In 1993, a new show took Indian television by storm. But it wasn’t a saas-bahu drama or a detective TV series. It was a cookery show that kept men as well as women hooked. With his ever-present smile and interesting recipes, chef Sanjeev Kapoor won people’s hearts all over. But the chef never imagined that Khana Khazana would become one of the longest-running cookery shows on TV. “When you start off, you don’t think like that. You just take it one day at a time. It’s like life; you take one breath at a time and hope that you continue to live forever,” he says. Kapoor, who was awarded the Padma Shri last month, says he is “humbled” and believes that recognition comes with “huge responsibility”. “It is added pressure to perform better,” he tells HT Café during an interview about his career, cooking healthy food and cooking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Excerpts:
What do you think is the secret to serving good Indian food at restaurants? Do you feel it needs to be homely or should it be completely different?
The true sense of Indian food is seen in food made at home. I think, we are far from knowing the cuisines of India. Once that starts to happen and everybody starts to write about it, people will be more influenced by what is happening here [in India] than elsewhere. Good food doesn’t depend on how difficult it is to prepare or how good it looks. There are so many intricate details in Indian food. For example, a well-made modak or karanji, are all intricate. Making them requires real skill.
What are some of the emerging food trends in India?
Food is always evolving, but the change is slow. TV channels and newspapers need to report new trends every year, so they write about it. However, I don’t feel there has been that much of a change. The form of food evolves, but the tastes [of the people] remain the same. Similarly, there is a lot of buzz around healthy food. In fact, the talk around such kind of food is more than the consumption. Having said that, I feel the influence of foreign food has increased [in India]. The world has become smaller. Information is easily accessible and more people are travelling outside India. But does that mean the availability of Mediterranean or Japanese food has risen? I don’t think so. We can say Indianised Chinese and Italian, especially pizza and pasta, have created an impact, and there is a way to judge that. Recently, when I visited a local market in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), I saw a sack of macaroni next to sacks of rice, dal, and gehun (wheat). But for Japanese food, the ingredients are not easily available. I can’t even buy Japanese soy sauce here.
What is your take on modern Indian food?
Again, modern Indian food is more talked about than eaten. The real impact would be made when people start using those techniques at home, and when modern Indian food makes it into people’s kitchens. Currently, we are far from that.
Mr Modi and I spoke about how food can be medicine, how it can be life and how it can play a role in diplomacy. - Sanjeev Kapoor
You’ve cooked for a number of eminent personalities. Who have you enjoyed cooking for the most?
This is a difficult question. Cooking for Mr Modi was rewarding. It felt good, because he appreciated the food and truly enjoyed it. I spent an hour with him during breakfast. We had a great conversation about food. We spoke about how food can be medicine, how it can be life and how it can play a role in diplomacy. It was fantastic. Our talks were beyond food, but still [revolved] around food.
You have a 24-hour TV channel, a cookware company, and have written a number of books. You also recently launched a new outlet of The Yellow Chilli chain in the city. Do you feel there is anything left to achieve?
I don’t think that way. I just work and keep doing interesting things. My story has just begun. I get excited about food in the same manner [I used to when I started out]. I still have child-like energy. There is so much to learn and so much I don’t know. And it’s not just food. I also want to learn how to paint and fly.