Thursday, July 25, 2024

Masterchef India 7 winner Nayanjyoti Saikia from Assam on how he taught himself to cook

Nayanjyoti Saikia, winner of Masterchef India 7

Nayanjyoti Saikia, winner of Masterchef India 7
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When Masterchef India 7 winner Nayanjyoti Saikia reached his home in Gobindapur village in Tinsukia town (490 kilometres from Guwahati in Upper Assam) on Saturday morning, the 27-year-old mechanical engineer couldn’t believe his eyes; a crowd of over 2000 people were waiting at a ‘field’ near his home to welcome him with a feast. 

His home was no less crowded. The general mood there was akin to a big fat Indian wedding. When MetroPlus caught up with him, , I could hear the sound of cymbals and dhol along with a joyous bihu chorus.  Nayanjyoti says, “I am overwhelmed. Everyone is doing their own thing to welcome me. People are still dancing to bihu songs.” 

He did not always have this kind of encouragement. Initially, his family wasn’t too supportive of his Masterchef journey, but gradually they warmed up to it and now they are extremely proud of him. His cousins doubled up as critics as he taught himself to cook various dishes.  “The cue to the dish ready to be eaten was: I got the perfect photo,” he laughs. 

Nayanjyoti Saikia

Nayanjyoti Saikia

Nayanjyoti thinks that among all the participants — from the initial selection to getting the contestant’s apron— his approach to ingredients and dishes gave him an edge. “I always wanted to use local ingredients to make the fanciest ‘bilati’ (imported) dish. I also experimented with a lot of ingredients during the selection rounds.”    

After spending three months at Masterchef India, the day he knew he was going home, Nayanjoti told his family he wanted to eat a simple homemade meal. “I pecked on the grand feast organised by the village and came home and ate a tangy tomato curry made with Bahu fish. Now, I feel I am home!” 

Nayanjyoti’s culinary interest often made him experiment with simple dishes with ingredients that were easily available in his village or perhaps in Tinsukia town. “It was absolutely basic stuff. When I went to Guwahati to do my mechanical engineering, I had access to a lot more ingredients and my culinary experiments increased. So, by the time Icompleted my engineering course in 2018, I had also honed my cooking skills; I made pasta more often. tried grills, made roasted vegetables and whatnot.”

Technology helped a great deal in the interim. He reveals “The internet was my guru and then with Instagram, I was able to reach out to chefs to learn more. As a beginner,I wasn’t able to make the best dough for hand-rolled pasta. I DMd chef Stefano Minnucci because he is pasta wizard on Instagram about my situation. I wasn’t really expecting a reply, but after a week, I got one! The chef not only told me the right technique, but he also shared his secret tip on ingredient measurement and proportions; I was thrilled I tried it and hit bull’s-eye!”   

Nayanjyoti says he wasn’t expecting to win Masterchef. “Everyone was from big cities and had so much knowledge of working with different ingredients and tools. On the other hand, I used to grind and sieve semolina to obtain fine semolina for pasta dough in my village. My workstation was a pantry I had created in my bedroom and I cooked on an induction stove. So, I felt I had a bleak chance of making it to the finale. However once in the competition, I found everyone to be very supportive. Even the fellow participants were friendly and helpful.”    

Did he showcase regional food at the contest? “For one of the rounds, we were given regional ingredients to celebrate 75 years of Indian food. With the Manipuri black rice, I made Bora saul (a sticky rice dish), koldil chicken gravy (a mild stew with banana flowers and chicken). For the final round, I made a crab dish with lumba (herb), made a dish inspired by the famous Assamese duck and ash gourd curry.” 

Nayanjyoti added Chef Garima Arora, Chef Ranveer Brar and Chef Vikas Khanna were the best teachers in the form of judges he could have ever met.

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