One for the chef

Last Updated : 27 November 2015, 18:34 IST
Last Updated : 27 November 2015, 18:34 IST

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With his charming, affable personality and mind-blowing repertoire of recipes, he was the first chef to carve a niche for himself in the Indian kitchen. His widely-watched TV show, Khana Khazana, the longest-running show of its kind in Asia, is proof of his popularity. For someone who wanted to do things differently, Sanjeev Kapoor has, indeed, transformed the way Indians look at their food. Be it his lalla mussa dal (which he claims to be the best in the world), or chocolate kulfi, food tastes different and better when it’s cooked by the ever-smiling chef.

Armed with a diploma in hotel management, Sanjeev worked at many hotels, before hosting Khana Khazana. It was in 2001 that he opened his first restaurant, The Yellow Chilli, which today has fans across many Indian cities. A true multi-tasker, Sanjeev has also authored many books, founded Wonderchef, a kitchen and home appliances company, started a TV channel dedicated exclusively to food (FoodFood) and is even backing home-food startups today.

In an interaction with Deccan Herald, the lovable judge of MasterChef series
reveals some delicious secrets. Excerpts:

What is your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is to keep it simple, clean and approachable. The idea of growing my own kitchen garden fascinates me. It is something that I’ve been practising for quite some time and I’m totally in love with it.

What’s your take on the fascination for organic food today?
Think about India 40-50 years ago — no pesticides, fertilisers or genetically modified seeds. So, what were we eating? The answer is that we were always eating
organic produce. In between, things went wrong, we paid the price, and are now correcting that mistake by bringing back the organic food culture.

For me, food with the organic tag in our hi-fi stores at exorbitant prices is like a fashion statement by a designer. In all seriousness, let’s all get back to our basics and start using organic food, which includes products like unrefined oils, jaggery, pure ghee made from cow’s milk at home...

Any cooking tips to follow in the kitchen?
Most of the times, people mix too many flavours and elements in one recipe. My mantra is to keep cooking as simple as possible.

>Make a weekly menu.
>While cooking rice, squeeze half a lemon into it to keep the grains and the colour intact.
>Always dry roast spices before grinding. This brings out the flavours.
>When making green chutney, add a few tablespoons of roasted Bengal gram (dalia) while grinding to get a thick consistency.
>To thicken gravies, you can add roasted gram flour (besan)/wheat flour (atta).

What do you hate in your  kitchen?
I hate an unorganised kitchen. It is, probably, the worst nightmare for me!

Tell us about your favourite spices and the one thing that will always be found in your refrigerator
Among the Indian spices, my absolute favourites are black pepper and cumin seeds and internationally, it’s an assortment of Arabic spices like sumac and zaatar.
You will always find yoghurt in my refrigerator.

What’s the weirdest thing you have tasted?
It has to be grilled sea dragon in Beijing.

Today, everybody is a food critic. Is it a healthy trend?
I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion and there shouldn’t be any restrictions on that. I feel your attitude towards life matters a lot. If you think good, only good things will happen to you. I, for one, always have a positive outlook. So, the fact that it’s easier now for people to voice their opinions doesn’t scare me.

What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
Understand your strengths, work around it. Never cease to be a student, be
humble. Always share your knowledge with others and keep raising the bar for yourself.

Festivals are here and indulgence is the order of the day. How can we make our food healthy in such times?
I would say enjoy the festivities the way they are supposed to be — that is, to their fullest. The key is to exercise and knock off those extra kilos!

Currently, many celebrities are venturing into the restaurant business, apart from chefs like you. What’s the difference?
There is absolutely no difference. It all boils down to the expertise of the person involved. Even I could open a cricket training academy, but I don’t think people would prefer that. I will definitely do better in a field that I am proficient in.

What's the best and worst part of your job?
Being a chef, I really feel that there’s nothing that can be termed as the ‘worst part’ of my job. And the best part is that I get to design food and connect with the masses through the universal language of food.

Do you think Indian food is getting its due on the global scene?
Today, the fact is that nobody is ignoring Indian cuisine, which is an achievement in itself. Apart from this, it all depends on how you project yourself and your food. Yes, people across the globe are noticing us more now and it’s the right time to build upon that.

Published 27 November 2015, 16:52 IST

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