A committed chef, an astute businessman, a reader of people's preferences, a quick learner and a focussed individual. All virtues have come in handy in the making of Sanjeev Kapoor, now more a brand than a chef. For most women he is an instant connect, one of the first male chefs to come on television and unravel to them the nitty-gritty of a recipe and lead them by hand through the process of making them. Think a chef and his is the first face to come to mind. And he knows it. “Sanjeev Kapoor: The most celebrated face of Indian cuisine,” states his website. If television made him, to his credit, he built his brand firmly perched on his popularity and the recall value of his name.
But behind the toothy grin and unflappable demeanour he exudes on screen is also a sharp mind that has nurtured a career with finesse, ventured into terrains unchartered and most importantly befriended and struck a bond with success. Apart from his show on television which in his own words is, “the longest running food show,” Kapoor runs The Yellow Chilli chain of restaurants with branches in Delhi, NCR and a host of small and metro cities, his “true blue Indian restaurant” brand Khazana in Dubai and Doha and bistros. He has a range of cookbooks, while his food products intelligently christened “Khazana”, boasts ready-to-cook spice mix to pickles to biryani masala.
Always the one with a keen eye for trends and possibilities, Kapoor no wonder is now venturing into another hotbed — a television channel. In collaboration with the Malaysian Astro group, Kapoor's channel Food Food is all set to be launched. A 24-hour food channel, it will definitely have the sceptics stitching their eyebrows into a knot, but Kapoor as usual seems to have worked out the logistics in his head.
As someone who quit the hospitality industry and ventured into television in 1993, Kapoor is always game for risks and immune to being called insane. His advent into this profession when it neither had big bucks nor star power, is all attributed to an urge to do “something which was different, ek pagalpan wali cheez.”
As for taking a risk with a food channel, he says, “What is life without risks? If one thinks that way, this building could fall or an earthquake can happen now.”
On a recent visit to New Delhi, Kapoor was determined to talk only about his upcoming channel. Seated in a five-star hotel in Central Delhi, the man strictly focused only on the future, though does let his mind wander to the past for a while. He remembers his month-long training as a young graduate from the Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, at the hotel in 1984, when it went by a different name and the Capital bore a different look. It is almost with the nostalgia of an old-timer that he takes stock of change.
Recouping quickly, he returns to his dream set to be reality — the channel. Kapoor says, “I first thought of a channel seven years ago. My idea was if there could be a music, film and sports channel, then why not food?”
Kapoor's constant engagement with food also makes him keenly aware of its possibilities. “One can emote more with food. Internationally, there are channels dedicated to food. If the United States and the U.K. can have it, then why can't we? Some thought I was too ambitious, others thought I was mad, but I saw this huge potential and followed up on the plan.” Roadblocks on the way were quite a few. “In India, I did not get much support and international channels did not show interest. India then was not the India it is today,” he reminds you. If recession meant forgetting the plan for the time-being, forgoing it was not what he intended to do. He diligently applied for licences and a year and a half ago Astro came on board.
If a “24-hour” food channel appears unviable, he points out, “In a channel there is a limited period in a day when there is fresh programming, say about four to five hours.” With food as the pivot, the programmes revolve around learning, entertainment, reality shows, health, quiz and travel. Kapoor attributes his success to always “understanding what your viewer wants.” The mantra has guided him all these years, and he hopes it would not fail him now. “I do my shows for the viewers who are watching it. My experience has taught me what works within the boundaries of experiment, what works in the Indian market,” he says.
With his finger on the pulse of his viewers and constantly tuned to change, Kapoor says, “If I get a feedback where a couple of them are pointing out the same thing, it translates to a trend.” He knows he cannot do a show the way he did 17 years ago. “The way we cook, our needs, our lifestyle, even the ingredients have changed. If I did things the way I did 20 years ago, I will be thrown out.”