Sanjeev Kapoor is a household name from the food and hospitality industry. He is credited to have brought Indian food on the international stage. He became a popular figure with Khana Khazana, one of the longest-running shows of its kind in Asia, which hit television screens in the 1990s. Having authored many cookbooks, Kapoor was also selected as one of the top five celebrity chefs in the world.
He speaks to Guardian 20 about how Indian cuisine is today being celebrated the world over and how food can help in strengthening marginalised women.
Q. How has the food sector evolved since Independence?
A. With modernisation, the food sector in India has evolved by leaps and bounds since Independence. But we must not forget that while people might enjoy their pizzas and pastas in fancy restaurants once in a while, when it comes to everyday food, they still crave for the humble and simple roti sabzi, dal chawal and similar homely offerings.
Apart from this, as the world is shrinking each day, Indian cuisine has spread across the globe so much so that most countries are now aware that Indian food is not just about butter chicken. Thanks to technology, information glut and travel! There is also a strong presence of international cuisines in our food culture and people are keen to experiment with new tastes. This is opening our minds and the next few decades are crucial in strengthening the presence of the very own regional riches viz a viz the international imports.
Q. Why do you think Indian cuisine is so popular across the world?
A. Globalization is the word. Many Indians are travelling abroad for work and leisure. Technology has made the world smaller. As more Indian chefs are travelling now, they are able to showcase the right kind of Indian food instead of the media-hyped image of curry eating country with loads of spices. Now, they are discovering that there is an India beyond chicken tikka masala or garlic naan; regional Indian cuisine and healthy Indian food is being understood now better. The world is now accepting the fact that Indian food traditions are very old, scientific and balanced as required in today’s world of unhealthy living.
Q. Your show Khana Khazana is the longest running show of its kind in Asia. What, according to you, is the role of food in society?
A. Khana Khazana was one of its kind in Asia. But to tell you the truth, I was also not sure what will work and what won’t. Eventually, people loved it because of its simplicity and for the fact that they could also replicate the same dish with finesse. They were not failing and that took the show to its heights, something people still recall. This is what food, when it reaches people and connects them, does. Food is the common denominator which brings in people of diversified nationalities under one roof. You just need to trust your instincts and keep innovating and evolving with the times.
Q. What is the best thing about Indian dishes that makes them so popular globally?
A. There is no other cuisine which is as rich, varied, versatile, balanced and healthy as Indian cuisine. If I start explaining the pluses in comparison with other cuisines, it’ll take reaps and reaps of paper or a few terabytes of digital print before I can attempt any sort of conclusion. If you study Indian cuisine properly, you’ll find that it’s very well balanced. It gives all nutrients in required quantity and with taste. Also, the choice is huge. So, one cannot get bored with one format of Indian meal and once you start trying all regional cuisines, you would have a new dish for all 365 days of the year. So, its richness with balance accompanied by nutrition and taste is the key.
Q. How has Indian food influenced the foreign palate. Indian influence has pervaded British cuisine, for instance.
A. There is a burgeoning demand for Indian cuisine in all its varieties on the foreign culinary scene. Restaurants abroad are serving much more than what they used to serve because the market is ready for it. There are takers for experimenting with Indian cuisine everywhere!
Q. What are your views on so many foreign dishes influencing Indian cuisine?
A. As I already mentioned in my previous answers, there is a great influence of foreign dishes on Indian cuisine and chefs all over the country are using them to create exciting preparations that are popular with the masses. This trend is here to stay for quite some time as exposure and experimentation is more and purchase power is on the rise. But at the end, when an Indian comes back home, you cannot just keep him away from indulging in paranthas soaked in pure ghee, which, mind you, is also a healthier option than everything else!
Q. Once you said that food empowers certain sections of society, like marginalised women. Tell us about this.
A. Through our venture called Wonderchef, we have built a community of women entrepreneurs in the food world, which enables women across the country to create a business of their own – boosting their pride, worth and not to forget family incomes. As I truly feel that women should be independent, not just financially, but also emotionally.