Born and brought up in New Delhi, Kunal Kapur has impressed the culinary world for over a decade. Having learnt the early lessons in cooking from his father and grandfather, he began his career in the year 2000 with the Taj group of hotels and has since worked in various cities across India. Wearing a double-breasted coat and tall white toque, the man with a poised demeanour says, “Early on in life, I realised that I was lucky to get into the iconic hotel as a management trainee. The hotel runs a very strong training programme; I was exposed to a lot of food and cooking.” The chef has an in-depth understanding of various regional Indian cuisines, having learnt it from the best in the industry, early on in his career.
VISUALISING HIS JOURNEY
“Cooking is the most versatile art. It takes a great deal of hard work, patience, and dedication to gain mastery in this form,” says Kunal. His work is an intriguing mix of style, fun, and taste. Kunal’s cooking oeuvre is both enviable and inspiring for someone just starting out in the profession. “If you are trying to understand cooking or any other art through books, then I must say that you’re limited to your imagination and interpretation of what is written in the books, whether it is accurate or not. When you travel and create your own learning by experiencing various culinary arts, it makes for a more holistic and complete experience,” he says with a smile. Besides honing his fundamental cooking skills, Kunal is an ardent traveller who loves to explore places and has a lot of travel stories to share. “There was a time when everything became stagnant for me; I knew my trade, my job and was at a very senior position. But, my learning had eventually stopped. Gradually, I realized that the more I travel, the more I will learn. From that day onwards, travel became not an expense but an investment in my career. And since then, I started travelling extensively within India and across the globe.”
BEING MR PERFECTIONIST
Kunal has approached cooking with the curiosity of a child and the trained eye of a wizard. Some people are just adept at cooking food that tastes good. “But I wasn’t one of those. It took me a great deal of time, patience and practice to understand and crack the secret of what taste is and then build myself around the food. One needs to put a lot of hard work and dedication in the art of cooking. The skill to understand the flavours, their quantity and ways to mix and match them comes with experience, even to the best of chefs in the world. No one is born as a chef,” points out ‘the real star of Master Chef India’. “There are exceptional people who are born talented, but I wasn’t a great chef when I started. With time, I slowly understood how food behaves and the right balance and combination of ingredients. I believe, the best way to become a great chef is by learning. You make mistakes and learn, and that’s the best way to go,” he adds assertively.
INDIA ON THE GLOBAL MAP
A country that has a rich culture of fabulous herbs and spices, and is known for its assortment of dishes, we prod Kunal on the relevance of Indian cuisine on the world map. He says, “The entire South- East Asian cuisine is on a high with the rest of the world. India is opening up as a niche market and a destination not just for the corporations or the big industries but for the culinary world as well. The amount of ingredients, spices, tools, vegetables and combinations that we are exposed to in our country, or the style and methods of cooking, along with different cultures and communities, is huge. Today, it has become one big pot where people from other countries come and pick up either a dish, ingredient or a style of cooking and incorporate it into their style of food and create a new and interesting cuisine,” remarks the international star chef. Kunal is of the opinion that, in recent years, there has been a huge influx of Indian palate on the international cuisine. “For long, not too many firangi chefs experimented with Indian food. But today, Indian food has intrigued people all over the world and firangi chefs are very keen on picking it up. Recently, I saw the very famous chef Jamie Oliver cook peeli dal and chapatti on his show. This shows the kind of excitement that the world is now experiencing with the Indian food,” he mentions adding further, “In India right now, we have all the information of what is happening globally as well. The degree of exposure may differ, but India in equally familiar with the trends in the culinary world. If something is happening or trending in one part of the world, the others are catching up very soon.”
LESSONS IN FOOD
The author of A Chef in Every Home believes that taste is king when it comes to food. “Presentation, combination and style are fine, but if you enjoy the taste of food, then you feel at home. I try to make my food tasty and nutritious – so that it’s easy and can be replicated at home. My style has always been comfort food with simple ingredients. I believe food should be a source of entertainment for all–those who cook and those who eat it too,” says the chef who has millions of subscribers and followers on digital platforms as well as television. While it is easier to get interesting recipes, it becomes imperative for people to behave intelligently.“Recipe is just a direction and shouldn’t necessarily be followed to the word. For instance, a recipe directs 1 tsp of red chilli powder for some dish. But the red chilli powder that I use may have X cogency and the powder that another person uses may have Y cogency; so the taste will differ. Similarly, I may use fresh and juicy tomatoes in winter and another person may use another variety in summer when the tomatoes are not so juicy; so again the taste of the dish will differ. One needs to be very intuitive with food. So while cooking, one should understand the food and tweak it wherever required instead of blindly following a recipe,” he asserts.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Ask Kunal what he wants to do next and pat comes the reply, “One thing that is trending among chefs is learning farming. That is, understanding the type of seeds, the time needed to soak them, the type of fertilisers to be used, the strength and quality of soil, ways to grow it organically, etc.” With his eyes sparkling with curiosity he adds, “Farming is one thing I would love to catch upon. I’d like to get involved in the farm and its produce to get the best onto the plate and make a beautiful dish.” For the luminous star chef, nothing is more important than reducing undernourishment and prioritising nutrition in the country. “In India, there is a huge problem of undernourishment and over nourishment. There are kids who do not get one proper meal a day or are malnourished and, at the same time, there are kids who are overfed. A trend that I would love to hope for India is to create equal standards of nourishment. No undernourishment or over nourishment—both are harmful. I want people to eat healthy and share their food without wasting it. That would be the biggest food trend anybody can think of; everything else is meaningless,” he concludes with a gratifying smile.