EXCLUSIVE: Sanjeev Kapoor is a household name in Indian kitchens all over the globe. The first chef in the world to launch his own food channel, he’s on the Forbes India Celebrity 100 List, the Reader’s Digest list of ‘100 of India’s most trusted persons’ and has been named ‘Best Chef of India’ by the Indian government.
A multi-award-winning chef extraordinaire, Padma Shri Sanjeev Kapoor is India’s brightest gastronomic star. Better still he’s on his way to New Zealand as head judge for Ignite Colleges’ Australasian Tapas Championships.*
Hospitality Business recently had the exclusive opportunity to interview Sanjeev about his career, culinary passion and the gastronomic connections between Indian and Spanish cuisines.
What are you looking forward to most about the competition?
Breakthrough ideas and recipes, innovation, excellence and presentation, all while retaining the essence of tapas. I’m especially interested to see what tapas recipes food lovers in New Zealand curate.
Have you been to New Zealand before?
Yes! I was the chef responsible for one of New Zealand’s first upscale Indian restaurants almost three decades ago and have also travelled here for holidays.
What makes an Indian chef an expert in Spanish tapas?
In 2012 I participated in the Indo-Spanish food and cultural festival, I’ve represented India as a Food Ambassador under the Spanish government’s Indian Future Leaders Programme (IFLP), I’ve delivered a Masterclass in a reputed culinary institute in Valladolid and judged a truffle competition in Soria. From Madrid to Barcelona, Mallorca to Ibiza, I’ve explored the country extensively and experienced its very many culinary delights.
What’s the Indian equivalent of tapas?
There’s a large repertoire of Indian dishes which can work as tapas. All kinds of tandoori kebabs like chicken tikka, vegetarian tikka, Goan sausages, street foods like panipuri, sev puri, dahi Bhalla, ever-popular samosas, fried pakoras, South Indian bite-sized idlis, uttapams, and of course Mumbai special vada pav.
What inspired your love of cooking?
When I was a kid I used to be around my grandmother and mother when they would cook. My father, who was a banker, also cooked special non-vegetarian dishes. Slowly, I realised I wanted to cook as well. This passion was fuelled by the various local cuisines I tried when my father was posted to different cities for his job. My parents always insisted on good quality food even when we didn’t have the luxury of buying expensive things. They taught me to prioritise food over many other pleasures.
What prompted you to turn your passion into a career?
My original plan was actually architecture, but destiny had a different idea! When it came to deciding between studying architecture and hospitality I was in a dilemma, but once I decided to pursue hotel management and culinary everything fell into place.
You’re a celebrity chef, entrepreneur and television personality, you’ve written over 150 cookbooks, and you’ve got your own line of food products. Your career success has been phenomenal. What are you proudest of?
When I started out, the idea of cooking being a respectable profession in India was a distant dream. I’m often credited with being the first chef in India to have brought recognition and respect to the profession of chefs.
What do you cook for a quiet night in?
Usually, whatever my family feels like! They particularly enjoy kacche gosht ki biryani, a slow cooked biryani where raw meat and cooked rice are finished together.
What ingredient would you never leave out?
A big smile and loads of love.
What tips can you share with aspiring New Zealand chefs?
It’s very important for aspiring chefs to understand their strengths. Work on it. Stay humble, never stop learning, share your knowledge and, while doing all this, set higher standards for yourself. Nurture your passion, be dedicated and work towards your goal, even if some attempts fail. With consistency of effort, success is bound to follow.
*The 2022 Australasian Tapas Championships will be held on August 22 at Ignite Colleges in Auckland and entries close on August 1. Find out more by emailing email@example.com or register at https://form.jotform.com/221392477740358 and more details appear in Hospitality Business July 2022.