Written by Recruitment Solvers on 28/06/2023
A young chef who has won accolades galore – not least being a MasterChef: The Professionals finalist last year aged just 24 – is quickly making a name for himself.
Food is at the heart of Sagar Massey’s heritage and the smells and taste of his mum’s home cooking in India inspires him to this day.
Sagar came to the UK when he was 15 after leading Immigration firm, Five Star International, brought his father, Raju, also a chef, to Scotland to work.
That was back in 2009, then in 2014 Sagar and his mum, Sanja, joined his father to start a new life.
Newlywed Sagar, whose family home is in a small town near New Delhi, hasn’t looked back and is testament to what can be achieved by following your dreams in the UK.
But it all began in his homeland, and he wants to bring together authentic Indian cuisine and fine dining in an explosion of new flavours.
He said: “When I was growing up in India food was a big part of our family life, whether it was mum making breakfast, preparing packed lunches or us all sitting together for dinner. Food was all about coming together as a family. My mum is a fantastic home cook, and my dad is a professional chef, so it is in the blood.
“I have so many memories of watching my mum cooking and I still use these memories to inspire me today. Even the smell of certain food brings these memories flooding back. We cooked on an open fire back home in India and I still can remember the smell of mum baking fresh bread and chapatis cooking and the spices of all those curries she made.
“I still do things myself today and remember this and think of the way mum used to do it. But so much as happened since I came to the UK and so many doors have opened – so much of which I could have never imagined as a child, watching my mum cooking.
“My dad is also a big part of what inspired me. He worked in hotels in different cities in India. Both in traditional Indian cooking but also multiple other cuisines. I worked with my dad for a short time when I came to the UK and he helped me with core skills, like knife skills. He could see I had the basic skills and he encouraged me. I also ask for his advice if I get stuck with recipes. Dad is an amazing chef.”
However, there was another career path which could have pulled Sagar away from his calling.
Alongside a long-held ambition of being a chef he also toyed with the idea of becoming a pilot.
But his love of food and his heritage helped him soar as a chef.
“Food is very much part of the culture in India, you go outside and there is street food everywhere – it’s fair to say we are big foodies. And it was a bit too expensive to become a pilot, so I decided to concentrate on cooking.”
Arriving in the UK, Sagar was supported by his school and then West College Scotland in Paisley where he did a professional cookery course.
“The first year I was here I struggled a bit, I had little English, but my school were so supportive, and I found my feet through doing what I loved – cooking. I did a course called cake craft.” Sagar went on.
“I then decided to go to college to do professional cookery and everyone, all my lecturers, were so supportive. But particularly my lecturer, Chris Watson. He has been such a major help to me and took me to my first competitions. He got me a job in a Michelin star kitchen while I was still doing my training at college. I still keep in touch with Chris to this day.
“In 2016 we entered UK Seafood Chef of the Year and came third in the UK, then in 2017 it was a merit then, finally, in 2018 in my last year of college we won it. So, it was third time lucky. It was myself and another student and I led us in the kitchen.”
And in 2019 Sagar went on to be named ScotHot’s Scottish Chef of the Year being awarded a gold medal.
ScotHot is Scotland’s leading showcase for food, drink, hospitality, and tourism.
Early in his career, Sagar has worked in the top hotels in the country and with leading chefs.
He was sous chef – and then acting head chef – in the five-star Mar Hall in Bishopton, having also worked in the luxury Isle of Eriska Hotel near Oban.
Sagar went on: “I have worked with acclaimed chef Martin Wishart in Cameron House, part-time as a commis chef while I was still at college and also worked with him as a chef at the Isle of Eriska during his time there.
“I was so fortunate to have worked in a Michelin star restaurant while still a student and it gave me a structure for that level of cooking.”
The talented chef went on to be second in command in the busy kitchen of the Marine Hotel in Troon, gaining yet more valuable experience, leaving the post earlier this year to start his own gastronomic empire.
However, it was during a spell working in St Andrews that MasterChef – who described Sagar’s food as a “unique blend of Scottish and Indian cuisine…the style is unmistakable” – came into the mix.
“MasterChef came about when I was working in Rusacks St Andrews with Derek Johnstone – the first ever winner of the competition,” he told us.
“We were working together and living in the same flat. He saw my work in the kitchen and my style of cooking and he was the one who pushed me to enter MasterChef.”
A series of gruelling interviews began before Sagar could get anywhere near the MasterChef kitchen, let alone to the finals.
“It was really tough, I had to go through at least five interviews before I even knew I was going to be on the show, but I just kept going and going – and as hard as it was, it was one of the best decisions I made. I was just over the moon when I knew I was going to be part of it, nervous but so excited.
“It was the first time I was able to serve my style of food, dishes I had created myself bringing authentic Indian cookery and fine dining together using inspiration from the best Scottish produce. I went in thinking if I get past the first round, I will be proud, but my confidence just built and built the further on I went in the competition.
“There were so many other great competitors but the comments from all the judges were really good. It dawned on me ‘I’m standing in the middle of the room with all these great chefs and I’m something too.’ There is no feeling like it.”
The competition isn’t without its challenges. Sagar’s experience of the Chefs Table saw him having to dig deep when his preparation didn’t quite go to plan.
“Every day is a challenge, things don’t always the way you thought they would, but you just have to keep going. You cook your dishes, waiting for feedback and the outcome of the round. Your heart pounding every single time.
“It’s a completely different experience from working in a restaurant. It’s stressful, difficult and beyond enjoyable all at the same time. I was so proud to reach the finals and all my family, colleagues, and Derek, who pushed me to enter in the first place, were all so proud as well.
“Don’t get me wrong it was a hard one to take not winning after working so hard to get to the finals, but I still believe I achieved so much in getting there.
“And I would say to any up-and-coming chefs – at least once in your lifetime try to be a contestant on MasterChef – it can be life changing.”
Since MasterChef and leaving The Marine in Troon, Sagar has ventured out on his own in the next chapter of his career.
He is a private chef, serving up his tantalising dishes in food-lovers’ homes, whether it’s an intimate soiree or a party to celebrate a special occasion – Sagar brings the restaurant experience to you.
The chef also has ‘pop-up’ restaurants, taking over other venues for a few days, serving up his own dishes and cooks at special events along with others who have competed in MasterChef: The professionals.
He has teamed up with Derek Johnstone at 18 St Andrews – a destination rooftop venue at the iconic Rusacks St Andrews for example.
“It’s early days but it’s getting there. I will push on with this, but my goal is to have my own restaurants, “ he said.
“Firstly, I want to open a really authentic restaurant celebrating the amazing street style of Indian food.
“Then another which focuses on fine dining, using the style and techniques I have learned working in the top restaurants and with some of the best chefs.
“But I want to do this with Indian food, taking it to a whole new level.”
Sagar’s love for food and serving-up fantastic dishes is at the heart of everything he does.
“I enjoy everything about cooking, I come home and cook after working in the kitchen all day. I never tire of it,” he continued.
“I love being creative, coming up with new ideas and translating that to the food on the plate.
“Or looking at what other chefs are doing and getting the inspiration to make it that wee bit better and come up with my own recipes.”
One of the chefs Sagar would love to emulate is Bangkok-based Gaggan Anand.
“He is one of the best Indian chefs in the world and he is helping to take Indian food to a whole new level and is so inspiring to watch. His restaurant is number four in the world.
“If I can get close to that standard, I will have achieved something special.”
And Sagar is under no illusions that his father’s decision to move to the UK to pursue a dream was the launch pad for his talented son.
“It was such a big decision for him to take and wasn’t an easy one.
“He came here to pursue a better life not only for himself but for his family – to make the future brighter for his children.
“The UK has given me the platform to achieve what I have and thanks to the support of teachers, lecturers, and the chefs I have worked with, I have got to where I am today.
“Had we not come here I would have never had the opportunities I have.
“I would say to anyone to really believe in themselves and their dreams. And if you aren’t quite there, take a chance on something new and the results might surprise you.
“After that you will believe in yourself and see there is no end to what you can achieve.”