He is friendly, warm and welcoming; exactly how he comes across on television over the 10 years that I have followed Sanjeev Kapoor’s culinary exploits.
The 51-year-old chef’s career spans much longer than the time I have spent watching him, though. Sanjeev is a household name in India and one of the most celebrated faces of the country’s cuisine. His TV show, Khana Khazana, paved the way for similar cooking programmes and is the longest-running show of its kind in Asia, broadcasting in 120 countries and pulling in more than 500 million viewers.
Outside the kitchen, Sanjeev is an entrepreneur, an author of cookbooks, a restaurant consultant and he launched his 24-hour cooking channel in 2011.
Sanjeev was at Al Mouj Muscat, for the launch of his restaurant The Yellow Chilli, a casual dining chain that first opened its doors in Dubai in the early 1990s and has since expanded across the GCC to Bahrain, Doha and most recently Oman, as well as numerous branches across India.
With The Yellow Chilli, Sanjeev wants to redefine Indian food as preferences change but keep the “Indian-ness” alive in everything on the menu. “I want to serve high-quality Indian food at affordable prices and change the perception of normal Indian-style restaurant food,” he tells me.
His earliest memories of the kitchen are from when he was a little under 10 years old and used to make chapattis and tea. Although no one in his family was a professional chef, many of his relatives are passionate about cooking and he was surrounded by it from an early age. “My brother’s hobby is cooking, my father was very creative when it came to cooking and my mother always cooked,” he says.
Sanjeev’s main motivation in becoming a chef was to do something different. “I wanted to do something that none of my family members, relatives, friends or neighbours had done,” he says. Although with good grades at school, he tells me how a lot of people expected him to go into engineering.
Friends told him he was wasting his time but his family was supportive, he reveals. “My family were okay with me doing what I loved because they were used to my slightly unusual behaviour. My father did warn me about the discouraging remarks I would get on the way, but that did not keep me from reaching my goal,” he says proudly.
To ensure there is always a spark in his cooking, Sanjeev tries to create something innovative every time he enters the kitchen. “I am highly unpredictable and always in adventure mode,” he says. And this ethos extends to his personal life; with the chef telling me he frequently won’t book a hotel for a family vacation until the last minute, when they are in the air on route to their destination. Sanjeev is clearly extremely calm about everything in life.
Despite his busy schedule, Sanjeev always makes time to see his loved ones and describes himself as a very family orientated person.
Although Sanjeev’s two daughters can cook well, it seems they won’t be following in their father’s footsteps in terms of their careers. “One of my daughters is studying to be a lawyer and the younger one is very active in athletics and sports,” he tells me.
Sanjeev has no single favourite food; instead he enjoys anything that is homemade because of the emotion that is involved in the cooking process. “Food prepared in restaurants often lacks this emotion because the chefs don’t know who they are cooking for,” he says. “However, homemade food is always prepared with a great deal of love and care.”
Sanjeev recently had the honour of rustling up a multi-course vegetarian feast that included a Royal Gujarati Thali for the India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, when he visited to the UAE last month.
“This was a menu full of surprises and although I roughly knew what our PM likes, I still thought it best to update myself with his current preferences by asking a close friend at the PM’s house in Delhi,” the chef says.
His choices seemed to go down well, as the chef tweeted a picture of the pair shaking hands and thanked the Indian PM for his kind words.