Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
Food : April 30, 2000
Piali Banerjee interviews celebrity chefs Sanjeev Kapoor and Camellia Panjabi
No doubt cooking is a science. It's just that Sanjeev Kapoor makes it look like an art. Ever since this star chef burst into the celebrity scene in Mumbai, chefdom has never been the same in his city which simply loves its food. Fusion food, exotic fare, easy-to-cook recipes. . . the buzzword is to cook like Kapoor and eat "different". As for the gourmet (and there is at least one in every household in the city), recipes coming from the treasure house of Khana Khazana are the ones to swear by.
Meanwhile Kapoor himself enjoys the pressures of being a celebrity chef in a city that really piles on the expectations on all its celebrities. People expect him to have all the answers when it comes to food, recipes, health or nutrition. And he makes sure that he does have them! How? "By constant research, travelling, reading, cooking and eating," he smiles. "Simple really. Except that it becomes an obsession after a point. Where all you're doing is thinking food. And every conversation and every meal begins to turn into a 'learning' experience!"
Little wonder that he should do his television show Khana Khazana on Zee TV completely impromptu. "I never prepare for my show," he reveals. "I've given a list of about 200 ingredients to my producer which he keeps available for every shoot. And I think up my recipes as I go along, before the camera. I have found that this is the best way to keep the show spontaneous and my adrenaline flowing even after six years of doing Khana Khazana. I like to think on my feet."
With so much thinking, creating new recipes is a cakewalk. But then, as he insists, that's not such an important part of cooking. "You can always shuffle a few ingredients and come up with new dishes," he shrugs. "What is really difficult is to make these dishes work. To tailor them to popular taste." Which is the theme of Kapoor's restaurant in Dubai - "deliciously different".
Sometimes, of course, one has to "build" popular taste too. "Not everyone can be ready to experiment with food at my pace," he explains. "My mind is completely open as far as any type of food is concerned. There are no taboos. I can eat burfi with tomato ketchup and cook chicken with chocolate sauce. But everyone cannot. So you have to take them there a step at a time.
"Take my special gulab jamuns, for instance," he continues. "I began innovating by only stuffing them with gulkhand first. As people grew to like it, I changed the plain sugar syrup for an orange flavoured one. When that too grew on popular taste, I flamb‚d the gulab jamuns in cointreau (orange flavoured liqueur). Now, if I had jumped to the last step right at the beginning, people might have been shocked and rejected it outright."
He learnt early that it is important to make the differences regionwise too. To make butter chicken with a little more spice for the Punjabi, with a dash more sugar, honey and cream for the Mumbaiite, with a gravy cooked with Sankeshwari chillies for the Kolhapuri, with coconut oil and perhaps even curry leaves for the Goan!
Kapoor may tread softly on tastebuds, but when it comes to methods of cooking, he doesn't mind shocking a few sensibilities out of their myths and misconceptions. "In the case of non-vegetarian food, I find that people still follow the cooking styles of a hundred years ago, when the quality of meat was suspect and refrigerators hadn't been invented," he says. "Every kind of meat is still unnecessarily stewed for prolonged lengths of time, something which was done earlier because meat was never cured. Actually chicken takes only six or seven minutes to cook. And fish, barely three or four minutes. Longer cooking simply spoils the texture and flavour of the meat. "Then there are the spices. The misconception runs that non-vegetarian food has to be very spicy. This idea too dates back to old times when meat was almost 'pickled' with spices in order to make it last longer than a day after cooking. Now, with refrigerators, we should be free of the habit."
It is for this kind of better understanding of Indian food that Kapoor has now undertaken his next assignment. An encyclopaedia on Indian food - in the form of a series of books. His dream is to make Indian the most popular food worldwide, and the most respected food in India, when it comes to eating out.
So move over Chinese, Cantonese, Thai and Italian!
One of Sanjeev Kapoor's classic fusion recipes:
Baby Corn and Kale Angoor
Baby corn - 12-16
Seedless black grapes - 100 gm
Apple peeled and chopped finely - 2 nos.
Yoghurt - 1/2 cup
Ginger paste - 1 tblspn
Garlic paste - 1 tblspn
Green chillies chopped - 1 tspn
Mawa grated (optional) - 1/2 cup
Fresh cream - 2 tblspn
Turmeric powder - 2 tspn
Dhania powder - 1 tblspn
Jeera powder - 1 tspn
Kashmiri red chilli powder - 1 tblspn
Salt - to taste
Oil - 1 tblspn
Boiled onion paste - 1/2 cup
Tomato puree - 1/2 cup
Garam masala powder - 1 tspn
Cut baby corn into small pieces. If using fresh baby corn, boil them until soft.
Heat oil in a pan, add ginger paste and chopped green chillies, cook on medium heat briefly. Add boiled onion paste. Cook on high heat stirring continuously until oil starts separating. Add grated mawa, cook till mawa is mixed with the onion past thoroughly.
Add tomato puree, beaten yoghurt, Kashmiri chilli powder, dhania powder, jeera powder and turmeric powder, continue stirring while cooking the masala.
Add finely chopped apples and half a cup of water. Cook covered on medium heat, stirring occasionally till apples are mashed thoroughly.
Add baby corn and seedless grapes, mix well and add salt.
Stir in fresh cream, mix well. Mix in garam masala powder and serve garnished with black grapes.
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