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Updated: August 2, 2013 16:58 IST

A chef is a chef is a chef

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Master chef Sanjeev kapoor
Master chef Sanjeev kapoor

Sanjeev Kapoor says though a chef may work at different levels – like appearing on TV, writing books or designing menus, he remains a chef at heart

It’s been over two years since the inception of Sanjeev Kapoor’s “FoodFood” Channel and Sanjeev is happy with its progress.

“It’s one of the best lifestyle channels in the country and I believe this is the age of specialisation, something that has a focus gets a better premium, it works well,” he says over telephone. Sanjeev was in the city recently for a live cooking demo at Taj Vivanta , M.G. Road.

Though he owns more than fifty restaurants across the country (and parts of the world), Sanjeev has transcended the construct of a traditional restaurateur or chef through his work with TV shows, books, working on projects like designing menus for Singapore Airlines and now his own channel devoted to food

“We also have a You Tube channel which has become the fifth largest food channel on You Tube in the world. As you grow, you aspire for more. I am always a chef at heart and my role has not been limited to one location. I may work on different levels, and I may have taken up a broader role but at heart I am a chef and work as a chef. It’s like saying a chef is a chef is a chef.”

Despite the number of restaurants and the scale of Indian cuisine, one wonders why there isn’t yet a Michelin star restaurant in India. But Sanjay completely dismisses the whole idea.

“The Michelin star rating system is applicable only in a few countries and it’s up to Michelin to decide. It’s like asking why there are no Filmfare awards in France. It’s just that Indians love something that is well-known outside and have more respect for something from the outside. But how does a Michelin-star matter? I think it’s better to create something credible and forget about the Michelin star. We have not been able to do that, but we should.”

At the same time, one sees that Indian cuisine is, many times, vastly misinterpreted abroad, as one observes on TV shows like Masterchef series.

“And my job is to correct that perspective. I recently spent 15 days in San Francisco, Vancouver and Singapore and I talked about Indian food. It’s a slow process which I am committed to go through. But the difference lies in home-style and restaurant-style cooking. The world knows about restaurant-style coking, what we need to do is to bring elegance into home style cooking and show them that.”

Doing this within India, though, he admits is a challenge because people want to eat something different.

“They want food that is heavy and expensive because then they feel they have eaten out. They like to create an occasion out of eating out and restaurant-style food gives them that experience. Still there are early signs of home style cooking catching on in bigger cities in India.”

The secret to promoting home-style cooking may lie in presentation, but for Sanjeev, the secret to good cooking is universal.

“We have to learn the pattern, then it becomes easy. But it’s important to work with good quality ingredients. Cooking and creating recipes is at once a science and an art. It is necessary to understand who you are cooking for, otherwise it’s like a tailor stitching clothes without knowing the customer’s size. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, once you know all the parts; you can solve it quite easily.”

What about modern-Indian cuisine?

“A handful of restaurants may be doing fusion, something like a khichdi risotto or a chocolate samosa, and naming it modern Indian. But the way I look at it, when Indian food evolves the change is perceivable, especially in authentic Indian food. A little over 400 years ago, Indian cuisine did not include chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, onions or garlic. What’s modern, traditional or ancient always changes, we get used to it. Modernity is reality.”

Yet modern cooking seems to be more about glamour, which may come at the expense of health. Sanjeev doesn’t agree, “many factors affect health, but some things are made larger than life. One of the biggest culprits is salt and we need to learn how to bring down the consumption of sodium rather than worry about trends which may be experienced by a fraction.”

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