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Owner of the legendary restaurant Sandy’s, and several other avant-garde joints in the city, Sandesh tells us about his culinary journey with meat, and how he is changing what you love about it.

Magicians of Meat Top Chennai chef Sandesh Reddy on why cooking meat simple is the best way to do it
Friday, August 23, 2019 - 20:35


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“I used to be a very fussy kid. I never ate a lot of meat growing up,” says Sandesh Reddy as he flattens pizza dough at one of his latest joints in Chennai, Nolita. He’s making a Salami Milano pizza, but the way he likes it - simple yet delicious, the meat not crowded by too many other things. “My favourite way of cooking meat is to do very little with it,” he says.

That’s not the style of meat he quite grew up eating, though. “I used to eat overcooked kheema and over-fried pomfret,” he says with a laugh, “they were the only non-veg food I ate.” But over the years, as he dropped out of engineering college, taught himself how to cook, started Sandy’s and became a successful chef-entrepreneur associated with about 30 restaurants in the city, the way he ate and served meat has changed.

“I enjoy eating meat, and I know how I like eating it. Usually people don’t understand that. Most people in India overcook the heck out of meat,” Sandesh declares, “I love eating really good quality meat and it is unfortunate that you don’t always get it in India.”

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Visceral joy of bread and meat

Many in Chennai associate Sandesh, and his first restaurant Sandy’s, with That Really Tiny Chocolate Cake - a runaway success which remains a crowd-puller. “But you know what is the single most popular dish on our menu? The cheeseburger. I think there will be riots if I pulled it off the menu,” he says.

“Never really thought it would do well because it doesn’t have the elements that other places usually have, like a lot of toppings etc. I thought people will say it has nothing on it, or that it is too meaty. But it’s a success!” he says, flashing a smile.

Sandesh’s culinary journey has several such bread-and-meat dishes, like the pulled pork sandwich. “I love how visceral the meat and bread combination is. It is just two simple things, you cannot go wrong with it, but it can be ethereal if done well,” he points out.

The kind of non-vegetarian dishes he eats, and wants to serve, ties into his larger philosophy of cooking meat - keeping it simple.

“Indians tend to crowd the meat with a lot of things, and it is a cultural thing, there is nothing wrong with it. But, I feel you can’t fully taste the meat in most Indian dishes. A good representation of a great meat dish in India, is actually a raan. It is cooked slow, you can really taste the meat, it is not very chewy,” he explains. And even with the Indian meat dishes, the accompanying bread can elevate the experience, Sandesh says. “If I am eating kebab, I don’t want the dal or other things. I want to have it with naan.”

Evolving meat culture

While Chennai’s cuisine is largely associated with vegetarian dishes by outsiders, the meat culture of the city is mature, and permeates to the small thattu-kadais and stalls. From famous messes representing different regions of Tamil Nadu to the Muslim-run establishements which serve biriyanis and goat dishes, meat thrives in the city. Sandesh, however, feels that the city’s favourite, by sheer numbers, is chicken, and that the city does some of its goat dishes very well.

As a coastal city, seafood is obviously a staple. But even that is unexplored, he says. “Did you know there is a fish called Batfish? Rabbitfish?” he asks, “These are fish off the coast of our own Madras, which some dude on a small boat is going and picking up every morning. We have created our own butter garlic dish with them, at Sea Salt. We use uthukuli butter from down south, with garlic and green peppercorns, and lime. It is very mildly spiced so you can taste the fish. It is basically a simple sauce with great fish.”

“The meat culture is certainly evolving,” Sandesh points out. “A lot more people are eating meat now, and they are open to trying new things. We are seeing cured meats having a lot more takers,” he says. Check out a few cold-cuts from Licious here.

“Many of our simpler meat dishes, things which are not crowded with too many other things, are being accepted a lot better. I think people are coming to terms with the fact that there are other ways of eating meat than how you grew up eating it at home,” he explains, adding that in a lot of his own restaurant kitchens, they have started reducing the amount of spice in meat dishes.

If the taste for meat is evolving, then so must the quality of the sourcing, and the way it is cooked. “My top tips: Keep it simple and cook it slow. The kind of cut can influence the flavour of the meat, so look for good quality meat when you buy,” he says. “And one important thing is to know the time that it has taken for the meat to reach your kitchen from when it was culled. Seafood has to be fresh, and all meats have to be stored properly. So, do your research about the quality of the meat you are buying,” he says.

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This article was created by TNM Brand Studio in association with Licious, and not by TNM Editorial.