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The unparalleled Sanjeev Kapoor

Adored by a following in the millions, this gastronomical superstar first rose to fame on Indian television with his much loved cooking show, Khana Khazana in 1993, which is still running to date and is famed for being the longest running show of its kind throughout Asia, with over 500 million viewers. A recipient of the National Award for the Best Chef of India by the Government of India, Sanjeev Kapoor’s popularity lies in his easy going demeanour and cheerful commentary that make the most difficult of dishes seemingly effortless to prepare!
No wonder the masses (especially the ladies!) are so taken by him.

Bride & Groom caught up with him when he came to Muscat for the launch of his new restaurant as a part of the global Yellow Chilli chain brought exclusively to the Sultanate by Mazaya Oman (the country’s premier luxury lifestyle management services company)!

Sanjeev Kapoor was only too kind to take us on his culinary journey, his growth as a chef, and what he hopes to introduce into Oman with this casual dining spot.
Immensely knowledgeable and possessing a panache for being different and unique, Sanjeev Kapoor is as interesting a personality could be! Strictly non-confirmative, unorthodox, and looking for newer ways to revolutionise, simplify, and bring excitement into cooking, his ultimate motto is that good food is all about simplicity and love.
After all, as we’ve said it in all of our previous four issues: less is always more. And so it is in cooking. Read on to learn more about this multitalented man, his life, and everything that goes into making him who he is today: the great and humble Sanjeev Kapoor!
B&G: Our readers are massive fans of yours! What can you tell them about yourself? How did you take up cooking?
S.K.: Well to start, I had an awakening when I was three months old that I had to begin cooking (laughs). No, in all honesty, I grew up as any other normal boy my age. I had no clue as to what cooking was, what being a chef meant, what running a restaurant encompassed. All I knew was that I wanted to do something different, something that no one in my family, friends, or neighbourhood were into. I had this urge to do something bizarre; cooking at that time was considered rather bizarre, and so I ended up choosing that as my field.
B&G: But you could have gotten into, let’s say, hotel management or other areas of the like.
S.K.: Of course, there was no end to any possibility. However, so many people were into hotels and kitchen management and I really wanted to be associated with something that no one else had ventured into. That was my primary motivation to take up cooking.
B&G: Did you have any idols/role models you looked up to in your early years?
S.K.: No. None. Till date, I’ve had no role model. I never wanted to follow a road or path that had already been paved, I wanted to make my own path. In saying that, I was my very own role model! I was very clear in what I wanted to achieve and I would pursue it boldly, because in any field, that is what takes you places at the end of the day. This is actually a famous line from Star Trek: ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before.’
B&G: So this is what drew you towards your television debut!
S.K.: If only! (Laughs) No, it actually came my way on its own. I did not venture towards it, but the opportunity presented itself to me. I was supposed to do only one episode; the show was going to feature a new chef every episode. What happened was that no other chef could see what this medium offered, and that gave me the freedom to be flexible and change it according to my preference. I ended up doing that show in its entirety for 19 years on a stretch.

B&G: It was truly revolutionary then. The show actually got people to try out other cuisines.
S.K.: I agree. It brought back the interest in cooking. I am sure you know of Hariharan, the famous Indian playback singer; he’s a great friend of mine and we were talking at home a few months ago. He said, ‘Boundaries have been created by people and countries which segregates what we can and cannot do. Art is not regional; if you know the region, possess knowledge of it, then you can create anything.’ I fully believe in that and apply it to my cooking as well.

B&G: And you learnt that you had it within you to become a great cook!
S.K.: See, the basic premise of cooking is that it is an art as all other art forms. When you begin to understand it, you can begin to experiment with it. You cannot create something out of nothing that you don’t know; you understand the science behind it, practice the art, and you learn along the way. It’s a concept that can be applied to anything. You do not need to be born with it; you can become it if you are passionate about it and want to learn it. It’s basically like proving ‘nothing is impossible’. I think that is what moulded me into a chef.

B&G: How do you think Indian cooking has influenced international cuisine?
S.K.: Influences are always global in nature. In the last 30 years, India has influenced the global cooking scene in many varied ways. Every sixth or seventh person in the world is an Indian or of Indian origin. I believe India will continue to influence international cuisine; migration has led to migration of culture and cuisine to other countries where fusions are created. In some places such as the UK, the influence is huge. Over here in Oman, the influence is still coming in. It’s not in a structured way, but it’s evident and pervasive.

B&G: So you are a fan of fusion in cooking or like to stick to authenticity?
S.K.: Fusion is a way of life, it’s how we live every day. Each moment is authentic in cooking, no matter what influences you use. No recipe in the world, none, can ever be truly authentic since so many ingredients were brought into different countries by other countries! The Portuguese brought tomatoes to India, before which they were quite unheard of. I think what makes us label food as authentic is the nostalgia associated with it. It may remind us of our mothers, or grandmothers, or childhood. However, there is no actual authenticity in any dish anymore. It’s become a fusion of influences from all over the world; this is an ever changing process that can only grow further. But in answer to your question, I only like to make things that are Sanjeev Kapoor authentic!

B&G: Let’s talk about The Yellow Chilli. We’ve heard there is a cookbook range of the same name.
S.K.: Yes. The Yellow Chilli Cookbook features select recipes from The Yellow Chilli restaurant chain. The Yellow Chilli as a brand is 17 years old, and the first restaurant opened in Ludhiana. Today there are 55 restaurants under it around the world.

B&G: Do the dishes in all of The Yellow Chilli restaurants taste the same? Or are they tweaked to suit local taste?
S.K.: See, each place has its own fervour, its own taste. We keep the base of all our menu dishes the same. The only thing we have to adjust is the spiciness of the dishes, since in many places people prefer milder chilli flavours. This happens even within India! All global brands customise their creations in a way that doesn’t lessen their authenticity but incorporates the taste preference of the audience in the countries they operate.

B&G: From the perspective of weddings, we know couples want their feast to be exceptional. Any advice?
S.K.: Do not take it on yourself, always hand it over to a professional catering company. There are many things that a couple has to look after; it’s better to leave everything related to food in the hands of someone experienced. One thing brides and grooms should remember is that the wedding feast is not about what they like. It’s about hosting your guests, so understanding what they like and would prefer to see on the menu is very important. The menu should be based around your guests; profile them correctly and inform your catering company of the same. Keep in mind the presentation that is best suited to the place where the wedding is taking place; customs related to food should be respected too.

B&G: Lastly, tell us about your association with Mazaya Oman and their famous Omani hospitality.
S.K.: Certainly! I am immensely grateful to have been associated with a company with such professional standards of servicing, right from the word go. Mr. Zaher Al Hosni, the Director of Mazaya, was a great pleasure to talk to and a dynamic personality to interact with; he made sure I had everything I needed, and the entire execution and logistics of bringing in The Yellow Chilli to Muscat were done under his expert expedition. I was very impressed with the precise handling and launching of the project. If companies like Mazaya continue to function with this level of dedication and professionalism, Oman has a very thriving future for itself in the long run!

The Yellow Chilli::Head Chef’s take
Having arrived in the Sultanate only a couple of months ago, Chef Manoj Radi is a name that has trained extensively and passionately in the field of authentic Indian cooking, drawing upon the numerous influences and nuances that go into this lively and colourful cuisine. Now all set to be the Head Chef at Sanjeev Kapoor’s The Yellow Chilli, Bride & Groom decided to interrupt the busy schedule of Chef Radi for just a while to scoop out some information about the restaurant, himself, and the kinds of food to be served!

Tell us about yourself; it must be very rewarding to work under the patronage of Sanjeev Kapoor.
Most definitely! I joined forces with Master Chef Sanjeev Kapoor in the June of 2012 and trained with him at headquarters in Mumbai, as well as Pune. I was a part of the corporate team and travelled to various places such as Kanpur, Raipur, Jabalpur and Coimbatore to name a few, all of which have deepened my knowledge and depth of cooking. I was also a part of the kitchen and pre-opening teams at Sanjeev Kapoor Restaurants, as well as at Old World Hospitality, New Delhi.

What is one special element that makes The Yellow Chilli stand out?
Needless to say, it’s the menu which bears Master Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s stamp of authority! It contains quite a few of his signature dishes; their exclusivity and simplicity is as unique as the name of the restaurant.

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