A bright smile is one of the first things you notice about chef Kunal Kapur, a Delhi boy at heart and a big-time foodie. The MasterChef India judge, who has a huge social media following, wears many hats — that of a restaurateur, a digital creator, an author, and a food connoisseur.
When we caught up with the chef and his work this National Oatmeal Month, observed every January, he recalled some of his most cherished memories and expressed how he explores the world to keep reinventing himself.
What is keeping you busy these days?
I am currently occupied with my upcoming cookbook and the management of my restaurants. I also find myself busy in this never-ending cycle of learning, preparing and training. I feel it requires a continuous commitment to research, improve, and enhance your skills as the industry and trends are changing rapidly, so I make it a point to keep up with them and stay current.
Can you share a fond memory from your culinary journey?
During the early days of my culinary journey, while I was still training in the kitchen, I recall a memorable moment when I had to prepare a 3-course menu for our chef to taste, for which I had to make a soup for him to taste. To my surprise, the chef, in a moment of frustration, flung the soup plate across the kitchen and shouted at me for not including a spoon.
It felt like the most embarrassing moment of my career back then, and I thought the chef had overreacted. However, over the years, I’ve realised that he intended to teach me a valuable lesson. It was not just about mastering the art of cooking; it was not only important to be mindful of the presentation but also of how the dish was served. This incident has now become one of my fondest memories, and I now live by the lesson he taught me.
What do you think is the role of spices in the Indian culinary space?
In India, our love and affection for spices are profound, as they infuse our recipes with so many wonderful flavours. I would say spices are the heart and soul of our dishes; they represent the rich culinary heritage we own in our country. For instance, the aromatic notes of garam masala in the North, the coconut-infused spices in the South and the mustard-based blends in the East—all these regional nuances contribute to the incredible diversity and excitement of our Indian cuisine.
The role of spices in the Indian culinary space goes beyond mere seasoning; it is a cultural expression and a celebration of our rich diversity. It’s also a key element that makes Indian cuisine a globally cherished and distinctive culinary tradition.
How important is exploring a new place through its food?
Every dish in India has a story to tell, it is like taking an adventure through exploring its food that goes beyond taste. Food serves as a gateway to the heart of any community, reflecting its history, traditions, and the unique stories of its people. As a chef, this culinary exploration is a fundamental part of my journey, offering insights into diverse culinary techniques, ingredient combinations, and the cultural significance attached to each dish.
I had learned Galouti and Katori kebab from chefs in the hotel, but travelling to Lucknow and spending time with the local restaurants there gave me an in-depth understanding of the art of kebab and curries. My time spent with street vendors, working and observing them was laughed upon by my colleagues. However, I wanted to learn from people who cook daily as that was the best way to grasp culinary knowledge. So having worked at local eateries, working at weddings to see large-scale cooking, and learning from home cooks have been such a memorable adventure.
What are some of the biggest challenges as a chef that no one talks about and how do you overcome them?
Having trained as a culinary professional comes with its own set of challenges and barriers. The barrier is that what one has learned from the textbook pretty much becomes the norm for us chefs. However, my perspective changed ever since I began travelling extensively, exploring culinary landscapes across India and around the world. This exposure has opened my eyes to the endless food possibilities that are out there, far beyond what was captured in the textbooks I was learning.
In my opinion, it’s not that the curriculum was incorrect; it was merely limited. No set of books can capture the entirety of culinary knowledge. I think it is important to venture out, travel, and personally experience the diverse world of food.
In your opinion, how have oats become a breakfast staple nowadays?
Oats have gained immense popularity for their health benefits as they are a rich source of proteins and nutrients. As chefs, it’s our responsibility to not only provide nutritious options but also make them exciting and flavourful. I like to think of oats beyond the traditional oatmeal. While oatmeal is a classic, there are many ways to innovate and elevate the breakfast experience.
For instance, we can incorporate oats into pancakes, waffles, and even smoothies to add a nutritional boost without compromising on taste. Additionally, savoury oat-based dishes can also be a game-changer, where oats idli and oats upma are a few more satisfying breakfast options. When it comes to oats and exploring their versatility, my favourite everyday recipe would be a unique spinach and oats pancake – a perfect way to start my day.
Here are two easy and unique oats recipes perfect for any occasion or any time of the day.
Spinach and oats pancake
1 cup – Saffola rolled oats
1 cup – Spinach, chopped (finely chopped)
½ cup – Water
1 no – Egg
1tsp – Paprika
1tsp – Salt
1tbsp – Spring onion (finely chopped)
¼ cup – Paneer/cottage cheese (crumbled)
2tbsp – Oil
4tbsp – Sundried tomatoes (roughly chopped)
*In a grinder, blend oats with spinach and water until smooth.
*Pour the batter into a bowl, add egg, and whisk well.
*Sprinkle paprika, salt, and chopped spring onion, save some for garnish if you like.
*Add crumbled paneer into the mixture and mix well into the batter.
*Spread a spoonful of oil on a frying pan. Pour a ladle of batter onto the pan and cook until it sets.
*Flip the pancake, add some sundried tomato on top, and cook for 2 minutes.
*Serve hot, with added sundried tomatoes and spring onion on top if you like.
Chocolate Oats Fondant
1tbsp – Melted butter to spread on ramekins (glass bowl for oven)
1tsp – Cocoa powder
2 bars – Dark chocolate (chopped into small pieces)
¾ cup – Jaggery
4 eggs – Break and separate the yolks
¾ cup – All-purpose flour
3 cups – Rolled oats ground into fine powder
1tsp – Baking soda
1tbsp – Cocoa powder
½ cup – Milk to make the batter thin as per the required consistency
For the compote
1 cup – Freshly cut strawberries
1tsp – Butter
1tsp – Lime juice
1tbsp – Jaggery
½tsp – Vinegar
*Brush the melted butter on the insides of oven-proof glass ramekins. Dust them with cocoa powder. Put in the freezer to set.
*Place jaggery, butter, and chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat gently till the butter and chocolate melt. Whisk until combined. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.
*In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the jaggery until the whisk starts leaving a trail. Fold in the flour, oats, and baking soda into the egg mixture and beat well.
*Pour the melted chocolate and cocoa powder into this batter, a little at a time, beating it well between additions. Add a little milk to thin the batter.
*Take the ramekins out of the fridge and pour this batter in equal quantities into them. Put it back in the freezer for 20 minutes.
*Bake in a preheated oven at 190° C or till the fondant rises and flowers out of the ramekins (approx 8 minutes). Allow it to rest for 2-3 minutes.
*Add strawberries, butter, and jaggery to a pan. Simmer for 5 minutes on low fire.
*Add lemon juice and vinegar to it. When the strawberries release a little juice, the compote is ready.
*Pour the compote on the side of the fondant and serve immediately.