A CEO, a national awardee, photographer, reality TV show participant and now, an aspiring singer – you would never guess that we were talking about Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. The man behind Khana Khazana, Kapoor knows how to add spice to life, finds Rekha Shanmugham.
We sat at The Yellow Chilli amidst admiring glances, about to begin the conversation when a three-woman party comes up to the table to request for an autograph. Mother, daughter and granddaughter alike are fans of the chef and introduce themselves, utmost love and respect evident in their eyes. The effect Kapoor has had on people and especially women is unquestionable. Gently signing the note, he begins, “Growing up was simple and idyllic.” He is said to be quite a mischievous child but never really got into trouble. “The logic then was you could get away with anything as long as you were good at studies,” smiles Kapoor. Even as a child he was multifaceted and his thirst for exploration was hard to quench, a trait that has clearly survived the strings of complacency that age and time bind a person with. He wielded the willow, performing exceptionally in school, and even managed to raise funds to erect a 25-foot tall Raavan for the school drama club and try his luck with the drums. “There is nothing such as a person’s domain,” states Kapoor. “Limitations are created by the human mind.”
Kapoor grew up in several places by virtue of his father’s profession. His father, though a banker, was a curious and passionate cook at home. He vividly remembers how his father would draw inspiration from dishes served in restaurants and whip up something similar for the family, experimenting with his own ingredients. His brother also pursued cooking as a hobby. Back then, the idea of men entering the kitchen was almost unheard of, making the Kapoors pioneers in their own right. Kapoor is also a rebel by nature and never ceases to be lured by the ‘impossible’. In fact, it is this very trait that made him what he is today, a chef par excellence who got conferred with the prestigious ‘Best Chef of India’ award by the Government of India. Post school, the boy who scored 99 percent in Math was headed towards architecture when circumstances and the idea of challenging the impossible propelled him in the culinary direction.
Quiz him on what his parents had to say about their son making an ‘unconventional choice’ and he immediately replies that they were thoroughly supportive. Right from when Kapoor was young his parents had witnessed him making deviant choices and emerging victorious every time. One such time was when in the ninth grade, the boy chose Sanskrit, while the rest of the school, Hindi, simply because one could score more marks. Despite being warned by his teachers, Kapoor wouldn’t budge. They even summoned his parents but in vain. “My parents were on my side as they held firm faith in me,” remarks Kapoor. And no points for guessing how it ended. Kapoor was the only and a star student at the Sanskrit class.
There was still the society to deal with, though, but as Kapoor puts it, “What they say is their problem, not mine.” A path less trodden but Kapoor’s credo is clear, “Predictability makes life boring.” Kapoor had set a firm target for himself and that was to become the executive chef of a large hotel in 10 years. However, hardly eight years is all it took for the wizard. “The best target then was 20 years,” he says. “My logic was to work for 16 instead of the usual eight hours.” And the rest as they say is history.
Numerous awards, endorsements, TV shows including a dance reality show, cookbooks, the mammoth achievement of his very own 24x7 food and food lifestyle TV channel and restaurants – the man has built nothing short of an empire with several diversifications along the way, including the highly commendable ‘Wonderchef’ initiative, the result of an intense conversation with his father during his last days about empowerment of women in India. He even has plans to expand the enterprise abroad. You wonder if the days of a man as busy as him magically extend to accommodate more hours than the usual. However, the master chef is also a master at prioritizing.
Apart from the extensive travelling he does for work, Kapoor also takes his family on a vacation every year. With his daughters Rachita and Kriti at the back, wife Alyona by his side and the GPS to guide him, the man enjoys exploring the roads abroad. He reminisces about a trip to America during which he hired the stately Lincoln and drove it around for about eight days. “I loved it,” he says. “I had not driven that kind of a car before.” Back home, he drives the high-end BMW 7 series. The family also shops together while holidaying and the master chef says he can shop a lot if not for the time constraint. He is passionate about watches and the next on his list is a Patek Philippe. “My wife said she would buy it for me. But I insisted that I should get it myself – at the right price,” he smiles, adding, “I have great buying skills.” Travel, for work or otherwise, deeply inspires the chef and he takes back something from every experience. It comes as no surprise that he indulges in local food during his travel. However, he admits to not having a ‘favourite’.
Honesty in cooking deeply connects with the gastronome in Kapoor. Also, anything that triggers a sense of nostalgia like his mother’s signature eggless cakes which she still bakes is special for him. He loves his wife’s masala dosa too, which she incidentally happened to cook for him when he visited her house for the first time. He has a strong liking towards South Indian food. So who dons the chef’s hat at home? “The maid!” laughs Kapoor.
The man has several chains of restaurants dotting the world today with the closest to his heart being the ‘Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor’ in Dubai. He is often lauded for his business acumen and ability to precisely foresee trends. “The shift to entrepreneurship was probably because I was not getting paid well and also due to my brother’s insistence,” he says. “As we expand, pressure mounts. Nevertheless I’m extremely happy I forayed into this.”
Not many might know but Kapoor is a photography enthusiast and a voracious reader too. “I am currently reading ‘Modernist Cooking: The Art and Science of Cooking’, the series of books by Nathan Myhrvold who worked as the Chief Technological Officer for Microsoft,” he says, eyes lighting up with excitement as he talks about the book. That his own cookbooks have been creating waves around the world as is only too well-known. The chef even autographed and submitted a copy of his extremely popular encyclopaedic work ‘How to Cook Indian’ to be presented to the President and the First Lady during his visit to the White House in 2012. There is simply no end to listing the things the master chef does. His demeanour speaks of the wisdom and confidence of a veteran but his eyes betray the unmistakeable energy of a curious child willing to explore more. What next? “I plan to get into singing seriously next year and give all the good singers a run for their money!” he says. Yes, predictability makes life boring indeed.
Source: CEO Lifestyle