The Pied Piper of Cookery

Super chef Sanjeev Kapoor needs no introduction. The most celebrated Indian face & voice of cuisine is also a shining TV anchor. The globetrotting icon speaks his mind in this exclusive tête-à-tête with Sudhir Raikar. Excerpts…

May 18, 2011 03:05 IST India Infoline News Service

Super chef Sanjeev Kapoor needs no introduction.  The most celebrated Indian face & voice of cuisine is also a shining TV anchor, bestselling author, adept restaurant consultant and sterling entrepreneur…but above all, he’s an exceptional dreamer: ever chasing new possibilities and exploring new avenues rather than soaking in the diverse triumphs that he’s left behind. The website best exemplifies Kapoor’s penchant for innovation and collaboration - in the way cuisine tips are openly shared with the public at large and food ideas are welcome from wherever they come from. The globetrotting icon speaks his mind in this exclusive tête-à-tête with Sudhir Raikar. 

Your TV show “Khana Khazana” brought about a mega revolution. How does it feel to be a trend-setter?

It sure feels good now in hindsight. But I never saw it happening or even hoped for it. All along, I was busy doing the right things in the right way. In the process, I became successful. That I am regarded as a trend setter is an honour which I humbly accept.

You are not only a great chef but also an endearing host – a god sent blend for your venture?

My strength lies in connecting with people. In the early stages of my TV career, I was quick to spot the needs that people have on food matters. I felt their pulse and they were all keen to connect with me. This bond helped me get more open and accessible in the way I delivered my shows. That cooking and teaching come naturally to me would have made the voyage that much easier.

How did the idea of ‘Food Food’ evolve? How did you build the value chain of partners for this niche channel?

The idea of ‘FoodFood’ was in my mind for many years. I was always trying to do away with the vacuum that’s gripped the industry for long. More than an opportunity, I regarded ‘FoodFood’ as my responsibility to build a robust bridge with the public at large – the first in SE Asia. Now, any JV partner wouldn’t have asked for a better platform than this channel. Imagine the prospect of talking ‘food’ directly with the Indian audience. So, I would say, our value proposition built the value chain.

Madhuri Dixit as lifestyle ambassador for “Food Food”– was it your idea or a strategy that was recommended by ideation firms? Do you consider it fundamental to the channel’s success?

Madhuri Dixit is the brand ambassador for lifestyle while I remain the brand ambassador for everything related to food - the essence of the channel. Roping in Ms. Dixit was a joint strategy that was spearheaded by our internal team. But yes, it’s not fundamental for our success. The show will survive on the strength of its content.

Do you foresee competition from travel-based channels which invariably cover food?

I always welcome competition. The more the merrier. Let people choose what they want to see. One can’t have definitive knowledge of the ever-changing tastes of Indian people. So any show will survive on the merits of its content and innovation, not on its leadership position. Crowd is always better for business prospects. That people are getting ‘used’ to watching food based shows is only thanks to the proliferation.

You have nourished and cherished your brand just like your recipes. What were your key challenges esp. given the fact that you began with a bank balance of less than Rs 1 lac?

As I have always believed, there’s no relation between brand building and bank balance. When I began my TV stint, I was still a chef in a suburban hotel in Mumbai on a salary. It was only in 2000 that I started my own production house, but again, I never went overboard with anything. I understood the potency of this medium quite early. After my TV success, branching out to other avenues proved relatively easy - whether books, Yellow Chilli restaurants, Food business, Wonderchef or Brand endorsements. Money was immaterial because for each business vertical, I was blessed with good partners, thanks to my conviction and confidence. 

Do you see research on taste preferences and food habits inevitable for the competitive edge in food business?

Research is an integral part of any business in any field. Food business cannot survive without good investment in research. In my case, I have been rather fortunate. Given my name and face, challenges have always come to me on a platter. All I have to do is to find answers. I get interesting insights and feedback in the course of my wanderings across the length and breadth of India. I just keep my ears and eyes open!

Your CA brother’s hobby turned out to be your profession – this irony is as amusing as it is inspiring for all career aspirants, food-related or otherwise.

My brother Rajeev Kapoor always says that the ‘right person should be doing the right job’. He found that I was better in this like he excels with figures and management intricacies. Today, he’s flourishing in the areas of his strength while I am exploring mine.

Can you elaborate more on your out-of-the-box breakthroughs like the collaboration with pharma companies to develop food for terminally-ill cancer patients?

The research is still underway. As I told you before, fortunately, challenges come to me on a platter. Pharma companies had a requirement, they came to me, and I took the challenge head on. It won’t be appropriate to reveal more than this owing to the Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Can you share some success recipes with readers?

Understanding your consumer, more than essential, is paramount. I constantly listen to what end-consumers have to say. It’s normal and common to have peer pressure against what you believe is right or appropriate. Anything revolutionary or passionate is bound to meet resistance but if your conscience is clear and you are ethically right, then you don’t have to fear anyone but God.

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