As I make my way to Diya, the Indian restaurant at the Leela Kempenski, Gurgaon for a lunch invite, I spot Chef Kunal Kapur at the entrance welcoming the guests. An advocator of canola oil that is known to be a healthier option than any other refined oil, he had prepared a three-course Indian meal. His idea is to prove that Indian food cooked without dollops of ghee can taste as good.
An alumni of IHM Chandigarh, Chef Kunal has many tricks up his sleeve, the latest being a part of MasterChef India. Here’s an excerpt of my conversation with him over delicious lunch and Riesling.
When did you decide that you want to be in the kitchen?
In my family, men are Sunday cooks and once a week they would cook mutton with a glass of whisky in their hand and women would just make rotis. So the idea of men in the kitchen was not alien to me. During my college years, I felt most at home in Food Production since I was better than my classmates at cooking. With enough encouragement from my teachers, I opted for the kitchen.
Did you ever want to go back and do something else in your 13-year career?
I did, in the first five years of my career. I was a Taj Management Trainee and worked with the Taj for four years. My first posting as a 21-year old was in a kitchen where the youngest chef was 45-years old. I joined at a senior position which didn’t go down well with them. It took a while for them to trust me as a chef. I had a rocky road but it taught me a lot. It was a drastic change when I moved to Radisson in the fifth year; the working style and the ideology of the two hotel chains are absolutely different. I eventually started enjoying my work after four years and I’ve never looked back since.
Why did you choose to represent canola oil?
I support every product that takes health into consideration. From lighter cooking oils to organic fruits and vegetables, I support everything. We have to eat healthy and to be able to do that, we must start cooking healthy.
Since curries and kebabs are your forte, would you say they taste different in canola?
Although ghee or butter have a distinct flavour, I have always believed that the best of curries are made in refined oil. For the taste, finish them with a spoon of ghee or butter. Since food will be lighter when cooked in canola, you would eat more vegetables than getting full with a little helping cooked in ghee.
How was your experience at the Global Chef’s Exchange in Singapore?
It was excellent. There was so much to learn about Singaporean food, the people and their culture. Interacting with 21 chefs from across the world was very interesting. Singaporeans are not shy of their classical cuisines. They take pride in it, whether it is the Peranakan cuisine (Malay + Chinese) or the Eurasian (Europe + Chinese). Here, people will frown at me if I were to put up a Bihari or a Mangalorean dish on the menu.
High moment in the career
When I got a call to be on Master Chef India Season 1. I was ecstatic!
Your expectations from MasterChef Season 2
It is going to be bigger and better. I expect real professionally-made food from amateur cooks. The contestants this season are better than we had anticipated, so we had to re-work the tasks after the first two episodes.
How do you feel sharing screen space with Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna?
I didn’t know him before we met on the set. And like anyone else, I expected him to have airs about being a Michelin star chef. But it turned out to be just the opposite – he is a wonderful human being and an excellent chef. We are like buddies now.
Rapid fire round
Favourite dish: Butter chicken – I’m a hardcore Punjabi
You love to cook: Sea food
One chef you look up to: Gordon Ramsay, because he is an entertainer, a chef and has proved his mettle. I was floored when I met him recently at MasterChef US sets.
One restaurant you would like to try: Potbelly in Shapur Jat, Delhi that has Bihari cuisine