Mastering the art of reinventing Indian recipes

In a free-wheeling chat with G20, Chef Sanjyot Keer, founder of Your Food Lab and digital content creator, spoke about the tricky business of cooking delectable street food-inspired fusion recipes. He is training his palate to learn new things. He has had memorable street food escapades and plans to step into the field of virtual food education.

Q. How has social media influenced the food industry?
Social media has influenced everything that we do today. Firstly, in the food industry in particular, with restaurants, there are a lot of unique restaurants coming up, interesting recipes being served in restaurants and because of social media, the reach has increased, the viewers or the consumers are more. People get to learn more about food through social media.
Secondly, the food industry also follows a lot of trends. So there would be a trend coming into existence. And then you’ll suddenly see a lot of restaurants following it. So that is how trends are followed through social media. And lastly, food content-wise, social media food content has blown up in the past few years. You would see a lot of channels coming up, a lot of different types of content, content formats blooming in the last couple of years. Food and social media go hand in hand really well. The dishes look wonderful when captured, people love to click pictures, and post them online. So everything works great.

Q. How do you keep reinventing, creating interesting food content, different kinds of delectable dishes for Your Food Lab? 
Food in itself has its own personality. When someone cooks a particular recipe, it’s very personal. My food is very approachable. I like to use easy, simple ingredients. And from that, how do you create a very good experience is what I look after. So, for example, if I’m creating a Pizza kind of an experience at home, in an Indian kitchen, I do keep in mind that a lot of kitchens wouldn’t have an oven or yeast. Yes, I do the other recipes as well, which require yeast and an oven. But I keep a balance of both of these kinds of recipes. Other than that, I am known for my street food-inspired fusion recipes, which I often create. Moreover, Your Food Lab recipe videos are crisp, easy to watch, consume and cook at home. Pre-pandemic, I used to go eat out a lot, try a lot of street food and try a lot of new recipes. And that is what, just keeps training my palette to learn new things.

Q. Can you tell us about some of the dishes you created for your channel that you are proud of? What do you love about these recipes?
I’m proud of all of my recipe videos. I love all of them but I would pick Butter Chicken Biryani as I did that about five years ago when it was something which was not heard of and it was a completely new, reinvented recipe. And that was my love of Butter Chicken and Biryani. And I bought those two things together and that’s how people started loving that recipe. I’m also proud of Butter Chicken Bombs. I was the first person to come up with the idea of a Pullout Pav recipe which is done in multiple flavours. And then I saw that growing throughout a lot of channels and in a lot of restaurants. I’m proud of my PavBhaji recipe, my dad’s Mutton Masala recipe, and my mom’s Kheer recipe. The family recipes, which I share on the channel, are very dear to my heart.

Q. In terms of fusion food, how do you maintain a balance between experimenting and retaining the essence of the actual dish?
Whenever you’re making fusion food, you should always maintain that balance. You should not lose out on the essence of both of these recipes. And one of the best ways to do that is to take one recipe and choose a serving style of another recipe. In the case of Butter Chicken Bombs, if you’re creating a fusion recipe with Butter Chicken, you have to retain the velvety smooth makhani sauce or that flavour. So I make fried Chicken Keema balls filled with makhani sauce, thereby keeping the essence alive. When I make the Butter Chicken Biryani, the biryani experience is still there but it’s flavoured with butter chicken. When I make PavBhaji Bruschetta, the bruschetta bread is still there and there are PavBhaji spiced veggies on top. So maintaining the balance and keeping the essence and flavour alive is the key to fusion food.

Q. Can you share a glimpse of memorable street food escapades?
There’s always been a lot of excitement about consuming street food. One memory is when I was a small kid and I used to go to a PavBhaji vendor in Mumbai. And I used to see him do his magic. And that is how as a kid, I saw it being made. And I started cooking at home and that was my first experience of cooking PavBhaji at home as a 12-year-old boy. And since then, street food has been really exciting for me to explore. I did try a lot of street food when I was travelling in 2019 in New York, I had a lot of street food. I loved the chicken and rice. I love having the gyro rolls and wraps. Just before the pandemic, I’d gone to Chandigarh and there we tried a lot of chaat. When I go to Delhi, I just go crazy about street food. So wherever you go street food is the best kind of food you can try because that is the actual true essence of that city or that place.

Q. How difficult is retaining fame and success in present times?
Before fame and success, what is important is how you maintain and be consistent in delivering your work. If you love what you do and are putting in the hard work, which is required to fuel your passion, and you are ready to give in whatever it takes, people are going to like your work and then you’re going to get famous and successful. So even if you are followed by millions of people, if I stop fueling my passion today, or uploading and making new recipes, I am sure that fame and success which is growing right now will reduce, as in the current scenario people have short attention spans and they might forget you easily. So, keep fueling your passion with a lot of hard work, be consistent in what you do, and fame and success will follow.

Q. How does the future look for Your Food Lab?  
Currently content-wise, we’re growing quite a lot. We are trying different formats. You will see a lot of different kinds of videos, different kinds of content formats coming up on Your Food Lab this year. We are also creating and especially working on a focused way to create series based content for OTT platforms. So you might see YFL or I doing a series based IP for any major OTT platform soon.
Additionally, we are venturing out into virtual education. We will be teaching majorly in three focused categories: food and cooking, community building, and how to become a creator. I don’t see any institute or any place where you can go and learn this. And also, food-wise, we would want to teach people hands-on experience on how you can cook. And later on, as things progress, we also do get into on-ground education where we will have maybe a university or an institute of Your Food Lab for all of these three sectors. Things are going great right now, and I’m sure that we have a bright future.

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