India’s best-known food personality Sanjeev Kapoor talks about what’s cooking in his world
Every Indian cook worth his or her garam masala is familiar with celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor (SK), the powerhouse of creativity who has elevated Indian cuisine to an art form.
A chef by passion and an entrepreneur by choice, he owns numerous restaurants, runs his own food channel on TV, has authored multiple books and endorsed many prestigious brands.
He recently received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India.
Sanjeev Kapoor was in Melbourne recently, on invitation from Australian Tourism, as a special guest for the World’s Top 50 Best Restaurants 2017 event, held in April.
Indian Link grabbed a few minutes with him, as he was on the way to the iconic Great Ocean Drive, for a momentary break from his enormously hectic schedule.
Sanjeev Kapoor shared his observations about emerging food trends in India with more emphasis on regional flavours and a move towards healthier options.
He spoke of his delight at seeing more Indian food items on shelves in local supermarkets, reflecting a larger acceptance of Indian food in Australia.
The most recognised personality in Indian food is now exploring another gastronomic possibility in Australia, the details of which are still under wraps.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
On the Australian food and culinary boom
When top restaurateurs of the world come and visit then people start associating Australia as a great place for food.
There are many countries in the world that have a long culinary tradition of their own. Australia does not have one; however, they have courageously anchored their tourism around food and seen some fantastic results.
To use food as an anchor for tourism is beneficial and more countries should follow this example. Singapore has done this effectively in the past and now Australia is doing it so well. I think we should do the same in India.
On the influence of travel in refining his style
Travel exposes me to new things that I try and experiment with, in my cooking. You never know when something you have seen, tasted or experienced around the world, can come in handy.
It need not be a big city; one can find inspiration and learning anywhere. I remember we specifically travelled to Geelong once, in order to eat there, and it was really nice food.
On my last trip to Australia, I saw a lot of use of beetroot in food so now in our vegetarian menu we have beetroot shami kebab, a vegetarian twist on the meat kebab.
I am always open to new perspectives in food creation and travel offers to me a world of global flavours, techniques and experiences.
On complex food choices (vegan, gluten free, lactose intolerance, fructose free etc.) and Indian cuisine’s adaptation to this market
That’s not a challenge, it is a global reality that people are becoming more aware and more susceptible, both, to these things, so you adjust accordingly.
In India the awareness of this is not as prevalent, but a lot of effort is going into creating this awareness and crafting solutions accordingly.
For example, eating wheat may not be a choice for people diagnosed as celiac; however, there are innumerable options with rice instead. There is no lack of choices as far as Indian food is concerned.
On making healthy food not boring
It’s very easy as, fortunately, our range of spices and taste is far more robust than any other cuisine in the world.
For example, the highly popular gol gappe ka paani can be cooked without a drop of oil. Idlis and dhoklas are steamed, a perfect combination of carbohydrates with protein, and very delicious.
Our repertoire is so large that we do not have to worry. Our rotis (breads), for example, are traditionally made of wholemeal instead of maida (plain flour) whereas brown bread became popular much later.
In the past we may have resorted to frying due to our climate and lack of refrigeration, where it helped in the preservation of food. Our cooking style used more oil, more spices, more seasoning and the process of pickling, however we no longer need to do that.
Today our flavours are defined by the strength of our herbs and spices.
Healthy solutions for time poor people
Plan more and plan better. Make your weekly menu in advance, shop accordingly and do your prep. There are many solutions available today where you can cook healthy without complicating your life.
Make sure that you use recipes that are simple. Complicated does not necessarily mean it will taste better. Try and simplify it.
Australia being a great country, with a great quality of produce, the food will taste good anyway.
On collaboration with Australia and Australian food
Yes! There is something very exciting that we are doing in a very big away. I do not wish to reveal the details as yet, but we will announce it as and when we are ready.
How he keeps on top of the multiple pots on the boil
With a smile! That’s it. I believe in building great teams and partnerships and that’s how I work. I do not think that I can do everything, so I just focus on my course and leave the rest to experts who know better than me.
On causes dear to him
The biggest achievement in life is to make sure that you start each day with the awakening that there is so much more to learn about the world, its traditions, cultures and values. The more you learn the more you can make the world a better place. Use your energies towards that. For example, if my world is built around food, how can I make good use of this power?
At the end of this month I will be travelling to five US cities to raise funds for Akshaypatra, an Indian NGO providing mid-day meals to over 1.6 million kids in India per day. Collectively they are the largest kitchens in the world. We hope to raise close to $2 million and make sure thousands of kids are being fed every day.
On Sanjeev Kapoor the person
In my view SK is a very simple, homely person. Every day when I wake up I realise that I have so much to learn. I am a very sincere student of life and food, and cooking is an integral part of my world. Each day is lived in the excitement of learning more. The day I cease to learn, should be my last day.