Santosh Shah: 'Nepalese food is healing. It is like food for your soul'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

When we spoke to MasterChef: The Professionals 2020 finalist Santosh Shah last year, he told us that he planned on becoming the first Nepalese chef to win a Michelin star.

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He also told us that he hadn't seen his dear mother since the onset of the pandemic, and that he would soon be going home to visit her. He would spend the rest of his trip doing research, discovering Nepal's culinary culture to bring back ideas and recipes for his own restaurant.

Little did he expect the warm welcome he received when he got there. Despite being in lockdown, dozens of people awaited as he disembarked from the plane in Kathmandu.

"It was fantastic - I was not expecting that from Nepal because I wasn't the winner of MasterChef, I was a runner-up and I didn't tell anyone I was coming to Nepal."

But there they were, in their dozens, musical procession in tow. 

"It was so overwhelming for me to see all the people - chefs, young chefs, colleges, they came with flowers, gifts."

"I never imagined that a chef would get this welcome in Nepal.

"I wasn't expecting anything - I had a tear in my eye when I saw this welcome." 

The chef even received a presidential award for bringing Nepalese food to the world, and he has been commended by our own Prime Minister for winning the MasterChef: The Professionals 2021 rematch.

"He sent me a letter a few days ago, with the official stamp from Downing Street," he chuckled, but Santosh thought better than to publish it online. 

"He is in a bad situation so I decided it wouldn't be a good time to post it - but it is a fantastic achievement."

"He said, 'thank you for introducing Nepalese food to the UK, it's a fantastic achievement to have won the MasterChef rematch."

Santosh would love to feed the Prime Minister one day, he said. "Maybe Rishi Sunak would like to eat Nepalese food," he laughed. 

Kukhura ko momo -
Steamed chicken momos with ginger & chilli with a tomato sesame chutney 
​​​​​​Recipe here
Photo credit: Matt Russell


Over the course of five months in Nepal, he said, "I visited different places, households, restaurants, villages, festivals," to learn about regional specialities, ingredients, spices and technques particular to each. 

"The food [in Nepal] is so great, there's so much variety in the style of food, and I didn't even know that. I had been cooking Indian food for 20 years, I had never discovered my own country's food." 

He believes that everything he learned on his trip helped him to win the MasterChef rematch - it is certainly what inspired him to take part, but some of his best discoveries were made in his home village - namely, the burnt chicken feather he used as spice on the show.

"That was done hundreds and hundreds of years back, and they're still using that in some Nepalese cooking. Now, if you cook a chicken, you take off the skin, throw the skin away and feathers - but before, you would cut the chicken, put it in the feather to soften the feathers, and then take out the feathers with your hands."

"Then you burn the feathers on an open fire and it would stick to the meat and flavour the meat."

Machha ko jhol - White fish in mustard & onion sauce 
Recipe here
Photo credit: Matt Russell

Bricks and mortar

After the book, and his victory on the MasterChef rematch, the chef's next big goal is to open his own restaurant, which he said will happen "very, very soon."

After all, the world is yet to discover just how good the food from his home country is.

"Nepalese food is healing. It is like food for your soul." 

"If you go to the mountains in the Himalayas, the food is so pure, so amazing, organic, no chemicals - the UK hasn't discovered it yet. In the last few years there was a trend for Sri Lankan food and Fillipino food, but this year, it is going to be Nepalese food."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th February 2022

Santosh Shah: 'Nepalese food is healing. It is like food for your soul'