As a child, Delhi boy Ripu Daman Handa remembers going to the local Gurdwara every weekend with his parents for seva. He would head to the langar where he would roll out misshapen rotis. He fell in love with the smells and the sounds of the kitchen.
Years later, as a Masterchef India finalist, Ripu had mastered most things, but the round roti was still elusive. While he was shooting in Amritsar, he again worked in the gurdwara, serving people, helping in the kitchen and cleaning the floor. And he finally made the perfect roti. He also went on to win Season 3 of Masterchef India.
Today, he’s busy teaching people cooking and shooting for television shows. He will also get to author a book, as part of the top prize. 'I was hopeless in studies and everyone wondered what I would make of my life,' smiles Ripu. He was under-confident and weighed 110 kg in school, as he piled on the kilos with a fat-rich diet.
But soon he hit the gym where he worked out. Besides losing the extra kilos, also became a gym instructor. 'The new me is a result of diet and exercise. Which is why, most of my recipes call for very little oil. I’ve not eaten desi ghee in seven years! While cooking, I rarely use desi ghee. I am a big fan of olive oil,' he says.
The young chef, 23, says he is a fan of fusion food. 'I’ve always liked to mix and match and not stick to a fixed recipe. For instance, while making something on the lines of chicken Chettinad, I skip the curry leaves, add Punjabi garam masala and substitute the tamarind paste with something else. That’s a whole new delicious dish,' he says.
Life has changed a lot since his win in June this year, in terms of popularity. But, Ripu says that he will always remain the Rajouri Garden boy who happened to make it big. He shares an endearing memory of how he cooked a grand meal for his mother and sister-in-law for Karva Chauth. He was only in class VIII then. 'Even today, wherever I am, I am at home for the occasion, cooking for them,' he says. A family man, Ripu says, 'I took part in the contest after my brother and sister-in-law encouraged me. I just wanted to prove myself and make my parents proud. The win was an added bonus. Nothing has changed. I still wash my clothes, and when at home, I take over the kitchen.'
PLANNING A PARTY?
At ‘Bale Bale’, the vegetarian party cooking workshop, Ripu had an eager audience eating out of his hands. He taught them a range of starters, drinks, main courses and desserts, each one with a unique twist.
At the event organised at The Residency by Rinky Shah and Kovai Shopping and attended by nearly a 100 women, Ripu started off with dates energy shake, a creamy concoction of dates, sugar, milk and crushed ice. Next up was a clear kokum soup with a hint of jaggery. In the starters, he demonstrated how to make crispy fingers with tamarind sauce and sweet honey chilli crispy lotus stem. For the latter, he deviated from the recipe, adding baby corn and paneer.
'Double cap mushroom shashlik,' he announced. 'No mushrooms,' called back some from the audience. 'Can I please make just two to show the rest?' he asked before moving on to marinate and cook scooped out mushrooms stuffed with onion and herbs.
Some of the recipes looked complicated, such as the jannat-e-khaas, whose recipe ran into three pages. So, Ripu broke it down into manageable bits, and taught the audience how to serve the exotic dessert.
One thing that stood out was Ripu’s focus on presentation. Even a spring onion was looked over carefully and cut perfectly into sharp shears, so that it looked just right on a decorated plate. He took time between recipes to share tips on plating a meal to ensure it also looked great.