What’s Cooking

What’s Cooking

After bringing the art of Indian cooking as the forerunner in the worldwide cooking scenario, Chef SanjeevKapoor is also living his dream of empowering Indian women through power of cooking to become self-sufficient

SanjeevKapoor has a number of firsts to his credit, among them being the first chef in the World to start his own 24×7 Food TV Channel ‘FoodFood’. Kapoor has also been conferred the ‘Best Chef of India’ award by the Government of India, and was chosen as the Indian ambassador for the United Nation’s Clean Cookstoves campaign for the underprivileged in developing countries.

He has produced more than 150 titles (in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati), the most recent being The Live Well Diet and Everyday Cooking.

Speaking in an exclusive interview, Kapoor speaks about his priorities when it comes to cooking and his hobbies and interests outside the kitchen…

You have emerged as one of the most sought-after names in Indian cuisine today, how did your journey to prominence start?
I had this unique urge of going the opposite direction as compared to others since the time I was a kid. I did think about becoming an architect at one point in time, and then moved to fashion, then engineering or medicine. But, because of this inborn trait of mine to go against the tide, I chose hotel management. The rest is history!

‘Street food’ or ‘home cooked’?
Undoubtedly and hands down “home cooked.

What do you think is your forte when it comes to Indian food?
I dream of making Indian cuisine, numerouno in the world, and I am not going to rest until I do it! And when I feel so strongly about Indian food, then the forte has to lie in continuously engaging myself in trying out new things that finally result in a very new Indian dish, yet deeply rooted and very indigenous in nature. I think that it’s best to change with the times in terms of food too, yet keeping it very close to your own region. Besides this, I always believe in cooking the smart way and the simple way, with ingredients that are easily available to the masses. After all, what’s the point of dishing something up, if it doesn’t reach the ones who love, follow and look-up to you?

What is the key factor that makes all your dishes authentic?
I emphasise on taste and don’t pay too much heed on the so called word ‘authentic’. In my own restaurants as well I serve not authentic but real, what people like, Indian food. So, I feel the food needs to keep improving as times change. If you like how your dish is, so will your patrons.

Do you think Indians are turning towards healthier food options?
Of course! The talk is there and consumption has started to follow. I would say in the upper strata, people have definitely become more health conscious because they are more informed and aware.

Who is the chef at home?
At home, my wife Alyona, my two daughters, my mom, myself—everybody cooks!

How was your experience of travelling to Australia and what are your views on Australian cuisine and what is unique about it?
Australia was not new to me. I have travelled to the country on many occasions and even worked in New Zealand at one point in my career. I am a great admirer of Australia’s fresh and varied produce. Fresh produce is abundant, people love seafood and the meat is great in Australia. What you grow is what you eat and the styles of cooking in Australia have been taken from all over the world, basically the food is a true reflection of Australia’s diverse culture. While I had been visibly cringing at the mention of vegemite and lamingtons, wondering why anyone would eat them, I have always expressed my love for Barramundi, local Australian cheese varieties and the great Australian barbecue. Although I am extremely proud of my Indian roots, I believe in the localisation of recipes and prefer working with local ingredients when overseas. When I’m outside India, I try and find local ingredients, the local style and we use those cooking styles and techniques in our dishes, this is one aspect that Indian restaurateurs abroad should keep in mind.

What do you think about Indian cooking in Australia?
The presence of farmers’ markets all over Australia relates to the concept of Indian vegetable markets where the produce is brought fresh from farms or orchards. The use of aubergine, zucchini, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, mint, lime in vegetarian cooking and the use of fish, chicken and meat on the non-vegetarian cooking menu card are seen in both Australian and Indian cooking. Barbequed food is much in line with what we call tawa or grilled vegetables, chicken and meats.

Do you plan to open a restaurant in the country anytime?
Why not! Keep a look out!

What advice can you give to aspiring chefs?
As any other profession demands, being a very good observer is important, as it not only helps you to cook better, but also to understand what your target audience wants from you.

What do you love doing in your free time?
My hobbies in my free time would include me indulging in some of my favourite things like music and playing musical instruments like the drums. Besides these, I love photography too.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Melbourne)