Eating out is a social outlet where people want to be happy

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Interview Sanjeev Kapoor, MasterChef.
  • Keerthi Nair
Restaurant India

In an interaction with Franchise India, Sanjeev Kapoor talks about his ‘khazana’ journey, the F&B trends in the market and the invaluable Ayurveda.

Please tell us something about the new F&B trend in the market?

F&B trend is the constant change which is ever revolving and happening and normally for any change to happen first the talk happen then the change happen. From the last few years the talk is moving towards healthier foods. Consumption is still not followed as well and I think there is too much sensitivity towards localisation of ingredients so that talk is also started to happen. The rate at which the talk happens, the consumption also moves at the same rate if not exponentially. So my guess is in the next 18 to 36 months, we will see actions in these two areas. More and more people will believe in healthier foods, fresher foods and more local ingredients will be served.

Even today when people go out to eat, the primary reason is to taste. Eating out is a social outlet where people want to be happy. Unfortunately, the common perception of healthier food is equal to boring food. The trend is changing though. More healthy options are entering the restaurant Menu.

It can be healthier not just healthy. But it will take time. Till then information is important. It’s difficult but not impossible. For example, 15 years ago, when I started my first restaurant in Dubai, we had started making Bran Naans (Indian Flatbreads) and started cooking with Olive Oil. Within 3 months we had to change as no one was ordering them. Even today, the Kaali Daal or the Black Daal has to be with the Makhan/Butter and Cream. Everyone knows Yellow Daal is lighter and healthier but people prefer to order Kaali Daal when they dine out!

You are also doing something on India’s oldest trend Ayurveda. Tell us something about Ayurveda.

The knowledge of Ayurveda is been there and just sitting there. We need to unfold, understand and know, and read each layer at a time then trying to bring in relevance today’s day and age. It is a complex process because to bring in old knowledge is not easy. It’s a perennial project that we have and I am happy that we find it so exciting that each time we do something with it, there is more and more interest in it. When we started it, people found it boring but today it is gathering momentum.

So what is good in it is that there is development that was done then in between somewhere in the pages of history that caught a long way and now when we are trying to open those doors there is so much old information that you see after so many years that you find it so refreshing. This is a good thing because at times something which is so old people may not be understood it so well and there may be certain things which may not be completely relevant. Things have changed, the world has changed and India has changed so much. Something like goodness of Amla which is talked a lot in Ayurveda and a concoction with that which is Chawanprash and that is something with the way it is made – made with lot of fat, lot of sugar and cooked so that it last for long time, because there was no refrigeration. Today if we talk about goodness of Amla you can have it on daily basis.

So, there are things which need to bring in so that it looks up to date and that is a slow process because you have to get that learning, use it for today’s need yet show that respect to that old knowledge. So we are excited about whatever we have done and we will continue to do it. Only thing the people have to understand is that Ayurveda is a way of life and not something that you open a book or any of the four Vedas that you will get something which you can use today. Anything which reference to food are actually through medicinal route so it is what is done probably Charak or Shashwat to pioneer in this in the area of medicine. So we have to design all that information through route of medicine and then convert it into food itself. What is shared is knowledge of cure or life which is more medicinal, so how to convert that into food is a challenge and that’s what we are doing.

How do you plan to inculcate good thing about Ayurveda in the minds of people because nowadays foreign brands are coming and capturing Indian markets. People are going towards fast food and all?

The sad thing is that all this cannot be done in a rush. Because the expectation of people is that tell us ten things that we should start from tomorrow. All ten and everybody know that people won’t follow that and I don’t want to kind of trivialise this information in a way that do it at a level where I over simplify it because then the essence may be lost because I am known for simplifying things. In the old text which talks about ingredients we are not sure whether things are in dried form or fresh.

You’ve made the profession of Chef fashionable. What went behind changing this?

I was not a typical Chef. When I started, I didn’t know what a Chef is, who a Chef was or how the entire thing works. It’s not that I had a passion for it. The only criterion was that it had to be something creative and something different.

Initially, I thought that I would do Architecture. Then somehow I got introduced to this field. I was certain that I wanted to do something creative. Fortunately, my parents were very supportive. Today, I’m supportive of whatever my two daughters want to do. One is studying Law and the other is a National level athlete.

What inspired you to bring out a concept of teaching cooking?

Since I was very different, I started doing things differently. One of the first things that I realised when I started working in the kitchen was – the Chefs were not teaching. It was a pain to be in a kitchen when I started. The Chef’s cooks had the skills, but they were not educated. Moreover, the Chefs felt insecure to train anyone else. That was very frustrating. So I asked myself what I could do. For me it’s going to be difficult to learn. But as soon as I learn something, I’ll teach something. I started this right from my first job.

As a trainee I started to train. This started creating opportunities. At that time, I didn’t know that what I did would eventually turn out to be what I am doing now. So it all started because I decided to share my knowledge.

Share with us your key to your success as a Chef and an Entrepreneur.

Any skill that you have – for example cooking – one you cook to earn and the other you cook to feed. As a Chef when you work and cook, it is to earn. And while you cook it pleases you. And when you are getting paid, you are already an Entrepreneur. If you are working in any job and you don’t start thinking like an entrepreneur, don’t work!

My first job outside India was in New Zealand. I opened an Indian restaurant for someone. Within 6 months I realised that right next door, a restaurant space was available. Economy was down. I told the owner of the restaurant which I set up – let’s rent the other one. We’ll use the same kitchen and I’ll manage the cooking for both at an increased wage of 500$ while he only had to invest in the interiors. Suddenly, I was thinking for him, I was thinking as an entrepreneur and I was also working as a Chef. No matter what you do, if that is being done to earn, you are already an entrepreneur.

Khana Khazana broke the entire mindset of Indian people towards women’s cooking skills. Tell us something about it.

Not many people realise that I’m always doing something new. I feel there’s so much that needs to be done and there’s so much one can do. My dad had said something that has struck me forever – You don’t know what you are doing. In India, the power of cooking has never been understood. You are giving this power to women which they already have but only now can be celebrated. This is in some sense, emancipation of women. And that is your contribution. I felt that these words were too powerful and I thought if this was the change that I have brought about, then I haven’t changed the way people look at Chefs but actually I have changed the way people look at women. So I thought that I have to do more. I started a company where we train women to cook. But to motivate these women, you have to bring in money into the system. So, we have created a model where we have almost 500 kitchen products and these products are embedded in our training programmes. It’s simple at one level, complex at another level and also commercial.

Today we have over 15,000 such franchises. These are women who love to cook and are happy to earn. I know so many women who are making Papads, Pickles and so many other food items to sell. Now they are getting an opportunity to earn in an organised way.

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