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When it comes to the culinary world, Delhi-born celebrity chef and restaurateur Kunal Kapur is well known. Many know him as the judge-cum-host of the popular TV show MasterChef India. He was also invited to judge the semi-final of MasterChef America with Gordon Ramsey. More recently, he has been recognised by the Ministry of India for serving satvik cuisine to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Ms. Merkel in Bangalore.
We caught up with him for a quick chat. Here are some excerpts:
Cooking has really taken off during the pandemic-induced lockdown. So many people have been posting pictures and videos of the dishes they have made. Do you feel the trend is going to continue even after all this is over?
With everyone getting busy again with work, definitely there will be less people cooking in the kitchen, but the beauty of cooking is that once you have enjoyed doing it, you are very likely to go back and try it again, at least on your day-offs or special occasions.
I also see a trend of chefs who have lost their jobs in restaurants because of the lockdown taking to social media to cook and teach. This is the coolest trend as you have world-famous chefs showcasing their recipes, tricks and hacks for everyone.
What food do you associate with your childhood?
I grew up in a house next to not one but two halwai shops. So every time I look at barfi, lassi, pakore bhature chole or samosa with chutney, it brings back fond memories of my childhood. I always look forward to my mother's cooking as well.
Which cuisine have you been most inspired by?
The entire process of travelling to new regions, meeting various people, researching native dishes and tasting local cuisine has been a learning curve for me. I travel to a new place within India almost every month, mainly to research on regional cuisine and their nuances. I believe that Indian regional cuisine is still trapped inside its households. So my journey of discovering India through its food, community, history and people inspires me the most.
What's the one ingredient that you swear by?
I swear by pathar phool. It's a lichen but it's used as a spice in many regional cuisines in India. It has a deep, earthy flavour and blends well with Indian dishes.
What is the most unusual dish that you’ve had?
On my trip to Uttarakhand, I came across wild nopales, a type of cactus. Mexicans are known to cook with cactus, so innovating on that, I created cactus do pyaza. As eccentric as it sounds it was quite delicious, the dish tasted like a blend between bhindi and baingan sabzi.
A meal that you’d like to relive?
My fondest cooking memory is carrying an ice-cream churner to India Gate lawns, and taking turns with my friends to churn it. We would later enjoy the ice-cream with the entire family. I would also love to make kulfi with my grandfather again. I still remember helping him as a child, even though my help was limited to just stirring! It was really fun to cook and eat with him.
If not a chef, what was it going to be?
Being a chef and creating recipes is my eternal calling but if I had to pick a profession then maybe I'd be a banker.
How would you describe your culinary journey so far?
If I had to sum up my journey, I would say it’s been like a roulette. You never know where the roulette will land but with each spin, a new place or a new opportunity comes up. Like in the game you win some and you lose some but you got to keep playing it.
Can you share with us two 3/5-ingredient recipes?
Refreshing Iced Moringa Tea:
Green tea bags - 4; cranberry juice (or any other packaged juice of your choice) - 400ml, honey to taste; peaches - 2 tbsp; chopped mangoes - 2 tbsp.
In a cup of hot, boiling water, add the green tea bags and brew them for two minutes. Remove the bags and cool the brew. Add equal parts of that to two glasses, followed by some honey, bruised mint leaves, lemon slices, ice cubes and chopped fruits. Top it up with chilled cranberry juice and serve.
Dried coconut grated - 2cups; condensed milk - 1cup, cardamom powder - ½ tsp. Mix all the ingredients together. Divide and shape them into round ladoos. Chill them in a fridge for 30 minutes before serving.
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