He is the quintessential, the most famous and loved face of Indian culinary adventure. Suave and charming, he is one of the most trusted celebrity chefs on Indian television. That’s not all, he is the author of 150+ best-selling cookbooks, a restaurateur, and winner of several culinary awards. Yes, you guessed it right, we are talking about Celebrity Chef and Brand Ambassador of Tata Sampann Sanjeev Kapoor.
In an exclusive interview with Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, Chef Sanjeev Kapoor talks about his love for food, the importance of a nutritious diet, COVID-19 food essentials, and much more.
Excerpts from the interview:
What was your childhood or your earliest ambition?
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. Though he was a banker, he always had a keen interest in food and cooking. Having said that, I still never planned to be a chef. Back then, I was preparing to be an architect. Fate had some other plans for me and I found myself applying for a Hotel Management course in Delhi. It just happened, and then I never looked back. I’m glad I didn’t!
You had started your passion into culinary adventures in an era when ‘studio cooking’ and being a chef was not considered to be a sought after and glamourous career. What made you choose this as your profession?
Since childhood, I was keen on doing something ‘out of the ordinary’. But fear comes in handy when you decide to go against the norm and do something different. Fear of failure, fear of not doing well, fear of peer-pressure, they are always there. The only thing that matters is what you decide to do with your fear. I decided to dive deep into it and do more of what made me afraid. Gladly, it has brought me up till here and I’ve no regrets or complaints!
How was it like when you told your parents/family that you want to be a chef professionally?
When I chose this career, thankfully, there was no resistance from my family. Resistance came from society, my school friends, and people who lived nearby. Since I was always a bright student in my school, everyone suggested me to rethink my decision and take up other regular professions and careers. But, I had the urge of doing something else and going in the opposite direction as compared to others. I wouldn’t have stopped till I did it, even my family knew it!
How has the journey been?
Over the years I have learned to cope with challenges, and I like to believe that it’s one of the reasons for my achievements in life. As they say, there is something to learn from everything. My mantra for life is, the more you learn, the more you share, and the more you grow. Keep acquiring knowledge! Also, I strongly believe that we should always see things positively and that’s exactly what I practice. When people doubt my capabilities, I smile at them and say to myself ‘Chalo, dikhata hoon main sabko!’
Do you think you have achieved what you wanted to? If not, then what is that one thing you want as a chef?
I’ve achieved more than I ever imagined and I am truly overwhelmed. But, there’s my long-standing dream of making Indian cuisine, the number one in the world and I’m working towards it, non-stop! I am positive to make it till the end, soon!
If not a chef, what other professions you would have chosen?
Given the situation we are into, how important is a nutritious meal for us?
Nutrition is all about following a healthy and balanced diet. It is how the foods we consume positively affect our body, provide us the required nutrients, and help us get through the day. A healthy lifestyle begins with conscious eating habits and following a balanced diet. This pandemic has led us to focus on our body, health, and nutrition a lot more than before.
Ingredients that have been a part of our pantries for ages are great-immune boosters – citrus fruits like orange, sweet lime, grapefruit, amla, spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, etc. Consuming a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive, sesame, peanut, etc. also helps.
Further, consume more of unpolished dals as their nutrition is not lost in the process of polishing. The recently held ‘Sthaniya Aaharam Sampannam Poshanam’ symposium by the ICMR National institute of nutrition and Tata Sampann highlights the role of local Indian ingredients and their wholesome health benefits.
Appreciating and going back to indigenous foods is what this pandemic has taught us.
For kids and pregnant women (must-have foods)?
A pregnant woman is required to eat for herself and the baby to meet the nutritional requirements of both. Eggs are considered as superfoods as they provide protein, vitamins, and minerals and the amino acids are crucial for the regeneration and repair of cells, for a healthy baby.
On the other hand, bananas are one of nature’s greatest gifts and the best food for a pregnant lady. A single banana contains over one hundred calories and is a great source of folic acid, Vitamin B6, calcium, and potassium. In short, choosing healthy and nutrient-rich foods will ensure that you and your baby stay healthy.
Kids need healthy fats for their brain, calcium for their bones, and all the vitamins and minerals that the various vegetables and fruits offer. So, make sure you feed them all of this. Whole grains deliver a nutrient seriously lacking in most kids’ diets- fiber. So, including this too in their diet is extremely important.
How involved are you with the menu development and the overall design?
I am always very considerate about any verticals under my name. And the same goes for the restaurant business too. So, I am always part of not just the menu development and overall design, but also the trials, taste tests, and every other aspect of it. I’m glad that I have a team that supports me well in all this and makes working fun and learning at each step.
What has been your lockdown go-to recipe?
I have been experimenting a lot with immunity boosting chais and kadhas! My all-time favourite combination of tea is tulsi leaves mixed with turmeric, ginger, and tea leaves and enjoy it piping-hot. It soothes my soul and also boosts my immunity. I make it a point to incorporate desi spices in my regular kaadhas as they deliver a lot of health too, besides being taste enhancers. The natural oils present in spices have anti-inflammatory properties that enhance our body's metabolic performance as well as strengthens the immune system. Curcumin - found in Haldi - with its anti-inflammatory properties is known to prevent the flu, boost our heart's health and even soothe a sore throat.
TV, restaurant business, or kitchen? What do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy my kitchen space, whether it’s for television, restaurants, business, or anything else for that matter. My love and passion for the ‘kitchen’ and ‘cooking’ are constant!
Tell us something about the celebrated chef Sanjeev Kapoor that your fans have not known till today.
‘Main toh ek khuli kitab hoon,’ I’m sure my fans know everything about me! And if not, let’s just keep it that way. After all, who doesn’t love surprises once a while!?
How was it doing Khana Khazana (one of the most popular shows)? How did the popularity of the show pick up?
When we started shooting Khana Khazana in the early 1990s, I had to unlearn most of what was taught to me during my early days in the hotel management institute and then restaurant kitchens. The idea behind the show was to create fancy yet basic dishes for our viewers to try out and also make them go ‘wow!’
I’ve always followed one thing all my life when it comes to cooking, ‘keeping things simple.’ When I first started to explore, I spoke to common people to get an idea as to what they were expecting from a ‘cooking show.’ I also remember, during one of my first live shows in Chandigarh, there was this old lady who stood up and said ‘main pehle kabhi mili nahi aapse lekin aap itne apne se kaise lagte ho? (I have never met you before but why do you feel so familiar?)’ I always wanted to keep my show real and stay true to the audience so that they can relate to me in all ways. And this is when I realised, whatever is best for the audience is best for the show.
Food is so intricately linked to travel. Could you please rate your top 10 Places according to food?
It would be unfair to ‘rate’ my food experiences from all my travels, be it within India or abroad. I mean, how can a parent choose between their favourite children? Right? I do have favourites from every part of the world I’ve had the opportunity to visit, but, I can surely not rate them. I get intrigued and intimidated with the local food, no matter how many times I visit a certain region in India, similarly, if I start mentioning about the food of the rest of the world too, it would take pages and pages and hours and hours, and still won’t be complete! Things that move you, cannot be quantified! Having said this Spain, Thailand, Japan, Tasmania, Kerala, Coastal Maharashtra, Goa, Bengal have always given me more reasons than one for me to go back.
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