“Indian cuisine is not just one cuisine; it’s food from different parts of India,” says chef Sanjeev Kapoor when asked to define Indian cuisine.
The veteran chef further explains, “The type of dishes you get depends on what is grown in different parts of the country. For example, along the coast, there are many coconut palms, so you see a lot of coconut being used, for example, in curries. There is an abundance of water, so rice is grown, and it’s a staple. But when you move inland, wheat is grown, so the staple is wheat. What binds the cuisine of India are spices such as chilli, turmeric, cumin and coriander. These give Indian cuisine its distinctive taste.”
With such a huge repertoire of dishes available, there is no need to modify any dishes to make them suitable for inflight dining, says Kapoor. “Whether they want something spicy, non-spicy, sweet or even steamed, there’s a dish we can produce.”
He does make allowances for modern health concerns, though. “Indian desserts can be very sweet and heavy; we play around with the taste, and bring a modern twist to it.”
Being part of the ICP is about innovating, Kapoor emphasises. “In Business Class for example, the starters are always cold. But where Indian food is concerned, you never have cold starters; we like something warm. It took us some time to work on it, but now we have warm starters served on board.”
On current inflight dining trends, the chef admits that things move a lot quicker these days. “When you said generation gap in the past, you meant something like 20 years. Now it’s more like two years; things change. People are very savvy now; you have to be really nimble and think fast on your feet.”
As a celebrated face of Indian cuisine back home, the chef credits his success to his own food channel, several cookbooks, a website, and even preparing a vegetarian meal for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2017, he was even appointed as brand ambassador for Food Street, a curated food experience zone of World Food India, a major food exposition. However, while he has done a substantial amount in bringing the knowledge of Indian cuisine to the world, Kapoor admits that there is still much more that can be done.
While he has no lack of access to gourmet food, Kapoor admits that he finds satisfaction in just eating a bowl of instant noodles. “ When I’m done (working), I just want something simple, so I ask for cup noodles. I don’t tell anyone I’m a chef,” he finishes mischievously.
– TEXT BY OLIVIA LIM
PHOTOGRAPHY: TAN WEI TE, ART DIRECTION: NG SAY LEE, GROOMING: ADELENE SIOW, HAIR: ANNIE TAY
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.