Well-known as the curry and kebab guy, Chef Kunal Kapur is best known for helping people to get a taste of his cooking secrets through his cookbooks and several shows on the television. And, he continues to do so in the following interview.
You started your academic career in the field of commerce, but today you are one of the most well-known chefs globally. What made you venture into the field of spoons and knives?
I was always a creative person and never the numbers guy. I knew my fate will be sealed if I pursued commerce with banking. In order to not become a banker pushing papers I decided to get into a creative and free space. Watching my dad and grand-dad cook at home each Sunday gave me confidence that the kitchen can be a man’s domain as well. I started out helping out my dad in the kitchen for Sunday lunch after finishing my homework and found that cooking was totally fun. My dad explained to me the name of each spice and its purpose, this learning came in handy when I joined my catering college.
It is said that cooking as a skill requires patience and time. How did you overcome the challenges you had to face during your initial days of becoming a chef?
I was not looking for a dream job as I knew there wasn’t one because at that time, around 20 years ago there were only a handful of 5-star hotels in India. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to take up cooking as a career. My job required me to be patient, hardworking, work for long hours at a stretch and much more. I had my mind to it and learnt the hard way that this skill will grow on me eventually.
According to you what are the pros and cons of being a chef? Do you remember any culinary disaster while cooking?
One of the biggest advantages of being a chef can also become a disadvantage. As a chef we are blessed to be in abundance of good food all the time, it is like being the special child of God who will never sleep hungry. But undisciplined eating habits, especially for a chef, can be a curse too. A cooking disaster that I remember was my first cooking trial with Late Chef Arvind Saraswat, the then corporate chef with the Taj Group. I was supposed to present a soup I had prepared. However, when I laid down the dish in front of him he turned furious and left without even tasting the soup. At that time I was young and naïve to understand what I had done wrong to deserve that reaction, but later I found out that I presented the soup without a spoon! What he taught me as a chef was, that my job is not only about making the perfect soup but it was also about being responsible and ensuring that it was served in a professional way too. Presentation and plating form the core etiquettes of being a chef and I still remember this incident and the life-long learning it gave me.
You have been associated with MasterChef India since its commencement. How has the experience been? How different is it to become a judge than a chef?
MasterChef India is not just any show but a platform and revolution for food enthusiasts. It changed the way India eats and cooks while providing immense knowledge on the hidden cuisines our country has to offer. Without a doubt, it gave a massive push to the food economy of India.
I loved and cherished each moment on the show as a Chef and as a judge. Judging the show made me humble and aware of some extraordinary yet unknown cuisines of India. In fact, I learned so much from the home cooks on the show that I would like to take this opportunity to thank each one of them. I witnessed some wonderful cooking and culinary techniques that I will always like to incorporate in my own recipes.
Your show Utsav- Thalis of India is synonymous to the wide variety of culture, festivals and delicacies our diverse country has to offer. Is it only your love for the motherland or more, that made you start a show like this?
Thalis in modern times are plates of unlimited food at a set price which is pure gluttony. But the fact is that thalis in India started for a purpose and each ingredient has a specific quantity and a sequence of eating. It was never a buffet on a plate-like it has become today.
To be invited to someone’s house for a thali was a mark of respect. These were enough reasons to explore the different thalis of India and the stories behind them. Also since the last five years now I have dedicated myself in researching Indian food, culture and food history and bring it out to the mainstream. For me, this is my new found passion.
You are a role model for many, but who is your inspiration and why?
My inspirations are the housewives of India who cook relentlessly each day and still manage to have a smile on their face. What inspires me is their commitment towards their family and home till the end and it is a quality I want to imbibe from them.