Cooking up a storm
Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor tells wknd. what it means to be behind the stove, his love for food, his 24/7 television channel, the restaurant business — and just about anything foodie
Tell us about your new food channel… why did you have it in the first place? What has been the feedback so far and what are your expansion plans?
I decided a few years ago to start my own channel, and FoodFood, a 24x7 food and lifestyle channel, was launched in January last year. I worked on this thought: food channels are there in the developed world, so why not in South East Asia then? I also worked on the fact that Bollywood and cricket have been the major streams of entertainment for Indian viewers for many years now and, in the recent past, viewers were looking at food and lifestyle shows on TV for entertainment and climbing up the socio-economic ladder. This gap existed in Indian TV so I presented FoodFood with content that has a huge aspirational quotient to it.
The response has been very good! In Dubai, FoodFood is available on the Etisalat network.
What are your views on Dubai as a foodie capital?
Dubai is a financial hub and food will obviously be an integral part! Most financial deals are done over a good meal — over business lunches and cocktail evenings. It is only in your favour when you entertain in a good place and it is not surprising that Dubai is a foodie capital. This city has people from all over the world, different cuisines and restaurant concepts can co-exist here. There is a huge market for everyone.
You were probably one of the earliest chefs in India who went live with cooking demos on television: what was it like connecting with millions of households, and what kind of response did you get?
I connected with my simple, ‘next-door-teacher’ style of cooking! Ingredients for my recipes are accessible and my recipes are easy to duplicate. As I could instill the confidence of cooking in my viewers, the response was tremendous.
What made you become a chef?
When I was growing up, I had this intense desire to be someone different, do something different from what the rest of my family and my peers were doing. I had the choice of going in for architecture and had applied for it, but on a friend’s behest also applied for a catering course, you know, for that ‘just in case’ situation! I got into IHM Pusa and enjoyed learning there. I realised that this is what I wanted to do, and then my journey to become a good chef began.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration and why?
My father, who led by example, and my mother, who always cooks so lovingly.
Why are most professional chefs men — and not women, whereas, historically, we’ve always had the women of the household cooking for the men?
Well, we do have many professional women chefs now! Kitchen work for a chef requires physical stamina, topsy-turvy working hours and loads of personal sacrifices. There aren’t many women who can accept this.
Do you believe Indian celebrity chefs have the kind of clout that your Western counterparts — say, a Gordan Ramsay or a Jamie Oliver or a Nigella Lawson or an Eric Ripert — have?
I would not use the word clout. It is more of respect and recognition and Indian celebrity chefs do generate that a lot. Personally, for me, there is no race to run or clout to create. I am simply promoting Indian food and getting respect for it. Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Eric Ripert are all famous and whosoever brings fame to this profession, I always applaud them.
What is your take on Indian cuisine becoming globalised? What is the future?
It is a very good sign. Indian cuisine will become the Number One cuisine in the world.
What are your views on the Michelin star? Is the hype that accompanies it overrated or justified?
Michelin star is critique-created and you know there are critics in every field and the ratings are always happening in each of these fields. It is up to you how you perceive it. Look at the history of the Michelin star rating. Michelin was a tyre company which in its bid to promote the tyres started this as a marketing gimmick. It paid off over the years and became established. Any such food rating is good enough to open the doors of opportunities. Rest would be up to your hard work and delivery of quality always. You decide if the hype is overrated or justified.
With eating out becoming more and more rampant and a new restaurant opening every day, do you feel that we are cooking less at home?
It is not only about cooking less at home. It has many more parameters to it which includes more disposable income, increased awareness about food… because of increased travelling, the world becoming smaller and more people getting adventurous in making restaurant business as their small business enterprises.
You run a chain of restaurants: how involved are you with the running/operations of these?
I am totally involved in conceptualising menus, recipes and execution of these at the macro level. For the micro activities I have a full team working for me in my company namely Indian Cookery Pvt Ltd, which is responsible for day-to-day activities, support and crisis management.
If you had to describe Brand Sanjeev Kapoor in 3 words, what would they be?
Name 5 celebrities you’d like to cook for — and why?
1. Mahatma Gandhi – He had a simple choice in food and it would be a challenge to serve him as per his likes. I would look forward to our converstion on food.
2. Dr Vikram Sarabhai – One of India’s sharpest scientists. I am assuming here that he was a vegetarian being a Gujarati so I would make simple vegetarian food for him and discuss with him how India can use the space platform in becoming a superpower.
3. Raj Kapoor -— Known for his dreams and showmanship. His love for drinking and rich Punjabi food is not a hidden fact.
4. Kishore Kumar — A genius. He was an untrained singer and his quest for excellence took him to heights no one has ever reached before. I would make him a lovely Bengali fish with mustard.
5. Sachin Tendulkar – He is passionate about food and loves to cook. I would give him his favourite seafood.
What’s your favourite cuisine? If you had to prepare a meal for someone really special, what would be on offer?
I love Indian food. Preparing a meal for someone really special depends on who that someone is, what does he or she prefer, and then I would prepare food to their liking also ensuring that there is an element of newness in my preparations.
Sanjeev Kapoor’s Ramadan cooking challenge brings out the flavours of UAE
As you read this, it is quite likely that one of the final episodes of Sanjeev Kapoor’s Sadia UAE Ramadan Cooking Challenge 2012 will be airing on television. With nine airings (one plus two repeats) across three channels (emasala, emasala+2 and FoodFood) it is impossible for a foodie to miss catching a glimpse of the month-long show (the final of the competition to be telecast on Eid day).
And there is lots cooking at the competition-style reality show, filmed on location at the Meydan Hotel in Dubai.
In order not to take the spotlight away from the contestants, who are basically home cooks, the Indian master chef and his FoodFood team (chefs Harpal Singh Sokhi and Rakesh Sethi) decided to judge the finals only. However, Sanjeev maintained a close watch on the daily production of the show to see that it adhered to his specified format as top chefs from Meydan and Bab Al Shams hotels, guest judges and Saba Wahid, the host of the show, judged the other episodes.
What better way for the multicultural population to come together in the month of Ramadan than over some delicious, palate pleasing food?