In Conversation With Chef Kunal Kapur: About Food And More

A chef who has trained under some of the most reputed institutions out there, who has a couple of television shows to his name, who is well recognised by all and sundry in Indian households, who has been a judge of the famed MasterChef India, who has been witness to some of the most exciting trends in the culinary world, who has had the opportunity to cook for the nation’s Prime Minister and the foreign dignitaries visiting him – that is Kunal Kapur for you, a celebrity in his own right. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity, recently, to attend a ‘Food Camp’ by the celebrity chef at the International Institute Of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore.

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Chef Kunal Kapur demonstrating different techniques of plating and the basics of molecular gastronomy, at his Food Camp, at IIHM-Bangalore

I had gone to the event prepared with a set of questions for the chef, and was so glad the bloggers present were given a chance to have a little one-on-one conversation with him. Chef Kapur was happy to answer my questions, in his cool and composed and smiling manner.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you the conversation I had with Chef Kapur, about food and more.

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Me: What is comfort food for you?

Chef: Ice cream and chocolate – these spell out ‘comfort’ to me (laughs). Also, homely, old-time stuff like daal chawal or khichdi are what I turn to when I need comfort.

Me: How do you think food has changed over the years?

Chef: I think everyone wants to order out these days. There are very few people today who really love cooking, and that is a sad state of affairs. Food has become fancy. Plating is of crucial importance now. Soon enough, actual home-cooked, simple food will be a luxury.

Me: How do you manage to stay fit, in spite of cooking so much, day after day after day? 

Chef: I try to burn whatever I eat – that is the only way. I think you can eat all that you want, but in moderation. And you have to work out, get moving, and burn fat.

Me: You are currently researching unique pickles across India for your latest book. Could you tell us more about this book?

Chef: Yes, you are right. I am travelling from one place to another in India, talking to people, trying to find out about various pickling practices used in the country. There are so many unique pickles made in our country, many of them unheard of by common people. That is the stuff I want to bring to light through my latest book.

This book will take me at least two more years to write. The Internet hasn’t been of much use in my research – this is something that needs extensive travel and first-hand research. I am in full-on research mode, for the book, as of now.

Me: What are the most unique pickles that you have come across, in the course of your research?

Chef: A very unique pickle I encountered, in the course of my research, was one made of mustard leaves, in Darjeeling. The leaves are pounded, put into a sack and buried under the earth for over a week’s time, to ferment. Post this, the fermented leaves are dried and pickled. This is something I had never heard of before!

Then, there was this mahani root pickle that I tried out in South India. The root is pickled in buttermilk, which is said to preserve the pickle. This completely blew me away. Commonly, when we think of pickles, we think of a whole lot of salt, spices and oil – but this pickle is so very different!

Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

Chef: I would say, the dadis and nanis in Indian families, the grandmothers, are the best-kept secrets of the culinary world. These grandmothers possess a wealth of experience and knowledge. They have, in their repertoire, a number of culinary secrets and recipes that are, largely, unknown to the modern world. They are the best people we should be learning to cook from!

Me: You have been conducting food camps in different cities across India. What do you plan to achieve with them?

Chef: Yes, I have been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. These food camps are, basically, workshops where students can learn the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends and reinvention. These hotel management students are the chefs of tomorrow, which is why I want to work with them, to train them. I want them to get the benefit of my experience of all these years.

Through these workshops, I plan to bridge the gap between the trends prevailing in the culinary world, nationally and internationally, and the syllabus followed in these institutes.

Me: How was your experience cooking Sattvik food for PM Narendra Modi, on his visit to Bangalore? And for the visiting German dignitaries? Do tell us more!

Chef: Oh, it was a wonderful experience! I had a lot of fun preparing a slew of vegetarian dishes for Narendra Modiji, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the other honoured guests. I am so glad I got this opportunity to showcase the wealth of vegetarian dishes we have in India, to these guests.

You know, I was okay cooking Sattvik food for Modiji, since he is used to vegetarian dishes. I was actually scared of preparing vegetarian food for the German dignitaries, who are hard-core meat-eaters. What if they didn’t like what I had to offer them?, I worried. I needn’t have worried, though. Everyone loved the meal, German dignitaries included.

Me: Is there a memoir in the offing? Do you plan to write a book telling your fans all about yourself?

Chef: Oh, I don’t think I am accomplished enough to do something like that! I’m still learning about food, trends and different cuisines of the world. There are a whole lot of things about food that I want to write about – not myself.

If someone else wants to write about me, though, they are welcome to take it up (laughs). That is not a task that I want to undertake myself.

I hope you enjoyed reading our little conversation, folks! Do let me know!