Sangam Festival

Focus on… Santosh Shah

Name: Santosh Shah

South Asian heritage: Born in Nepal

Profession: Chef, champion of Nepalese cuisine

Childhood: Born and raised in Karihana, a small village in Nepal close to the capital Kathmandu, Santosh Shah is the youngest of seven siblings.

He grew up eating traditional regional dishes such as Bagiya: flat rice dumplings filled with potatoes, vegetables, lentils and spices – and still uses ingredients from his childhood in his cooking, such as the Colocasia leaf.

Early career: Aged 14, he moved to India and found a job as a kitchen porter in a five-star hotel, which led to his interest in becoming a chef.

He was particularly taken by the taste of naan cooked in a tandoor (clay) oven and first cooked with a tandoor oven himself at the age of 15 – he still credits it as a kitchen essential for unbeatable flavour.

After two years training under the hotel chefs, he moved to Gujarat to study, working part-time and studying part-time at a hotel that also housed a culinary school, gaining a Diploma in Hotel and Catering Management.

Move to London: In 2011, Santosh Shah moved to the UK, working at Dishoom then Benares, a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant. He also worked at Brasserie Blanc, owned by Raymond Blanc, to learn the techniques of French cuisine.

He then took the role of sous-chef at The Cinnamon Club in Westminster, before moving on to become head chef at the Cinnamon Kitchen in the City of London.

In 2018, he was appointed Executive Chef of Baluchi at The LaLit London, a luxury boutique hotel on Tower Bridge, before returning to become Head of The Cinnamon Collection.

His influences include Nepalese, Indian, Tibetan, Chinese and French cuisine, and one of his signature dishes is Tandoori Octopus.

What’s next?: He plans to open a Nepalese fine dining restaurant in central London.

Books: His book Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas was published in February 2022. The cookbook has 60+ easy-to-follow recipes aimed at beginners and experienced cooks, along with photographs of the dishes and the region.

BBC MasterChef: Chef Santosh Shah took part in the 2020 series of the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals, reaching the final and being placed second runner-up. He cooked Nepalese dishes, bringing this cuisine to a wider audience.

In December the following year he took part in MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch and won first place after making a vegan feast of 18 dishes, inspired by the Nepalese Dashain festival.


  • 2018: The British Curry Award (Restaurant Baluchi)
  • 2018: Conde Nast Award for best fine dining
  • 2020: MasterChef: The Professionals, runner up
  • 2021: MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch, winner
  • 2021: Presidential Award from the Government of Nepal

You can find a host of recipes in Santosh Shah’s cookbook Ayla, or watch him preparing a mixed vegetable pakora and samosa chaat in this YouTube video:

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