Chef Kunal Kapur – the name perhaps need no introduction. For someone who has come to rule the popular food channels on Indian Television with his shows like Pickle Nation, My Yellow Table and MasterChef India, anything said or written about him would seem too diminutive of his persona.
The culinary world never failed to fantasize him, not even during his days of struggle. And it is this pursuance of good food and the hard work that went into it made him the Celebrity Chef that we all popularly know him as. He has also won many accolades – the noteworthy ones being his entry into Limca Book of Records for creating India’s largest “Chocolate Tower” and the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship that was awarded to him by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. He has also shown great inclination towards popularizing Indian food abroad and has travelled the length and breadth of the country to explore and understand the authentic cuisines and food habits that act as a binding force of many different Indian cultures and linguistic groups.
An excerpt from his interview with TravelRasoi –
When and how did you get introduced to the world of Food? How did MasterChef happen to you?
It was almost 18 years back when I started my journey as a chef; that was also the time when there were not too many hotels in India other than the likes of Oberoi, ITC etc. It was not a career one would aspire to be into. Back then the lower strata of the society who had no formal education would generally work as a cook. It used to be looked at in a demeaning way and it was not preferred as a lucrative career option at all. So pursuing Hotel Management at that time was a big challenge, because the future was uncertain. But I already made up my mind to make a career out of it.
But when the time came to join a career option, my parents always stood by me. So that ways I was always sorted. My first job was with the Taj Group of Hotels in Delhi. It was a very tough interview and I was very sure that I would never get through Taj. Reason being the placements available were very less and the number of candidates very large. Only 5 candidates got selected and I was luckily one of them.
I worked with Taj for 4 years. After that I worked with Radisson Hotel in Noida for 2 years. I went to Kuwait to work there for 2 years, and after coming back I joined Claridges Hotel for a year and later joined Leela. I spent 7 years with Leela.
MasterChef India has been the icing on my career. I got a call from Star Plus a couple of years back and they wanted me to come on board as a judge on MasterChef India. Things started falling in place slowly
Any challenges you faced during your rise to fame?
When I started I was not inclined to becoming a chef, but my idea was to pursue Hotel Management. I discovered slowly my passion for cooking and I realized that I am most happy when I am in the kitchen. So I thought why not make this as a career option. But yes, ever since I took up this decision, I never looked back. It is very difficult but it is rewarding in its own way.
The biggest challenge was to stay within this career and not to change it for some other profession. It demands lot of hard work, devotion and time away from family and plus it does not pay well. So you have to put in 12 – 14 hours daily and still getting a salary way too less. During our time, there was not much boom in the hotels and restaurants that we see nowadays and very few people were passionate about food, chef and cooking. I remember the first time I tried preparing mousse and my customers came and ask me, “what is mouse (the word pronounced incorrectly)?”
The initial 6 – 7 years of my career were the most struggling phase because there was no scope to enhance your culinary skills. The biggest task was to keep myself motivated about the career option I had chosen. There were times I thought of giving it all up, but the industry taught me to be patient and give my 100 % to my work.
Which style of cooking do you admire the most?
Being a chef for 18 years now you cannot let yourself tied down to a particular cuisine. For me food is food; I enjoy good food and love every food style from different parts of the world. For me there is no one specific cuisine that I like but I love talking about, discovering and cooking new styles of cuisine.
What is your take on Healthy Food?
The market is slowly shifting towards healthier options of cooking and dining out. I think this is one space that will grow very rapidly. Come 2017, a lot of apps coupled with information on good and healthy food will come up. So I see tremendous growth in healthy food taking off as an option and I am a strong advocate of it too.
Which is your favourite ‘ghar ka khana’? Do you cook at home?
I cook sometimes for my friends and family whenever they come over to my place. ‘Kareli ki sabji’, home-made pickles and chutneys with ‘ajwain ke parathe’ are some of the food I relish while I am at home.
Could you tell us something about your shows – Pickle Nation, MasterChef India and My Yellow Table? What kind of learning do you get from the people you meet?
In terms of my campaign on pickle, Pickle Tickle, I strongly feel that lot of Indian food is still trapped in Indian home kitchens, especially vegetarian, authentic food. I travelled throughout India to discover that food. Pickle being an important component of any Indian meal, I am always inquisitive to know about the different style and recipes of pickles made in different parts of the country, incorporate it and adopt it.
Having said that, all my shows are very close to my heart and all are unique in its own way. My Yellow Table was another show where I was completely myself; where I cooked with the guests we invited, filled up the table and eat the food together. The colour of the table was yellow and hence the show got the name. MasterChef is a world phenomenon and we all used to work as one big family. There used to be lot of tasks and pressure and we still enjoyed a lot.
I also came to know about a lot about our culture through these shows and also different kitchen techniques. I learnt from the home cooks in the commercial kitchen on MasterChef different ways of cooking which I keep on adding to my repertoire.
Any memories that you would like to share from these shows?
The fact that you meet with new people on every show is in itself a great memory that you take with you. You like to cherish each and every moments of these shows. The whole journey of making a show with meticulous planning make you feel so special that will remain ever close to your heart.
What is your thought on Fusion Food and what is your favourite?
Fusion Food is the way forward. Personally I enjoy eating food that is attractive, nicely presented and excites the customers. However there also happens to be confusion with it, but that is again a part and parcel of creativity or when you create something new. So for me Fusion Food is always welcome.
‘A Chef in Every Home: The Complete Family Cookbook’ – where did you get the idea of coming up with this debutant book and why you chose this theme for the book?
The book happened right after MasterChef Season 1 and it is a clear indication of my various experiences and the interactions I had with different home cooks from the length and breadth of the country. So the book was dedicated to all the chefs at home – mother, grandmother, wife, sister etc.
There are 2 more books in the pipeline which I will be coming up in the next 5-6 months. One of them is named ‘Men can’t Cook’, while I still searching for a name for the other one.
Could you also tell us something about your other venture, United Ways?
United Ways is a non-profit organization worldwide. I am connected with the India chapter in which I try to bring awareness about education, poverty, hunger. With United Ways, my endeavour is to train underprivileged youth to prepare food, equip them with the right kitchen skills and help them becoming small-scale food entrepreneurs. The idea is to place them back in the society with a self-sustainable means of employment.
What are your hobbies?
During my free time, I love listening to music, gardening and reading.
Who has been your inspiration in life?
One thing which has always stuck to me is that when I was still a trainee and I presented my first meal, which was a 3-course meal to the chef (Chef Arvind Saraswat) then. The first dish was the soup and when I presented it to him, he kept on looking at me and then at the soup and became very angry. I could not understand why. He yelled at me at the top of his voice and even refused to taste the food saying that it is incomplete. I then realized that I did not give a spoon with the soup. I somehow kept this incident in memory and today I realize that he wanted to make me a modern chef. When I started running my own restaurant, I understood that you do not just confine yourself to the back kitchen anymore but you try to be the face of your kitchen.
What are your plans for 2017?
I would definitely do the season 2 of Pickle Nation and season 3 of ‘My Yellow Table’, season 6 of MasterChef India. I would continue my research on pickles, Pickle Tickle where I would be travelling to every state of India to put together the largest collection of pickles of India.
Any message you would love to give someone aspiring to be a chef?
My only message would be to have patience, not to rush for things and understand food to the core. Today many of the aspirants come to join the industry to get a taste of the glamour, but let me tell you. Unless you have the passion for your work, whether it is in any industry, you would never find what you had been looking for.
Apple Slices – 20 nos
Flour – 250 gms
Urad Dal – 30 gms
Water – 200 ml
Oil – for frying
Icing sugar – for dusting
- Soak the urad dal for at least 2 hours. Drain the water and grind to a fine paste in a mixer.
- Mix together urad dal, flour and water and make into a thick batter. Leave in a warm place for an hour.
- Now heat oil in a deep pan. Dip in the apple slices in the jalebi batter and deep fry on medium hot oil. Take out and allow the oil to drain. Now sift icing sugar on to the top and serve warm.
– Samrita Baruah / Anjali Sethi Joshi