Jassi Bindra, the executive chef behind the Woodlands luxe Indian restaurant, Amrina, hinted last week that his appearance on Chopped would do Indian cuisine justice, and sure enough, the chef, known for his eclectic spin on Indian cuisine, did not disappoint.
The Indian native, who identifies as Sikh, went on to win the episode, taking home $10,000 and bragging rights for the Houston area and the Sikh community.
The chef appeared to go into the challenge with confidence, intending to use traditional recipes from India with his own eclectic touch. “I’m here to show how Indian cuisine can be sexy,” said Bindra before facing off in the appetizer challenge against Massachusetts chef Emilie Rose Bishop, traveling celebrity chef Morgan Ferguson from Maryland, and Rachel McGill, the first James Beard Award-nominated chef from Lincoln, Nebraska.
At first glance at the four ingredients required to concoct an appetizer, “I feel great actually, and not great,” Bindra said. But the chef went on to spin the Brick French Toast soaked in egg custard, watermelon radishes, smoked peanut butter mixed with Mexican hatch chiles, and canned sardines into mirchi walla, an Indian street feed that’s a stuffed pepper. Bindra stuffed poblano peppers with sardines and portobello mushrooms and topped them with a cheddar cheese fondue that used the peanut butter and panko bread crumbs. Judges had their doubts, with one questioning his use of peppers. “If he can pull that off, I will be so impressed,” said another, and Bindra pulled through, impressing the judges with layered flavors despite the dish’s large portion and lack of texture.
The chef resolved that he’d implement the judges’ feedback into consideration in the entree round when chefs were given 30 minutes to make an entree using a potato chip omelet, pea greens, raw Korean-style short ribs, and cherry cola. Bindra’s grilled short ribs with a pea green salad and Cola-coconut sauce, plated with a liquid egg mousse, was enough to get to the dessert round, where he sealed his win by transforming a giant fortune cookie, gooseberries, blue Hubbard squash, and camel milk into a fortune cookie Rabri, a popular Indian sweet dessert made with condensed milk with sugar, and combining it with candied squash and gooseberries. Though judges said the squash component in the dish was underwhelming, the dessert was still enough to win judges over.
Bindra said he believes the short rib dish is what truly solidified his win. “The only thing that came from the judges was it was delicious. I told them, ‘I need to go back to Texas, so I can’t mess up my meat!’ That made me feel proud,” Bindra says.
The chef held a watch party at Amrina on Tuesday, August 16, inviting guests to watch the excitement unfold. Bindra said reservations began “blowing up” starting at 5 p.m. and by the time of the episode, it was a packed house full of curious diners. People kept asking him whether he won. “I just said, ‘Keep watching!’ ... The fun was actually in watching. It felt like a game show with all the cheering,” he said.
Bindra says the show was a fun challenge. “It really brings out your inner qualities with planning and time management,” he said. “If I get a chance again, I’d love to showcase my skills again.”
Until then, the chef will celebrate his win, which he considers a win for Houston and the Sikh community, too. Bindra says this could be the first time a turban chef from the community has won a reality TV cooking competition like Chopped, which is part of the reason he busted out with the Punjabi phrase “Balle Balle” and a popular dance Punjabi dance move following his win.
He’s hoping to share the experience, too. Bindra says he’ll donate some of his $10,000 to charity, particularly the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The remainder will go to gadgets for his kitchen, gifts for his son, and partying with his friends. Then, after restaurant week, he’ll offer a three-course Chopped menu at Amrina, with a twist on the three dishes featured on the show, so diners can get a literal taste.