It's important to simplify recipes, says popular chef and prolific cookbook writer Sanjeev Kapoor
With a rapidly expanding fan club that follows his every recipe with breathless anticipation, Sanjeev Kapoor's possibly the country best-loved cChef. His food shows have revolutionised zed home kitchens by introducing wraps and rolls, bakes and cakes to Indian family dining tables. His books have been so successful they're now available in four languages: Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English. In addition to all this, he also markets pickles, masalas and gourmet chutnerys under the brand name ‘Sanjeev Kapoor's Khazana'. His latest project, which is just out in bookstores is “Wedding Collection” (Popular Prakashan, Rs. 1,250), targeted at newly-married couples. Excerpts from an interview.
You've written plenty of books for home cooks. Why specifically create one for the just-married?
I've forgotten how many books I've written over the years! But every time we create a new book it's in response to feedback we get from people. This book is based on a demand from my users. If we hear people repeatedly asking for something consistently over three months, then we get to work. We want to give users what they want. We also feel this will be great for gifting.
Simplifying recipes seems to be a trend with cookbook writers. Despite the growing interest in home cooking, are people less patient in the kitchen?
My recipes are always pared down. I have always worked like that. I don't know if other people are following me. My book sales show this works. This is my USP. I believe it's not a trend; it's a need. The only way to work is to keep things simple, you can't complicate.
The new book is fairly extravagant compared to your usual style of cookbooks. It's also priced significantly higher. Are you targeting a new market?
It's four times the average cost of my other books! My market has always been there — my books are based on the needs of these users. It's a closed group but they're fairly large. We just did a set of five books on healthy eating. In four or five months we sold almost one million copies. These recipes are not just for newlyweds. When a married a person makes something, it should appeal to the entire family. So, the recipes are simple, but still have some gloss. We've chosen them for their ‘wow' appeal. They will bring a smile. There's Mushroom Cappuccino, for example, which is mushroom soup presented in a different style — simple, but stunning. Or, a simple vegetable ribbon dish using carrots, zucchini, cucumber, all cut into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler.
Books for brides tend to spell out the simplest procedures. Does the “Wedding Collection” also start from scratch?
These are not recipes for people who don't even know how to switch on the gas. When people say ‘I can't even boil rice or make tea', they are not apologetic. They say it with some sense of pride, which is actually a shame.
This book is for this generation, for people who are interested in food and have some confidence in the kitchen. Yes, we do some handholding.
The food section's flooded with not just the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Nigella Lawson, but also a clutch of glossy India-inspired foodies such as like Anjum Anand and Padma Lakshmi. Is it getting tougher to stand out?
Not really. International chefs have a market, but it isn't mass. If you look at a book that Jamie Oliver is doing, for example, you will realise it's not written keeping an Indian user in mind. He may create a dish with rhubarb, but people here won't know what rhubarb is. Or, if he works with mushrooms, it's confusing. Because there is only one kind of mushroom people here know, they have 300 types. It's a market that is very different.
Does the easy availability of recipes online pose a challenge?
When people refer to the Internet, they're not sure of the credibility of the recipe. They don't know if it will work or not. If it doesn't, they won't try it again. It's such an effort to make a new dish. Especially with the family watching, nobody wants to fail. Whenever we make a dish, we make sureit's tested at least two times. Our office has 20 people and a test kitchen. You can't even think of writing books without this.
What's your next project?
Two books: from my Gujarati mother-in-law's kitchen, and from my Punjabi mother's kitchen. All vegetarian, home-style cooking. Then I'm planning a book on mithai.