Kunal Kapur is a celebrity chef, restaurateur and media personality, known for judging MasterChef India. In an interview with Outlook’s Lachmi Deb Roy, he talks about his latest cookbook ‘Kunal Kapoor In The Kitchen- Family Meals’. He also discusses why onions are his favourite ingredient to work with and how he finds inspiration for his recipes from his childhood memories. Excerpts:
Q) Tell us about your book ‘Kunal Kapoor In The Kitchen- Family Meal’.
This is the second book I have authored. For the past few years, I have been doing a lot of research and experimenting with Indian food. In this book I have jotted down all my experiences, childhood memories and the lessons I learnt from my travels.
Since I hail from a Punjabi family, I grew up constantly listening to conversations centred around food. I club such childhood memories with what I have leant about cooking over the course of time along with my experiments, every time I prepare a meal and I have written in great length about this process in my book.
Q) The recipes in your book are not exactly traditional, they have a twist. Like you have the blueberry cheese lassi and ham and bread pakoras. Tell us a bit about it.
My book tries to fill in the gap for somebody who wants to try his hands at gourmet food and recreate those recipes at home. With more and more people dining out, a lot of things have changed. I see a lot of regional Indian food getting a makeover in most restaurants and people flock to that kind of food, which has a little twist. Like if a butter chicken comes with a smoked bacon, then it grabs attention. I tried to capture this twist in my book, as well. It is not just cooking good old Indian desi khana (food), but it is about adding a little style and twist to our desi khana. And I have also tried to give a desi twist to international khana. The layer of new entry to an existing traditional food grabs the attention of those who love to experiment with food.
Q) A food ritual in your family…
Growing up, it was compulsory for us to have a meal together, as a family. We couldn’t have our meals while watching TV or in our room while doing other activities. Elders in my family were very strict about having our meals at the dining table, together. I feel that this ritual of eating at the dining table brings all the family members together. And I have mentioned about this in my book and in shows as well.
Q) Has the pandemic helped you keep this ritual alive?
I feel during the last year, cooking and eating together have become important habits of most families. And even though the lockdown has been lifted a lot of people are still working from home, so the practice of eating together continues. And prior to this, the younger generations hardly used to have a meal at the dining table. I feel this habit has changed during the pandemic.
Q) What are your views on the culture of eating out?
The younger generations spend a lot of money on taking each other to restaurants. They do it almost thrice a week. No wonder, the restaurants are running at full capacity even during the pandemic. But fortunately, the conversations still continue and a lot of things are shared over a meal. So, we have just replaced the practice of sharing a meal at home with that of sharing a meal at a restaurant.
Q) Your source of inspiration…
For me, the more I travel and the more I talk to people something or the other keeps registering in my subconscious mind. And when I sit down to try and innovate my cooking, I really don’t have to become a scientist in a laboratory adding two drops of this and that to make an invention.
What I do is, I go back to my memory bank of flavours. I am inspired by some very early lessons I gained from my grandfather’ cooking. I also learnt a lot from my father and uncles, who are all Sunday cooks. I also draw inspiration from my travels and my time spent in college.
Q) What’s your favourite recipe from your childhood?
There is one which I call ‘masala piyaz (onion)’ (laughs). The main ingredient of that dish is onion. I remember when we were kids, my mother used to make ‘amchuri bhindi’ by stuffing the bhindis and stir frying some onions in masala and add it to the bhindi. I used to enjoy eating the onions more than the bhindis as a kid. For me, onion is a beautiful vegetable. In America people love their onion rings and French love their French onion soup. For me, the smell of grilled onion is absolutely intoxicating. Onions are the key ingredients of most of my dishes.
So, my love for onions made me try making the masala onions by crisscrossing a whole onion and adding masala to it and then I grill it by brushing it with some mustard oil.
Q) Most important ingredient…
I think it is salt and it can be really tricky. As a cook you need to know how to add the right quantity of salt to your savoury dishes.