Kitchen commandant - Hindustan Times

Kitchen commandant

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Sep 22, 2011 11:47 AM IST

How cool are you when the cameras are rolling and your chicken looks as if its marriage to the marinade is on the rocks, asks Ayesha Banerjee.

It’s probably some wicked, secret ingredient they put in their food that gives them the huge energy surges to happily don the numerous hats of cookbook writer, chef, TV star, restaurateur, food product manufacturer — all at once.

But Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal are not giving anything away at the moment – or showing signs of a burnout while they roast, toast, puree, marinate, baste and taste their way to success and more success.

Both were not born cooks. Dalal, a Padma Shri and one of the top five best-selling cookery authors in the world with more than 200 titles to her credit, knew nothing about food apart from some Gujarati dishes before cupid shot his arrow and tugged at her apron strings. Kapoor’s father and brother would cook now and then and he used to follow them into the kitchen. He wanted to become and engineer and she got married and moved from her parents’ home in Pune to Mumbai.

“My husband,” Dalal reminisces, “who had studied abroad, liked all kinds of cuisines, and I did not even know what desserts were.” So it was just to please him that she started reading up more on global and Indian cuisines, experimenting and joining the only cookery class going on in Mumbai (then Bombay) at that time. The city had just started getting interested in Western cuisine – and she made sure she got to learn everything there was to learn about it.

Kapoor, an IHM (Institute of Hotel Management) Pusa graduate, who juggles the TV show Khana Khazana with his restaurant chain Yellow Chilli and all kinds of book launches, was supported by his father when he decided to go in for the hospitality industry. The beginning was a little shaky. “I could not roll out absolutely round rotis, so I smartly took a saucer and used it as a stencil to cut out my rolled out dough. I did present ‘round’ rotis to my parents that day,” he says.

Being a science student helped Kapoor understand the science of cooking wonderfully. “There is science in everything you do in the kitchen: how much water goes into flour while kneading the dough, how to retain the colour of the greens while they are cooking, how an egg cooks, understanding why boiling is always done in water and frying in oil etc,” he elaborates.

For Dalal, confidence happened along the way when creativity got the better of her and made her decide that she could do more than just cook for the family.

HT Image
HT Image

“A few friends of mine, who had really liked what I cooked, requested me to teach them. I said I would, but was very honest with them – that I only knew 20 dishes and that was all I could teach them. Being friends, they agreed. Yes, I was very nervous on the first day, but it turned out fine, and – this was in the ’60s – I was charging my students only R20 a month as fees. At the end of the month I had R120 with me and that was a great feeling.”

Dalal feels her classes through the years gave her the confidence to appear before larger audiences (for her TV show Cook it up with Tarla Dalal run by Sony) and do the books. “When I started my cooking classes, I was nervous but gained confidence over the years. Then friends suggested that since so many people were learning from me and copying my recipes I should start writing cookbooks. My neighbour had a printing company and he urged me to write. The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking, priced at R50, came out then and it’s still selling today,” she says.

Though not a hotel management graduate, Dalal feels she is universally liked because “Professional chefs usually like to measure things by the gram and kilogram, and the recipes are complicated. My methods are simple and for everyone – from a housewife to a corporate executive. My measures will be in cups and teaspoons, the servings are usually for four people and the recipes are easy to follow, with the ingredients easily available in India.”

What's it about?
Celebrity chefs are cooks par excellence, who usually author a set of cookbooks and have their own TV shows or magazines. Some leverage their brand equity to create and sell food products or open restaurants. You will see celeb chefs starring in reality shows where they judge contestants’ cooking or dish out all kinds of temptations in their kitchens or signing copies at book launches

Clock Work
7 am: Wake up and get ready for second day of shoot for the TV show
10 am: Since the programme has already been finalised, go through ingredients for the second recipe to be shot. If things go well then perhaps the demonstration for the third recipe can also be worked out
12 noon: Finally, things are in place and cameras start to roll
3 pm: Break for lunch and brace for a long evening

The Payoff
Depends on your celeb quotient. The bigger your name the fatter your cheque. Celebrities can earn in lakhs when it comes to TV shows, royalties from books and other TV endorsements etc

. Should be a good cook and passionate about food and cooking
. Great communication skills
. Confidence
. Good writing skills
. Good public relations and marketing skills are essential
. Fantastic networking skills
. Scientific knowlege of food,harm caused by particular types of food and benefits,dietary habits etc

How do i get there?
Start at home. Watch your mother (or father) at work in the kitchen. Enquire about your favourite dishes and try and write down the recipes. Take an interest in home science classes in school. A science background helps as cooking is all about oils and fats and vitamins and chemical permutations and combinations.

Joining a home science college or a hotel management institution helps. Admission to the latter will depend on your performance in the written admission test, personal interview round and group discussion session

Institutes & urls
. National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology
. Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi
. Indian Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad,Maharashtra
. IHM, Mumbai

Pros & cons

Stardom is always welcome


You make good money doing what you love


Hours can be hectic – especially for those doing TV shows


One will not find it easy to make it to the top if one does not have good networking and marketing skills

You take up the role of a teacher

Sanjeev Kapoor talks about his TV show Khana Khazana, hectic schedules and saving the dishes for the final shoot

A celeb chef is not just a chef — he has to play to an audience and cook good food. What in your opinion should be the right qualifications for a good chef who makes a great TV presenter too?
Any chef who has a passion for food, can smile at the camera, talk while cooking simultaneously can be a good presenter on TV. He should understand that he has taken up the role of a teacher and he has to treat people in his (TV) audience as his students.

How are your programmes designed?
My programmes are not designed or planned in a scientific manner because I want to be as creative on the sets as possible. I do some basic planning – like how many episodes are to be shot in a day, how many recipes are to go in each episode, the themes for each episode and then the ingredient list of what might be used in the episode. The recipes are totally decided by me on the sets. I have a research team working with me which plans the programmes. They do this under my guidance.

The shooting of the programmes is done in a studio where a big set is erected. We also have a back kitchen where all the ingredients are kept. As per the recipes and the episodes, my team sorts out the ingredients for me and hands it to me on the sets. When the camera rolls, I prepare the recipe. The cooking is done 100% on the sets, including any recipe which could require a day of preparation as we have a shooting schedule stretching over three days.

Everyone gets to taste the dishes that I make…and so eager are they that it is sometimes tough to save it before the mandatory still shot is taken!

While cooking and shooting, I am aware that I have to infuse confidence in the viewers and explain the recipe very clearly and carefully. We do take retakes whenever my lines go wrong. To tell you a fact, I do not use any written script. I speak extempore; speak from the heart so the chances of lines going wrong are few.

As for the make-up… how wrong can it go on a man? Whenever the shoot is delayed and I am tired, my eyes turn red and for that we have to take care.

Did the IHM Pusa degree help?
Pusa laid the foundation for my TV shows. I actually acquired most of my skills in cooking in that period. A hotel management student in those days had to learn everything under the sun. You will be surprised to know that we had to learn typing also. We had lessons in maintenance, accounts, French, communication skills, nutrition, hygiene, management... besides the core subjects. Thanks to the training, I am confident and have good domain knowledge.

Sanjeev Kapoor, celebrity chef interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee

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