As September is being celebrated as National Nutrition Month to address the problem of malnutrition among women and children, one of India’s most celebrated chefs and Padma Shri recipient Sanjeev Kapoor talks about the importance of nutrition in overall well-being. Excerpts:
Q: The National Nutrition Month is aimed at creating awareness about nutrition among Indians. How do you look at this initiative?
A: Creating awareness about health and nutrition in our country is very crucial and, in my opinion, an entire month dedicated to this significant agenda is quite fantastic. When you eat well, you automatically feel great. What we eat and the elements of our daily diet are very significant to the contribution of our overall well-being. A healthy lifestyle begins with conscious eating habits and following a balanced diet that ensures mental peace. Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, our mental and spiritual growth can only happen if we consume the right kind of food. In food everything matters, the quantity, the quality, freshness, nutritive value, how it is farmed, how it is cooked, and how it is consumed.
Q: Despite India having such culinary diversity, why do you think there is a lack of awareness on nutrition in the country?
A: Like I said above, the food that you consume and your mental peace go hand in hand! People have become more and more concerned about their health and body needs nowadays. But, despite all the efforts, the importance of nutrition is still unknown to many. People associate nutrition with just physical fitness and fancy diets. They are more focused on following a hectic exercise routine and an active lifestyle, which is of course important, but fitness is just one aspect of nutrition. According to me, the more important bit is to concentrate on the daily intake of food in order to always keep a positive, stress-free state of mind. ‘We are what we eat’ and food was, is and will always be a major aspect of health, nutrition and development of the body, holistically.
Q: Covid-19 has again shifted the focus on ‘desi’ recipes to boost immunity. How important is it to understand the magical properties hidden behind Indian ingredients which have healing properties?
A: If we talk about including foods in our diet which help in strengthening immunity, we need not look beyond the Indian ‘superfood’ category, ingredients that have been a part of our pantries since times immemorial. Instead of running behind all exotic stuff, one must include the plethora of indigenous foods that India offers. Fruits like orange, mosambi, lemon, loads of saag, a variety of dals and other ancient grains are just some of the magical ingredients, there’s more to this list. Another great friend of the immune system is amla—consume it the way you want—juice, pickle, murabba, etc. Besides these, there are spices like turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger, etc, which have been used since forever to prepare ‘gharelu kaadhas’ that work wonders for the immunity system. In addition to these, a balanced diet, proper sleep and a peaceful mind are great for your immune system.
Q: The pandemic has hit the hospitality world hard. What would be your suggestions to hotels which are opening up?
A: Considering the ongoing scenario and the severity of conditions, guests would be prioritising over safety and hygiene parameters a lot more than before. Hence, the industries should also give their 100% and follow strict safety protocols in order to maximise hygiene and sanitation. It would take time for everyone to get used to the ‘new normal’ but it is important that the industry gives its best shot with patience and co-operation to ease it for the customers as well as regain the businesses.
Q: You are the pioneer of food shows in India and inspired generations to join the culinary business. You also broke the taboo that “men can’t cook”. After so many years when you look back, how does it feel?
A: In a word, I’d say I feel overwhelmed and blessed. I come from a family of foodies, so I have always been passionate about gastronomy. Besides my mother, I grew up seeing my father cook too. But the original plan was never to get into the culinary field. I landed here accidently, and today, as I look back, I’m glad I did. It feels too good to be true. The journey since then has been a super one. No doubt, I’ve worked very hard, every day, every hour and every minute. I feel proud that the culinary world has come so far and it’s a delight to see the glut of talent today. All this does make me happy, but I also know there’s a lot more to be unveiled. It’s just the beginning! There cannot be any gender bias in anything including cooking whether at home or professionally.
Q: How have you been during the pandemic and what have you learnt during this?
A: I think the pandemic has taught not just me, but all of us one thing—to be content and grateful for what we have. I’ve been enjoying my time with my family. Sometimes I don’t even realise what day it is. I love the digital space, it’s so much fun to interact with my fans on live sessions. I am also cooking live for my fans and followers to keep their morale high, entertain them, help them learn and cook dishes that they are able to try. Other than that, I also spend my time working out with my family, cooking for them and playing games. Musically, I am drumming my worries away!
Q: The online platforms are now acting as a platform to many culinary experts to showcase their work. How do you look at the importance of social media especially in the culinary world?
A: Working from home is a good change that’s needed once a while. Like, nothing compares to the comfort that you have while doing so. However, for chefs it’s important that they look beyond the traditional ‘work’ that they do in restaurants or hotels and find ways as to how they can do something while at home. They can cook at home and supply food to the needy, experiment and explore ideas with minimal ingredients, take online classes through social media; the opportunities are many. The idea is to always keep on sharing the knowledge and expertise, no matter what the conditions are.