Chef Kunal Kapur was recently in the UAE capital for Taste of Abu Dhabi 2019.
Calling culinary genius Kunal Kapur just a chef would be a bit of a disservice to his multifaceted persona.
The award-winning Indian personality is a cooking wizard, restaurateur and media personality, all rolled into one.
His passion for food, Indian in particular, is visceral, so much so that he is constantly researching and recording the indigenous grains, produce, and recipes of his mother country that are endangered.
Best known for hosting and judging the cookery show MasterChef India and Junior MasterChef India, the 40-year-old celeb chef has presented his culinary creations before eminent personalities, including the prime minister of India Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Apart from MasterChef India, he has played host on other Indian TV shows such as Pickle Nation, Thalis of India and My Yellow Table.
The chef de cuisine has also been bestowed with the Best Jury/Anchor award by The Indian Television Academy, and is a proud recipient of the prestigious Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship 2012 from the Government of New Zealand in the field of Food & Beverage.
As Kunal jetted into the capital for the recently concluded Taste of Abu Dhabi, we caught up with him as he spoke about journeying into the world of food, the idea behind naming his UAE restaurant Namak (it has won two of this year’s What’s On Abu Dhabi awards, namely Favourite Indian Restaurant and Newcomer of the Year), and his love for mangoes.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I belong to a family of bankers and I was expected to be one.
I was always scared of math and numbers always confused me as a kid.
I spent my childhood watching my father on the barbecue or in the kitchen.
I was always inclined towards cooking and when the time came to decide I jumped at the opportunity to go to culinary school to become a chef.
How did you turn into a celeb chef?
Firstly I don’t relate to the word “celeb.” I am just happy with chef.
I was pretty lucky to have a very solid team early on in my career and I had won a couple of best restaurant awards for Indian food.
I never thought of anything but the kitchen and then the MasterChef franchise came to India, and because of my past awards I was asked to judge and host the show.
It was scary at first but I started to enjoy it and that has pushed me on to a global platform.
What are your favourite cuisines to cook with?
I don’t have a favourite cuisine. Food has no boundaries, we tend to put them in one.
I love to cook for others more than cooking for myself.
I love the look on peoples face when they have a great meal.
That kind of inspires me to do better, to travel and bring back more surprises for my kitchen.
One fond dish/food from your childhood?
Mangoes, Mangoes and Mangoes!
We used to make fresh mango ice cream every summer at home.
My grandfather had a an old ice cream maker that needed cranking after you added the ice cream mix and as kids we used to take turns to crank and churn it.
What is the theme of your restaurant Namak?
Namak is a Hindi word which means salt.
Salt is the most inexpensive ingredient in the kitchen, yet, if you do not use it correctly the taste of the most expensive ingredient would not be brought out correctly.
At the same time, salt is also the symbol of defiance in context of the Indian freedom struggle.
And the same defiance flows into our concept where we dare to be different from classic Indian and serve a very unique, progressive Indian food experience.
Which are your favourite places to grab a bite at in the UAE?
I am in love with shawarmas as you don’t find a proper one back home. I love fresh breads, especially fatayer, in small local shops.
I find joy in eating simple hot or cold mezzes, which are very local and very easy to find here.
How was the experience at Taste of Abu Dhabi?
This was the first time I was there, my restaurant was there. I think it has been a brilliant experience. There was great music. There were some brilliant stalls put up by different restaurants and there was so much to eat.
There were different communities, especially from Abu Dhabi and Dubai that came together. So that gives you a chance to interact with them and put your restaurant out there.
At the same time I had a master class at Taste of Abu Dhabi, so doing progressive Indian food in front of so many people was great, as a lot of them relate to Indian food with just kebabs, biryani, butter chicken, butter naan etc.
But there’s so much more we offer. So it was a feeler of what Namak is all about for a whole new market.
By evening the weather was brilliant and it was such a fun atmosphere that it didn’t seem as though I am working to be honest.
The interiors of the fine dine Namak located in Dusit Thani, Abu Dhabi.
How does a day in the life of a celeb chef typically go?
I am an early riser and I love my morning walk with my two dogs and looking after my kitchen garden.
After a good cup of tea, I head out for work. Honestly by the time I look into my watch the day has passed.
Nights usually end with a drink, and on most days, dinner with the family.
Any interesting plans or projects cooking?
My next book is going to be out very soon. The book is about meals that you can cook with your family.
Very international, very easy and some fantastic tasting food.
Also, I am constantly researching and recording the local grains, produce and recipes of India that are endangered.
This project of mine is self-funded and very close to me.
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