Chef Kunal Kapur is a well-recognized and celebrated chef in India. He is a restaurateur and media personality known for his food-focused television shows, cookbooks and most recently, his hosting of high dignitary events in the country. He is well recognized by the Government of India and was given an opportunity to present “satvik cuisine” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Bangalore. He has also cooked for 42 first ladies at the India Africa Summit besides having an interactive cooking session with them. His goals as a Chef are just two - firstly, make Indian cuisine the worlds no.1 and secondly, make a chef out of everyone who wants to cook, even if they can’t even boil water right now.
In conversation with the Guardian 20, Kunal Kapur talks about his childhood memories in the kitchen and his experience cooking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Q. When did you first realise that you enjoy spending time in kitchen?
A. I was born in a Punjabi joint family where I was the only boy surrounded by cousin sisters. When the family would come together on Sundays I would refuse to play with the girls. So I ended up where all the men of the house were and that was the kitchen. The men in my family, especially my father, loved to cook. So he would make me sit on an inverted Dalda tin and allow me to stir whatever he was cooking. Whenever he added an ingredient to the pan, he told me about it. Even as a child I knew the difference between cinnamon and clove. I still remember he taught me to bhuno meat (fry) on slow flame till it leaves oil before adding tomatoes. I somehow enjoyed the entire process of cooking in that old kitchen with everyone laughing and talking.
In college it turned out that I knew more about cooking than anyone else in the batch. Naturally I got appreciated by my teachers, and that motivated me to further study food and cooking. I owe it to my dad for bringing out the chef within me.
Q. What was your first dish that you prepared?
A. I don’t remember that clearly but my mother says that it was tea that I first prepared for the family. That was my first foray into cooking.
Q. The first season of ‘My Yellow Table’ was a big hit. What expectations do you have for this season?
A. The show My Yellow Table has entered its second season. I firmly believe that good company and warm conversations can add immense flavor to any meal! My Yellow Table- by Invitation is all about great conversations over delicious food. I want to relive the joy of friends and family getting together to cook a fun and wholesome meal, peppered with the jokes, the discussions and the differences!
Along with entertaining the audiences my expectations when I do a food show is to tempt people to try the recipes at least once.
Q. Do you think there is lots of happening in gastronomy? Also, do you think that though there are many food shows on air and urban areas have access to them, real taste still lies in rural India?
A. Food economy is getting bigger and bigger with each year. Not just in India but around the world. The multiple food shows on TV drive the demand for good food in restaurants as well as at home.
Even rural India is getting digitized and access to content weather on food or nonfood is fast increasing. It is a matter of time before the entire of India will be digitized, thanks to the current government initiatives.
Q. You have been hosting many food shows, writing books and travelling a lot. Is it because you want to promote food culture everywhere?
A. Partly because I learn so much with each book, show or tour and also because I want to spread awareness of Indian food around the world. I am proud of my culinary heritage and would want a global demand for Indian produce, food and chefs.
“Even rural India is getting digitized and access to content weather on food or nonfood is fast increasing. It is a matter of time before the entire of India will be digitized, thanks to the current government initiatives.”
Q. You have cooked a meal for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Bangalore. How was that experience?
A. It was an honor to cook for PM Modi ji and other dignitaries at the NASSCOM event. Keeping in mind the PM’s effort to bring different cultures closer together through his Digital India campaign, the team tried to recreate this in the food we served him, including food from across the country in the menu we served. In accordance with Mr. Modi’s preference, we presented him home style food cooked with authentic and simple recipes to keep the meal light, healthy and delectable.
I was delighted when I got the offer of preparing food for PM Modi ji and other delegates,although it was a big responsibility. It was a very high profile lunch and there were a lot of important people on the table. Along with PM Modi, the event was expected to host dignitaries including Ms. Angela Merkel - German Chancellor, Mr. Sunil Mittal - Founder & Chairman Bharti Enterprises, Mr. Azim Premji - Chairman of Wipro Limited and many other renowned industrialists from across the world.
It was a challenge for sure, but there are constant challenges in our field of work. For me every table is equally important. As a chef, I have to constantly create something unique keeping in mind the preferences of the guests.
With my experience at Lufthansa, I am aware that Germans love Indian food and good South Indian home style food will definitely appeal to them. I cannot possibly have all the delegates eat at my home but I definitely can bring my home food to them.
Q. According to you, which is the most important food-loving city?
A. According to me Delhi is the most important food-loving city. People in Delhi are big food lovers. Delhi offers such a rich diversity of cuisines, a plethora of options for street food and myriads of expensive restaurants and cafes. Compared to all other Indian cities, Delhi is the only one which has such diverse options; making it truly stake a claim to being India‘s food capital. Delhi has become the perfect place for a tremendous gastronomical treat. With a sweeping mix of popular dishes from a wide variety of cuisines, street food and all other kinds of food, Delhi is unmatchable. A surplus of dishes, from Chole-Bature, Chaats, Momos, Butter Chicken to Rajma Chawal and Paratha, makes it an ideal city for delicious and mouth-watering food. One can simply not miss the variety of delights at Chandni Chowk and Bengali market. Delhi has some of the most amazing food options including dhabas, restaurants and high-end cafés. Dilli Haat is perhaps the only place in Delhi that serves authentic cuisine from all over India under one roof.
Q. What is your favorite dish?
A. There is this thing that Punjabi households make, called Choori. Basically hot rotis are topped with ghee and sugar and hand-torn and scrunched up. This is the most comforting food for me and has always been my favorite dish. Infact, I even introduced this as a dessert in the show, My Yellow Table.
Q. Who inspires you most?
A. My father’s cooking always inspires me the most.
Q. Any incident that you want to share it with us?
A. There was a time early in my career when I tried a lot to get the recipe right but without much luck. It took me a long time to realise that it is not the recipe but the intuitiveness of an individual that brings out the magic of flavors. It is hard to explain but one can get it by practicing dishes over and over again.