Melbourne: Sandeep Pandit left Kashmir with his family when he was all of 8. Now he is exploring the culinary heritage of his roots as a contestant on "MasterChef Australia", leaving judges of the international reality TV show impressed.
A Kashmiri Pandit, Sandeep has been preparing Rogan Josh, Yakhni, Muji Chetin, Dhungar, Kahwa, Kabargah and Tehr, on the show judged by Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston.
According to Sandeep's contestant profile on the show's website, he was born in Kashmir in the early 1980s and spent eight years there with his family before militancy forced them south, leaving all their possessions and migrating to Bengaluru in 1990. It was here that Sandeep's passion for cooking grew.
The family didn't have a fridge, so his mother taught him how to cook 'dal' without having it stick to the hotplate, and how to boil food to prevent it spoiling.
It is these learnings that helped Sandeep, who has a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration, develop a taste for cooking. His presence on "MasterChef Australia" had even caught the attention of Jammu and Kashmir's former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
"We have a Kashmir connection in this season of 'Masterchef Australia'. Rooting for Sandeep Pandit. Already we've seen his Rogan Josh and he wowed the judges with his Kashmiri Yakhni. Can't wait to see how far he goes," Abdullah tweeted last month.
Sandeep had thanked him, and said: "I will try my best to make India proud." In the latest episode, Sandeep even got the perfect score. His skills have been praised by social media users across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
One social media user tweeted: "Hey Sandeep. I'm from South India. I'm watching 'MasterChef' only because of you. You made us proud with that lemon rice and chicken.
"I love the way you are treating food, and I love the way you are working with Indian cuisine. You are doing great. All the best." Another person tweeted: "Hey Sandeep! We Indians are so proud to see you on 'Masterchef'. Your dishes speak to us", and another commented: "Make India proud".
It was in 2016 that Sandeep had made the move to Australia for work. His dream is to open a food stall selling Indian BBQ meat cooked over coals and biryani dishes. And through his blog, he also hopes to preserve the ancient recipes from his Kashmiri culture and showcase other cultures.