Sanjyot Keer, an Indian celebrity chef and digital content creator, has always been passionate about cooking. Even though the seed for his budding career was mere intrigue as a child, he has always envisioned a career in the culinary arts. Through being a food producer on Masterchef, and working alongside renowned chefs, Keer learned the art of cooking which is still a work in progress, as he learns more and more about the culinary world every day. He started Your Food Lab in 2016 as something he could do on weekends, with the intention of creating content. Once he started posting his recipes online, he gained a huge following very quickly, as his posts started receiving millions of views. He currently has 4.43 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.6 million followers on Instagram.
Here is an exclusive interview with Sanjyot Keer, as he talks about family, food, and everything that led to his successes.
What made you choose this career, and what was the driving force behind this choice?
Food has always been something that has intrigued me. Either I watched my family cook at home, or I saw food being cooked on the streets. Also, my mom has always been supportive of my interest in food, and I’ve learned a lot from my grandmother and her recipes.
As a child, I always thought my mother had the superpower of making people smile with her food, and that’s what I always wanted too. So, when I saw happiness on people’s faces after they tasted my food, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I remember my first meal was Pav Bhaji because it is a dish I have always felt very connected to, as it was a big part of my childhood. I started by cooking for my family at home and eventually learned to cook regularly.
Also, very early in my career, I got the opportunity to work as a food producer for Masterchef India’s extra class episodes, which was a great experience. I worked with them for 8 months, and that’s when I was introduced to kitchen and media working together, and I wanted to indulge in it more.
What challenges did you face in your journey to becoming a successful chef?
After Masterchef, I had decided to go to London to study further. At the same time, my father suffered huge losses and we had financial problems at home, which led to me not going to London. I started working with my dad to support him in machinery and engineering, which is obviously not food-related. Even though I was very glad about helping my dad out when he needed me, I also felt disheartened because I knew I was slowly getting away from food. But eventually, I started Your Food Lab and got back on track with my vision.
As you studied Home Science and then trained at the Institute of Hotel Management, is formal education important in this field? India lacks quality Culinary Schools, what do you think about this?
Something a lot of people don’t know about the culinary field is that there are multiple routes that can be taken to become a chef. A chef with professional training but no formal education is still a chef. There are people in this field that don’t have any formal education but are still Michelin-star chefs. So, I would say that although it is not necessary to have formal education in this field to become successful, if you can afford to get into a good culinary school, then go for it. If you’re sure about the fact that this is what you want to do in the future as well, then I would suggest going to a good culinary school, instead of pursuing hotel management. When I did my degree in hotel management, India did not have any culinary arts courses. However, in the last 3-4 years, there have been institutes that have started this course. There’s no denying that having a culinary arts degree will give you an upper hand in terms of professional training because everyone doesn’t get big opportunities to work for chefs in a professional setting. Once you get professional training, it will open up a lot more avenues for you and it is a great way to start your career.
Although, one thing that I’ve seen is that when you go to college to learn something, you’re very limited and dependent on what is being taught. It is very important to make use of the data and the resources available on the internet and learn things yourself as well. It doesn’t matter if you go to a mediocre college or a really good one, you can learn the same things only if you are willing to learn!
How did the name Your Food Lab come into being?
Well, food blogs were very famous during that time, and I thought it was the easiest approach to starting something food related. A lot of names came to my mind, but because I used to experiment so much with food, I thought of my kitchen as a lab where I experimented. So, I wanted to call it The Food Lab, but then I thought that if I’m writing and doing things for people, I can call it Your Food Lab. The phrase has a sense of belonging when someone reads it. Today when someone comes across Your Food Lab, it’s almost like it’s their world of food and culinary art. I also love the abbreviation of YFL, because everyone in my community calls it YFL and it’s become a very homely name for me and the community today.
Choosing to become a chef is one thing, becoming a YouTuber and showcasing your cooking skills is admirable. What led to this decision?
As I said before, I was helping my dad out during the week and I wanted to do something that kept me connected to food in some way. Then the thought struck me, that I could start writing a blog or make a website. I registered the name ‘Your Food Lab’ in April 2015, but I didn’t do anything for a year, because I didn’t know what to do with it, and then eventually I decided to do videos. Initially, I thought of a food blog where I could write and share my recipes, because at that time, I did not have any means to produce content.
That’s when I also realised that India needed a lot of reforms in the digital food space. Before social media, we always consumed food content on television. So when social media started becoming a platform for food to be presented, nobody knew how to do it in India, and I believe that YFL was the first to bring a reform in terms of content for food. I’ve realised that India needs much more than just food recipes, they also need a blend of food and entertainment. There were a few things I wanted to accomplish with YFL when I first started. Firstly, I wanted to change the digital food scene in India and make it different somehow. Secondly, I wanted to make food approachable to a lot of people. When I look around, I realise that not everyone can go out and eat good food, and really get a chance to explore food. So. my goal was to tell people that even if you have the bare minimum amount of groceries, you can make a lot of good food with it. They can explore different cuisines as well. That’s why I started with simple recipes that people could make with things they already had at home, and don’t need to spend anything on special ingredients. Thirdly, I wanted to put Indian cuisines on the global map through our reach and our content.
That was what we wanted to enable with YFL, and slowly but surely, we are getting there.
Do you plan on opening your own restaurant or a restaurant chain? What is your future plan for growth?
Well, we’ve been producing content for 7 years, and amidst so much we haven’t really had time to think about the future that much. Our next goal is to possibly get something on OTT platforms. We’re also looking at doing something with food and travel together. I am currently working on a book, so hopefully by the end of this year, you will be able to read my first cookbook! Oh, the most exciting thing to look forward to in 2023 for YFL is that I’m launching my own product. I’m currently building my company with my own kitchen and home products, and you’ll soon see YFL products being used in professional kitchens in Indian and international kitchens.
For a chef, it brings a lot of joy to be in a kitchen and be able to cook. But, right now, to leave what I have started and step into a restaurant kitchen seems like a very difficult choice. Perhaps it’ll happen a little later in life, but for now, my focus is to grow YFL as much as I can. I also strongly believe that once you build a strong community, you can build multiple businesses around it, so that’s what I’m focusing on right now.
If you had to give one piece of advice to all aspiring chefs, what would it be?
Travel as much as you can! If you’re young and can afford it, travel solo and visit different states of your country. Indian food and Indian cuisine are so vast and so diverse, you can learn so much just by eating the food around you. Another thing I’d say is, don’t blame someone else for not teaching you something. There are so many resources, just get out there and learn whatever you find an interest in. Keep learning and keep growing because I believe that at no point in our lives, we can say that we know it all. Learning keeps you grounded and you just keep getting better day by day.
In this fast-paced world, everything is created and delivered in seconds or minutes, whether it is content or food. So, you have to remember to take it slow. Success is not something that happens fast, you need to be patient. You’ll fail, and you’ll fall, but work on yourself and you will see success follow. In this journey, I have also realized that passion is never enough. With passion, you need a lot of determination, you need consistency, perseverance, and discipline.