Be it south pole of the Moon, the World Athletics Championships, or Food Network TV’s reality cooking competition show Chopped, India is not only winning laurels but also leaving her footprints everywhere. Like India’s lunar mission, Indian food continues to penetrate, explore and rule over exotic landscapes. Indian-origin chef Jassi Bindra’s win at Chopped, a popular American reality cooking competition series, is the latest testimony to Indian food’s orbiting of the earth.
Jassi Bindra’s culinary journey from his hometown in India to Texas via Washington DC culminated in having won the grand prize, $10,000, in the episode that Food Network broadcast on August 15. He outpaced three other chefs in three rounds, each 20 to 30 minutes, and dominated the episode with his eclectic spin on some traditional Indian recipes. As per media reports, he kept his win under wraps for 10 months after the episode was shot in November 2022. He made it public to a watch party at his restaurant when the show was airing on August 15.
In 2016, it was Aarthi Sampath who became a celebrity in the culinary world of America following her win at Chopped as the first Indian woman chef. Today, she is a most sought after restaurant and food truck business consultant in New York. She not only interned at Chef Vikas Khanna’s Junoon, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant in Manhattan, but also assisted him on “The Billionaire’s Club Dinner” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
The first turbaned chef to have won a reality cooking competition on American TV, Jassi Bindra was not born with a ladle in his hand. When he was 19, he rolled up his sleeves to work in the kitchen, an exclusively private space of his mom, grandmom and other women members of the family in India. He headed a culinary program across a dozen of restaurants in his native place before traveling to Washington, DC where he worked at Punjab Grill for several years.
His chance meeting with the Singh brothers, Surpreet Singh and Preet Singh, in DC brought him to the south coast as a co-owner and executive chef of Amrina, a fine-dining Indian restaurant in the Woodlands near Houston. The Singh brothers’ (restaurant) business acumen blended with Jassi Brinda’s culinary versatility to make Amrina (a Hindi word meaning princess) a must-visit destination for the best fine-dining experience with touches of royalty. “Amrina where a symphony of tastes unfolds in life’s most delectable moments celebrates the rich tapestry of Indian cuisine,” said Chef Bindra, a ‘Chopped’ champion.
“The moment he was declared the winner, he sprang out of joy with the Punjabi phrase – Balle, Balle…Jassi Bindra’s recipe of Fortune Cookie Rabri that he made from fortune cookies (crisp cookie wafers), gooseberries, blue Hubbard squash, and camel milk with a quick thought in the final round proved to be the Midas Touch for his win,” said Sourav Agarwal, the Editor of Travel Beats, a leading community portal for Indians in the US by Indian Eagle.
“I am here to show how Indian cuisine can be sexy,” said Amrina’s executive chef Jassi Bindra at the onset of the competition. In the appetizer round, he confidently made stuffed poblano peppers with sardines and portobello mushrooms topped with cheddar cheese fondue (using peanut butter and panko bread crumbs). His instant recipe of grilled short ribs with pea green salad and Cola-coconut sauce stole the stole the show with the judges including Maneet Chauhan, an award-winning chef, cookbook writer, and culinary advocate.
To celebrate his win at Chopped, Chef Jassi Bindra pledged to donate some of the prize money, $10,000, for a charitable cause at the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He would spend the remaining amount to buy gadgets for his kitchen and gifts for his son, as he said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. His restaurant in Texas will soon treat diners to the award-winning dishes that he prepared on the reality show.