Celebrity chef Kunal Kapur has always kept us entertained on various cooking shows, events and social media with his happy-go-lucky charm and his gift of gab. He is one of the most celebrated names of India's culinary world and an icon for millions who have a soft corner for food and flavours. And now the culinary whizz has taken time out from the cameras and the kitchen to talk about his personal life, inspirations, most memorable meal and cooking during lockdown with NDTV Food.
1. While creating new recipes, do you test them on your friends and your family?
When I am in my restaurant, then the entire team tastes whatever I create. I have a theory, never to make people taste your half-baked dishes. I only ask my friends to taste once I am very sure of the flavours.
2. How do you stay inspired within your home, during this peculiar time? Who are you cooking for these days?
As you might be aware, I am currently going through a divorce and living on my own. I spend a good amount of time reading, researching and developing new flavours and experimenting with new dishes. On normal days, travel inspires my cooking but these days my fridge is the source of my creative thinking.
3. How important is it to understand the cuisine to enjoy the food?
It helps to know a cuisine sometimes to understand certain flavours. For example, Rajasthani cuisine uses lots of dried ingredients because it is a state that had very little of fresh veggies to grow. So whatever grew in abundance was also dried and used throughout the year.
4. Did you grow up in a foodie family?
My large Punjabi family is all about food where all the men of the house love to cook. As kids we also used to go out a lot on picnics from India gate, to children's park where the highlight used to be the enormous amount of food that we carried everywhere.
5. Your favourite cuisine when you are dining and your favourite when you are cooking?
I do not have any favourites when it comes to cuisines. I enjoy good food. We often compartmentalise food and put it in boundaries, but food has no boundaries and I like to keep it that way. I love trying new dishes and am always curious about ingredients.
6. A lot of people have developed a penchant for food and novel food trends, with everyone talking about things like seasonal and local produce. What excites you about food now?
For me, the history behind food as well as the community and the region fascinate me. I love to research and explore on ingredients and dishes to better understand how it came about. For example, everyone thinks Butter Chicken is from Punjab; however, it is a restaurant dish from Delhi and was possibly first sold commercially after the partition of India.
7. You seem to have a very lively vibe in your cooking shows. What advice would you give to avoid panic in the kitchen, and make the affair more enjoyable?
Don't take cooking as a task! Take it as something enjoyable and rewarding. Put on music, pour yourself some wine and pick a recipe and just cook to enjoy it. Always share the experience with someone so that you inspire them as well.
8. A childhood comfort food that continues to be a favourite?
Churr - It is a desi ghee & ajwain parantha crushed and served with dollop of ghee and shakkar.
9. You are not only a chef extraordinaire; you've also had so many incredible chefs cook for you. What's your most memorable meal?
I think out of many there is one meal that has stuck with me. It was with Ela Gandhi ji (the Grand Daughter of Mahatma Gandhi) at her residence in Durban. I was in Durban for an event and a friend requested me to meet her in person. She invited me over to her house, and to my surprise she had the dining table laid out for breakfast. She smiled and said proudly that she has cooked everything on the table for me. The food was good but what made it one of the most memorable meals, was her experiences. Her understanding on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi with pictures of his early life while enjoying the breakfast overlooking the city, was exceptional. I had one of the most enlightening meal experiences that will stay with me.
10. One overrated food trend according to you, also suggest a trend that you would like to replace it with.
I think this entire trend of labelling ingredients as either healthy or unhealthy is something overrated. For example, fats or carbs etc. I feel no ingredient is unhealthy as all of them provide us with nutrition. It is not a problem of the ingredient but the problem lies with us as we either overeat or not exercise enough to burn it all. It is easy to blame food as the reason for bad health whereas it is us who do not either control our portion size or eat at a fixed time through the day. My mantra is to keep a track of your calories and what you eat. "Eat what you can burn and burn what you eat" - this should be the trend.
11. What would you have been if not a chef?
12. The one invention in the food industry which needs to be around by 2050.
Think of ingredients and flavours with style of cooking, press the button pick the dish.
13. What's the modern kitchen gadget you couldn't live without?
14. A cooking tip that changed your life.
It's your attitude not the spices that make a great dish.
15. Three things you would take with you to a deserted island?
Fishing hook, Fire starter and hand sanitiser.