Sanjeev Kapoor the most popular chef in Indian homes. He is a celebrity chef, entrepreneur, writer and television personality. Kapoor stars in the TV show Khana Khazana, which is the longest running show of its kind in Asia; it broadcasts in 120 countries and had more than 500 million viewers. He has also launched his own Food Food channel. Sanjeev is married to Alyona Kapoor, who is also a part of his joint venture. With an exclusive interview with Better Kitchen he shares his life journey.
What made you enter this profession? Your early inspiration in life, well beyond your mother.
I have always had this tendency to do something out of the box – something which my father encouraged. His interest in the kitchen sparked mine too. Back in in 1981, I had planned to become an architect. Then, just by a twist of fate, I applied for Hotel Management at The Institute of Hotel Management in PUSA, New Delhi. And my life changed!
Please brief us about your career growth/graph.
After graduation and till mid-1992, I donned different chef hats with the ITDC Group at various properties. I developed a fine sense of entrepreneurship during my stint at Shamiana, the first upscale Indian restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand. In 1992, I returned to India to join Centaur Juhu, Mumbai as the youngest Executive Chef ever. Soon after, I received the offer to host Khana Khazana. In 1998 I opened a restaurant, Khazana in Dubai which became a runaway success right from the word go. Since then we have opened at least 60 restaurants all around the world. A new joint venture company SK Restaurants Private Limited (SKRPL) has come into existence for this. While the restaurant business was taking good shape, another pot bubbling on the burner for me was writing recipe books. My first book 'Khazana of Indian Recipes' was published and now I have authored more than 200 books. I set up our first office in Juhu, Mumbai. It was a very small office but had a dedicated team with a resolution to do something great. Around this same time, Khana Khazana Productions came into existence as a company. We started producing our own TV shows. Then, came the idea of doing our own food products. It started with Pickles, Blended Masalas, Ready to Cook Mixes and Gourmet Chutneys. I was blessed to receive the 'Best Chef of the Country' honour from the Government of India. We shifted to a bigger space which is where we currently operate from. The ultimate was waiting to happen. My dream of doing a TV Channel. FoodFood was born in January 2011 and in a short span of time it has become one of the most trusted brands on Indian TV. The digital front has always excited me. I have always been very active with my digital reach through sanjeevkapoor.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a sanjeevkapoor mobile app, a very active YouTube channel and many more social media initiatives, so we can stay hot and connected with the community that has given me so much!
What are the unique achievements in your career.
Doing Khana Khazana was surely one! Back in 1993 I did not know I was going to be a part of Indian Television forever. Khana khazana went on to become India's longest running show in all categories and was aired nonstop in 150+ countries and awarded for many consecutive years. In 1995, I became the youngest Executive Chef to be bestowed with the 'Best Executive Chef' award by H&FS. Receiving the 'Best Chef of the Country' honour from Government of India was a big sense of achievement. My food channel – FoodFood which was a first for any Indian Chef, was a personal victory for me.
Your food ideologies.
Food is love!
Your contribution to the culinary world.
I'd like to think that like my food journey, this is just the beginning of my contribution to this world of food. My association with Symbiosis, Pune for a unique Culinary Arts college will help future generation of chefs gain a much broader and better exposure to culinary arts. Also structuring and designing menus exclusively for the students of all the 598 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNV) across the country, in association with the HRD ministry is something that is close to my heart. These generations are the future of the country and I want to do my bit to ensure they get what they deserve which is nothing less than the best. Also, something which I have constantly been told over the years is that people want to taste the food I cook – with SK Restaurants, this too is now possible.
What is the future of culinary world? What changes you would like to see in this profession?
Judging by the present the future certainly looks bright. The world is going the digital way and food technology is on a boom. I would love to see more science in the kitchen – beyond molecular gastronomy. The current generation of chefs is a powerhouse of creativity. They are not afraid to take risks and that gives them a heads-up over the rest!
How much focus do you give to health in your day to day cooking?
Eating healthy is a habit that is ingrained in my lifestyle. Unless, of course when sometimes my profession demands me to be indulgent – eating healthy takes a backseat and gladly so!
Do you still use some traditional methods of cooking in your kitchen, what are they?
The Rajasthani dungar method of slow cooking is one of my favourite ways to cook meat.
Do you encourage regional cuisines?
Yes! I am a big fan of regional cuisines. I love to sample the local regional food of a place while on my travels and urge people to do the same. It is one of the best ways to be a part of their culture. Thanks to Social Media, food bloggers and professional chefs who take pride in their traditional food, cuisines that have had to take a backseat all these years, are now in the lime light!
Which is your favorite cuisine and why?
Indian, it goes without saying. The sheer variety and the balance of flavours, texture and nutrient profiles that Indian food has, is unmatched worldwide! Besides Indian I like Oriental food.
Who is your favourite chef and why?
Rene Redzepi of Noma, is an all-time favourite and a good friend too. I love the fact that he is so passionate about food and determined with his goals – the result of which is out there for everyone to see!
What is your dream job/project?
I am pretty much in my dream job. Currently I have teamed up with Symbiosis to create a state-of-the-art culinary space within the campus and its quite the thing on my mind these days.
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in food or cooking?
I encourage them to do what their interest lies in.
How do you maintain work life balance?
When you are a public figure work becomes life. I love the work that I do and it pretty much helps achieve work life balance.
What is your goal in the next five years?
My ultimate goal is to put Indian food on a pedestal that no cuisine has ever been on before – make it number one in the world. Give back to the community that has showered me with so much love and respect. I am closely working with initiatives like Forum for Autism, Clean Cook Stoves and Wonderchef. Besides that, there is a lot happening on the restaurant front and I am also working on a couple of new books. For more, you have to wait and watch. Let somethings be a surprise too, right?
How do you like to spend your free time?
I don't usually have a lot of free time on my hands, but when I do, I listen to music or play the drums. My drum set is one of my most precious possessions. Also, like to catch up on reading.
What is your hobby?
Playing the drums for sure. My love for music is almost at par with my love for food.
Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
My job demands me to travel a lot and as a result of it I end up eating out a lot. I usually enjoy sampling local specialties, fresh produce and street food from wherever I am.
What's your dream kitchen?
I am a big gadget freak, so my dream kitchen is going to full of them. Like a high tech, neat and sleek food laboratory – of course with its own organic herb and vegetable patch!
Your message to readers.
Food is a form of expression, art and love. So, indulge in it with all your heart and your food will always taste great!