Serving up a storm: Meet celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor who adds a flavourful punch to every home-cooked dish
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor needs no introduction as he is one of the most celebrated faces of Indian cuisine.
He is able to create a number of dishes that are not only appealing to the eye but are also packed with flavour and aroma.
For over 17 years and counting, he has run a successful TV Channel called FoodFood and hosted Khana Khazana, a cookery show.
He is the author of 150+ best-selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards.
He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women and aspiring chefs out there through the power of cooking to become more self-sufficient.
He also runs a recipe portal called https://www.sanjeevkapoor.com/ which is a complete cookery
manual and a compendium of more than 10,000 tried and tested recipes, videos, articles, tips and trivia, that offers a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking, in both English and Hindi.
In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender, Chef Sanjeev talks about the immunity boosting foods to consider eating during the ongoing pandemic, how simplicity is the key when it comes to cooking, his all-time favourite dishes.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YSW: Were you passionate about cooking since the time you were a young boy?
SK: I come from a family of foodies, so I have always been passionate about gastronomy. Besides my mother, I grew up seeing my father cook too.
Despite being a banker, he always had a keen interest in food and cooking. But I had never planned to be a chef. Back then, I was actually preparing to be an architect.
Fate had some other plans for me and I found myself applying for a hotel management course in Delhi. And then, began this awesome journey of my life!
YSW: What made you want to be a part of the culinary sector and a full-time professional chef?
SK: As I said, my father was a banker. He had a transferable job and we moved from city to city at that time.
I loved to explore food from every region and experience the local cuisines everywhere. But I never really wanted a career in the culinary world.
I always say that I became a chef by accident when I could’ve become an architect, due to my need to do something different and go in the opposite direction.
Taking up cooking as a career was not my childhood ambition. It just happened, and then I never looked back! I’m glad I didn’t!
YSW: A dish of your mother’s you enjoyed when you were younger?
SK: My favourite food was, is, and always will be my mother’s special, kadhi-chawal. Till date, I can never get enough of it! If you’re looking for a twist to your kadhi recipe it’s available on my show Simple Recipes with Sanjeev Kapoor on Audible Suno -- Palak Pakoda Kadhi.
YSW: Can you name a dish of yours that your family loves?
SK: It is difficult to pick! You might find a world on a platter at our home because we’re all fan followers of different cuisines.
But, recently my daughters and wife, Alyona demanded Shakshouka for breakfast. I guess I did a pretty good job that morning as everyone enjoyed it to the fullest! Also, Kachchay Gosht ki Biryani is an all-time favourite with my family.
YSW: What are some of the foods you can suggest that will help boost our immunity during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic?
SK: Ingredients which have been a part of our pantries since ages are great immune boosters. I recommend consuming citrus fruits like orange, sweet lime, grapefruit, etc. as much as possible. Another wonder ingredient is amla or Indian gooseberry – you can consume it the way you want to – as juices, pickles, chutneys, etc.
Besides these, there are spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger, etc. which have been used since ancient times to prepare gharelu kaadhas that work wonders for the immune system.
Berries, yoghurt, broccoli, eggs, seeds, fatty fish and a balanced diet with moderate activity levels, proper sleep and rest and low stress are great immunity boosters.
YSW: Your popular show 'Sanjeev Kapoor Ke Khazane' is a big hit both in India and internationally. How do you decide what recipes and dishes to feature on the show and how has your experience been?
SK: I’ve always followed one thing all my life when it comes to cooking. Keep things simple.
When I first began exploring ideas for the show, I spoke to many people to get an idea as to what they were expecting from a ‘cooking show.’
I always wanted to keep my show real and stay true to the audience so that they could relate to me in all ways. And this is when I realised, whatever is best for the audience is best for the show.
I was in the United States a couple of years ago when I realised that my driver used only voice commands for directions. And that led me to believe that this was a new medium to explore.
And finally, when I got a chance to be associated with ‘Audible Suno,’ I was thrilled! It gave me a platform to share my knowledge, recipes, tips and tricks with my audience in the most convenient and easy way.
The Khana Khazana TV show helped me reach the masses and stay in their hearts forever. I hope ‘Audible’ gets a similar response.
YSW: You believe simplicity is the key when it comes to cooking. Can you elaborate on this?
SK: Cooking is not always about using a lot of ingredients. It’s about how creative you can get with the minimum ingredients available. I’ve always been a great believer of simplicity. So, no matter what a recipe calls for, the building blocks and base of my recipes are always ‘simple’. Simplicity combined with positivity and loads of love creates food which can be offered to the gods.
YSW: What do you feel is the cuisine you most identify with?
SK: I’ve tried so many cuisines and curated various international and local dishes. But I’d still say, nothing comes close to Indian cuisine.
The diversity of Indian food is the source of my motivation for stamping my personal identity on each dish. I must also tell you that I have a dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and I’m definitely working towards it!
When it comes to cooking, there is no ‘master’ because the canvas is so wide that the creativity is unlimited. So, I’d say I am determined to try something new and experiment each day.
YSW: What does eating mindfully mean to you?
SK: Mindful eating is all about knowing and understanding your food. Before you eat, you need to know how it benefits your body and be alert about the elements in the food.
I think eating mindfully not only helps your body but also your soul. It has to be good, not only for the person who is eating it but also sustainable for the planet.
When you’re completely aware of the food you’re eating, you enjoy and relish it more and that is what makes a meal 100% satisfactory!
You can learn more about mindful eating on my show Sanjeev Kapoor ke Khazaane on Audible Suno.
YSW: Who were some of your early inspirations growing up, and who are they now?
SK: My parents were, are and will always be my inspiration! Not to forget, the books of food historian K T Achaya too!
YSW: An international chef you most admire, and one from India?
SK: All chefs today are brilliant and bright, be it national or international.
Chef Jose Andres from Washington DC impresses me a lot. Apart from being a great chef, he has been contributing towards a lot of humanitarian work. Some of the home chefs are really gifted and working with food like never before.
YSW: Who are some of the celebrities you have cooked for, and what was the best feedback you have received?
SK: Over the years I have cooked for personalities including world leaders, film stars, cricketers, business leaders. I would have cooked for so many people on many occasions in my career span of over three decades.
I’ve been extremely lucky when it comes to cooking for personalities and there are many occasions that are special to me.
But, if I have to choose one that’s really close to my heart, it would definitely be the experience that I had cooking for our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi.
To execute an all vegetarian, Gujarati influenced fine-dine menu overseas was challenging. But the reviews that I got from Team Modi and everybody else made up for all the hard work and effort.
More than anything else the cherry on top was that I had the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with him for almost an hour!
YSW: Some of your favourite restaurants from across the world, and why these in particular?
SK: I’m glad that I get the opportunity to try many cuisines from renowned restaurants across the world! But, to me, nothing is more exciting and special than tasting local food of a country/region and enjoying that moment.
My friend’s Chef Rene Redzepi’s restaurant Noma, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Attica in Australia, Arpège in Paris, Tippling Club in Singapore, street foods of Thailand and India are some of my favourite places.
YSW: When it comes to the dishes you cook, do you spend a lot of time researching recipes and flavours?
SK: I never really spend a lot of time planning on what to cook. The creative process needs stimulus and for me not knowing the end result encourages me to experiment.
For me, I always play with ingredients, methodology and presentation to get in the signature touch. I like to keep things simple, but not too simple lest it gets boring. Hence, my creative side gets in the much-needed tweak required to suit the current trends.
YSW: How much do the right ingredients play a role in bringing a dish to life?
SK: Each ingredient has a different role to play when it comes to crafting a particular dish and you must know that only ingredients can ‘make or break a dish.’ But, with the right ingredients and its quality, dher saara pyaar and utmost innovation, any dish can go from ordinary to extraordinary!
YSW: How does one ensure they eat healthy without compromising on taste?
SK: I think we all need to break a myth that ‘healthy food cannot be tasty.’
A traditional Indian meal is well balanced, hearty as well as delicious for every palate. When it comes to health, you need not look beyond your kitchen shelves. Come to think of it, there’s totally a different perspective of the relationship between health and taste in the modern era.
Thanks to the current generation for understanding the importance of nutrition, we started eating wholesome foods for the body. Local, fresh, seasonal and whole foods always yield delicious results.
YSW: Your go-to dessert that lifts your spirits up?
SK: Anything chocolate, Bengali mithai or a homestyle creamy kheer. There’s never too much when it comes to desserts! But yes, ‘just a spoon’ is what you should have!
YSW: Your advice to those wishing to get into hospitality or make it big as a chef?
SK: Working in a professional kitchen is not easy, but extremely satisfying if you love food and cooking. Besides that, there are many new avenues opening up in the food industry, so explore what’s best for you.
To become big in any field you have to spend time to master the craft. No shortcuts.
YSW: Some cooking tips/advice you can give to those wishing to try something new in the kitchen.
SK: I have a lot of hope from today’s youth and the coming generations. One thing I’d like to say is never be afraid to try something new! Get out of your comfort zone and go that extra mile with patience. You might stumble in the beginning, but the ‘fruits of your labour’ will be really sweet and bring you happiness along with laurels.
Take challenges head-on with a smile on your face. Never cease to work hard. Follow your dream and believe in yourself – the world is your oyster!
Also, never stop being a student — the more you learn, the more you share and the more you grow.
YSW: Do you plan to pen down a cookbook in the near future?
SK: Future? What about the ones I’ve already penned in the past? But yes, there is a new book to be launched soon called Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor.
YSW: Who are some of the chefs from across the globe, you would most like to collaborate with.
SK: I would love to collaborate with each one of them! How can I possibly choose from the ocean of talent that’s out there!
YSW: What do you enjoy doing most on the weekend when not cooking or preparing for your shows?
SK: Working from home has been fun. Sometimes I don’t even realise what day it is! I love the digital space a lot and I spend most of my time there.
It’s so much fun to interact with my fans on live sessions. I’m also cooking live for my fans and followers to keep their morale high, entertain them, help them learn to cook many dishes.
Other than that, I spend my time with my family, cooking for them and playing games. Musically, I am ‘drumming’ my worries away!
(Image Credits: Publicconsultants-Asia.com and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor)
Edited by Asha Chowdary