire and eat it then and there. That is when I truly realised how cool it was to actually cook. I had the inspiration, but I didn’t know I’d end up doing this as a career one day. Back then there were not too many TV shows on food, so there was not much that I knew about the industry. However, there was one show I had watched and it changed my life. There was Chef Martin Yan with his catchphrase: If Yan can cook, so can you! 

Did you enrol with a culinary school? 

Not initially. I was a science student, going about my life. Making Maggi with scrambled eggs was the extent of my culinary prowess. But even then my friends would tell me, “No one makes Maggi and eggs like you do. You must cook more!” I was in class one day, it was third year of college and I realised I hated all of it. Yes, it really is as dramatic as it sounds. In that moment, I realised I was made to cook. I told my folks about my decision, dropped out and enrolled myself with the Taj Culinary School in Aurangabad.

Were your parents supportive of your decision? 

Initially, my father was a little unhappy because I had always been a good student and he wanted me to become a doctor. Now, because I had proved that I was intelligent, hard working and a go-getter, he knew he couldn’t make me change my decision and came on board.

This is a male-dominated industry. Do you agree? 

Absolutely, it is. As far as challenges are concerned, I guess it’d be the fact that we still need a lot more literated minds in the kitchen. By this I mean effective leaders who have seen the workings of the industry and those who make the environments inside the kitchen more conducive. But this too is improving now. Many people are choosing culinary arts and sciences as their main profession. Earlier, we’d have people shouting at and blaming each other in the kitchens. It is changing, but is still a challenge.

You travelled across India to understand Indian cooking, and introduced us to ancient recipes through Arth. What was your idea behind it?

I wanted to introduce the world to Indian cuisine. I felt it was misinterpreted and not enough importance was given to it even in India. I wanted people to take pride in Indian cooking. I wanted the youth to be aware of our food legacy and not treat Indian food as inferior. This is why I introduced the ancient Indian slow cooking methods that do not use any gas whatsoever. We cook over hot sand, we use sigrees and angeethi in the kitchen today. I want to revive the old methods of Indian cooking. 

You made your mark by being a finalist on Netflix’s Final Table. How did that feel?

After six months of interviews and auditions, I got the news that I was one of the 36 chefs who were going to LA for the show. I was among the final 24 and cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for this. I’ve had small beginnings and have never forgotten my roots. As I got the news, it suddenly hit me that I had come so far. I was part of a group that had some of the best the best chefs in the world! 

Where do you see yourself next? 

I want to write a book for sure! I want to talk about the closely guarded secrets and family recipes in Indian cooking, and want the world to become aware of the magic of our cuisine. I also want to collaborate with chefs all over the world.


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