MasterChef India 7 winner Nayanjyoti Saikia | photo credit: special arrangement
When MasterChef India 7 winner Nayanjyoti Saikia reached his home in Gobindapur village in Tinsukia town (490 km from Guwahati in upper Assam) on Saturday morning, the 27-year-old mechanical engineer could not believe his eyes; A crowd of over 2000 people waited at a ‘maidan’ near his house to welcome him with a feast.
His house was also no less crowded. The general mood there was like a big fat Indian wedding. When metroplus caught up with him, I could hear the sound of cymbals and drum With a joyous Bihu chorus. Nayanjyoti says, “I am overwhelmed. Everyone is trying their best to welcome me. People are still dancing to Bihu songs.”
He did not always get such encouragement. Initially, his family was not very supportive of his MasterChef journey, but gradually they made up for it and are now very proud of him. His cousins doubled as critics as he taught himself to cook various dishes. “The dish was ready to eat: I got the right picture,” he laughs.
Nayanjyoti feels that among all the contestants – from the initial selection to receiving the contestant’s apron – her approach towards ingredients and dishes gave her an edge. “I have always wanted to use local ingredients to make the best of ‘bilati’ (imported) cuisine. I also experimented with a lot of ingredients during the selection rounds.”
After spending three months on MasterChef India, the day he learned he was going home, Nayanjoti told his family that he wanted to eat simple home-style food. “I tasted the lavish feast hosted by the village and came home to a spicy tomato curry made from daughter-in-law fish. Now, I feel like I’m home!”
Nayanjyoti’s culinary interest often led her to experiment with simple dishes that were readily available in her village or perhaps in the city of Tinsukia. “It was absolutely basic stuff. When I moved to Guwahati to do my mechanical engineering, I had a lot of ingredients and my culinary experiments increased. Also improved my cooking skills; I made pasta more often. Tried the grill, made roasted vegetables and what not.
Technology helped a lot in the interim. He revealed, “The Internet was my mentor and then with Instagram, I was able to reach out to chefs to learn more. As a beginner, I haven’t been able to make the best dough for hand-rolled pasta. I’m DMD chef Stefano Minnucci as he pasta wizard Instagrammed about my situation. I wasn’t really expecting a reply, but after a week, I got one! Not only did the chef show me the correct technique, but he also shared his secret tip on ingredient measurements and proportions; I was thrilled I tried it and hit the bull’s-eye!
Nayanjyoti says that she did not expect to win MasterChef. “Everyone was from big cities and had so much knowledge of working with different materials and tools. On the other hand, I used to grind and sift semolina in my village to get fine semolina for pasta flour. My workstation was a pantry I built in my bedroom and I cooked on an induction stove. So, I felt that I have very little chance of making it to the finale. However once at the competition, I found everyone was very supportive. Even the fellow participants were friendly and helpful.
Did they showcase regional food in competition? “For round one, we were given regional ingredients to celebrate 75 years of Indian food. With Manipuri black rice, I made Bora Saul (a sticky rice dish), Coldil Chicken Gravy (a light stew with banana flowers and chicken). For the final round, I made a crab dish with lumba (herbs), a dish inspired by the famous Assamese duck and gourd curry.
Nayanjyoti said that Chef Garima Arora, Chef Ranveer Brar and Chef Vikas Khanna as judges were the best teachers she could have ever met.