Chef Sanjeev Kapoor says he has a dream of making Indian food the number one preferred cuisine in the world; but it's not only a dream, he's also working towards it.
"I've tried so many different types of cuisine and curated various international and local dishes. But I'd still say, nothing comes close to Indian," he says.
Sanjeev Kapoor shares his views on the journey of Indian food, nutrition, the future of the industry, while suggesting useful health tips that may help during the crucial times. Excerpts:
You have been very vocal about local food. Do you think in today's time, people are moving back to local food or are they still inclined towards international food?
Today's generation is fascinated with Western food and they are unaware about what grows locally in our own land being far more nutritious. Having said that, I also see a trend of people moving back to traditional food which is great. Nutritional benefits of Indian food have always been high, and give you complete nutrition that one needs. For example, besan - it is loaded with multiple nutrients and fibre. People are realising that traditional food can help us obtain wholesome nutrition, which in return makes us stronger from within and builds our immune system. I recommend one should include green leafy vegetables, dals, fruit and salads in their daily meals. Look for unpolished dals as they are untouched, and their nutritional value is higher.
From a tourism point of view, do you think food can play an important role in bringing tourists from across the country and world?
On tourism, yes, of course it does! Food is such an integral part of tourism. Each city/region is famous for its own food and that is one major reason that adds to the experience of travelling to that place. Delhi is known for its fine selection of finger-licking street food, Mumbai for its regional cuisine, Lucknow has a variety of kababs, Hyderabad for its quintessential dish, the biryani, the list can go on!
Can you shed some light on the journey of Indian food and nutrition through history?
There is a lot about Indian culinary heritage that people may not know. I've tried so many cuisines and curated various international and local dishes, but I'd still say, nothing comes close to Indian food. For instance, the Indian thali itself has sampann poshan (rich nutrition) and this is one of its most important part of Indian food history. The diversity of Indian food is the source of my motivation, to stamp my personal identity on each dish. I must also tell you that I have a dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and I'm definitely working towards it, non-stop!
You have mentioned earlier that people still prefer restaurant food as compared to home-made food in India. Why do you think it is so?
A traditional home-cooked Indian meal is well balanced, hearty as well as delicious for every palate. When it comes to health, you need not look beyond your kitchen shelves. People need to stop following trends and new food fads that keep coming up. When I got into this field, I saw a difference between homemade food and restaurant food. And when I dived deeper, I realised that we are deriding homemade food and giving more importance to restaurant food. We all have the knowledge about the benefits and goodness of various foods, but with time, some new fad comes in and we tend to forget the importance of the already existing ingredients and start taking it for granted.
What eating habits would you suggest in today's crucial time when we are fighting a pandemic?
Nutrition is a large part of health. 'We are what we eat.' We eat healthy, we stay healthy. One of the best things to include in your daily diet is haldi (turmeric). Haldi has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Add a pinch of it in everything you make. You can have a glass of hot water with haldi in it, add some tulsi and ginger too. You can also take haldi and jaggery, and make little tablets of it. Whenever you have a sore throat, have one of those tablets and you will be just fine. Also, take care of your sleep pattern as it is extremely important to boost your immunity.
You have been one of the pioneers of the Indian food Industry, do you think if you were not a chef, would you have been that successful?
Success is hyped. I believe in hustle. Whether a chef or not, I would have worked hard to achieve everything I might have dreamt of. Plus, I am one of those who could never follow, I could only lead! To be successful, all you need is the recipe of success and then it is only the right ingredients that matter!
What you think about the future of Indian food industry?
We are facing a situation that none of us could have foreseen! Unprepared for a storm as big as this, understandably everyone is in a state of shock as the economy has been massively hit. The food service and hospitality industry too is drastically impacted and we all are bracing for major adjustments as we look at the number of the affected, growing each day. There is a major downfall in the industry with vast disruptions in the labour and supply sectors. Not to forget, employment issues too.
It will take some time to get back on the road and resume the businesses at the same pace again. The 'virus' is just another hurdle, in this race of life. Surely, it has brought changes that the world had never imagined, but, in no way has it affected the spirit. I'm sure we all can do it, fight the virus and win over it, together!
You recently participated in the 'Go Local for Wholesome Nutrition' web symposium? What are your views about nutrition in today's world?
The common goal of the "Sthaniya Aaharam Sampannam Poshanam" symposium by ICMR National institute of Nutrition and Tata Sampann was to educate India on nutrition that can be derived from the ecosystem around us. It also focused on discussing how India's varied food diversity and locally available foods are packed with more than a punch to deliver not just the required RDA, but also to address most of the health issues faced by a majority of Indians. I really feel proud of our Indian food. It has so many dimensions, so much variety. I have always been vocal for local food. Coarse grains like kodo, ragi, jowar are more beneficial for health than polished grains. I was excited to be part of the symposium as it helped me voice my opinions and educate our people about the benefits of local food.
Do you think by organising such webinars / sessions, we can create awareness about Indian food and its benefits?
Yes! As the symposium emphasised on the importance of local food for complete nutrition, I learnt a lot of new things through the 4 sessions. The Indian kitchen is full of health. The masala dabba we have in our kitchen is equivalent to a medicine box. Healthy and balanced eating has always been of importance, but the focus has increased now and educating and creating awareness through such webinars and sessions is the need of the hour. I would encourage for more such knowledge exchange platforms in future.