From only-dessert outlets to Maya, a new-age Andhra restaurant, Sandesh Reddy's culinary journey continues. He tells us that experiments with flavours are the spice of his life.

I first met Sandesh Reddy at the deliberately-debauched opening of his chi-chi dessert parlour ‘Sin.' It was appropriately theatrical, amid billowing clouds of artificial smoke through which emerged semi-dressed models and, I kid you not, two men on leashes representing ‘Lust'. Despite desserts named after every sin in the book from Greed to Sloth, Sin rapidly and dramatically plunged into oblivion three months later.

Today, he's best known for ‘Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory,' a fluid space where the menu changes constantly and kitchen experiments never cease. You'd think two restaurants with ambitious menus would be enough to keep a 26-year-old engineer with no formal culinary training busy. Yes, this interview's held at ‘Maya' a new-age Andhra restaurant, and his latest project where Sandesh runs me though his new toys, a quietly bubbling Sous Vide machine, gleaming ovens and high-tech sorbet makers.

“Maya means ‘illusion' and that's what people's present notions of Andhra food are,” he says. “I want to break those myths and introduce Nellore cuisine. It's the most beautiful place, and food I've grown up eating all my life: simple and homestyle.”

Though with Sandesh, it's never really simple. He delights in analysing, deconstructing and complicating every recipe till your head reels.

“I cook prawns Sous Vide at 70 degrees till they're buttery, then sear them for texture. It's more precise than bunging every thing into a pot.”

The mud crabs are bathed in warm water, cold water, frozen, soaked in spiced butter milk and poached in butter before being spiced. After trying biriyani in 60 different ways, he's finally hit upon a winner. “I add Horlicks,” he grins. “Seriously! It's malt, so it adds a rich but mellow flavour.”

Cooking a biriyani 60 times takes time. And time is in short supply since Sandesh works with his father in the family business every day. “That's the compromise. So post banking hours I'm here. I have no social life but I can deal with that,” he says.

Although he was always fascinated by food, it took over his life in an unexpected way. “I was fishing in Kovalam, trying to catch Sunday lunch when I got thrown by the wave and ended up with a broken back.”

Dropping out of college, he found baking helped him recuperate.

“I used pocket money, trip money and I had made a couple of smart real estate moves, so put all that together to start Sinful Something.” The little dessert counter acquired a small but loyal following. “I would come back from college and bake everyday. I obviously wasn't very good at college — but I just didn't care.”

Proving a point

Then came Sin, which he opened with a partner. “It was plain greed. I just wanted to prove to my dad that I could be good at what I was doing.” Just before that he had taken over a moderately successful restaurant called ‘Something Fishy.' So how long did that run? There's a loud silence. “Three months,” says Sandesh, and then breaks into a laugh about how that seems to have been his ‘lucky' number. Understandably, it wasn't funny then. “While they were shutting down I couldn't stand by defeated — I didn't want to end with two closings so I decided I'm going to go for broke.”

That's when he opened Sandy's Chocolate Laboratory. “It was close to home. More importantly, it was cheap because it was an old TASMAC shop. I paid 15 grand a month for 300 feet.”

His father was far from thrilled. “I was the drop out that every successful dad fears… Though I've finally finished engineering — thank goodness.”

It took his father eight months to enter Sandy's. “Though my mom came for the opening. Paid 50 grand for a brownie!” laughs Sandesh. They had three dishes on the menu, but “I figured as long as I could fill those 10 seats three times a day I was okay.”

This month as Sandy's turns two, Maya opens.

“At Maya I've taken up experimentation,” he says, over a pineapple and chilly sorbet, describing the restlessness that makes his restaurants unique. “We continue to evolve. Always will. I'm not done.”