Meet a man with a dream – Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

“A man with a dream will not be denied,” – a rather famous saying that Sanjeev Kapoor, the celebrated face of Indian cuisine abides by, to help realise his dream of “making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering Indian women to become self-sufficient through the power of cooking.”

Award-winning chef, TV show host, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurant consultant, food product developer and even co-owner of his own TV channel is in town to open his third franchised restaurant in Dubai ce soir, Signature at the boutique Melia hotel in Bur Dubai, just above Marco Pierre White’s Titanic. Sanjeev already has two restaurants here – Khazana at Al Nasr Leisureland and Options at Dubai Convention Centre so why lend his name to a third so close by? FooDiva asks the man himself, but only after he kick started the interview asking me if I’d ever visited India (thankfully I was able to respond that I had…a couple of times).

“Khazana is 14 years old. It has its own loyal base, but with time you need to reinvent and with an old restaurant it’s not that easy. So when Melia approached me and said we have done our feasibility, we are the franchisee and we will pay you for this, I then spent some time here and spoke to my present franchisees to see what their reaction would be. Initially I was against the idea. I was always doing things that I had not done, my website, CD-rom, books, TV shows, TV channel, products. This was something different [high-end] and in some sense life comes full circle, and this is what you are qualified to do best. Our company has grown with many chefs and we are very comfortable with restaurants – it offers a good career path. Our experience with Melia has been very good – fantastic team, experienced and focused. Last ten days I was in Spain and stayed in a few properties. We are in discussions with Melia to look at a few more locations.”

Describe Signature as briefly as possible. It’s my emotion – that’s it. I am a very emotional person. Food is very personal. The effort here is to resonate and relate to a diner’s emotion and create a bond. That’s when we’re in business.

Signature by Sanjeev KapoorSignature by Sanjeev KapoorSignature by Sanjeev Kapoor

An intimate 60-cover restaurant with live cooking stations ‘teppenyaki’ style – was literally still ‘work in progress’ as I snapped these shots a couple of days ago.

Signature’s menu features ‘Gharha’ earthen clay pots, where the slow steam cooking process retains the flavours and nutritional value, creating rich, earthy dishes.

With this in mind, what region of India does your menu at Signature focus on? The accent is more on the north, but if you’re only offering traditional cuisine, what’s your contribution? You’re not learning, you have not given it your signature – yet when it comes to food, guests want to surprise themselves, but they want to stay in a familiar zone so they don’t take many risks. So for a chef this becomes increasingly difficult – with Chef [de Cuisine] Akshay who we poached from Ananda resorts and has spent time [training] with me in India – we have a constant dialogue regarding our menu. Let’s start, let’s see – if people can’t relate to it, then we can change it. There may be elements which bring surprise, a smile, that’s what I call sparks of brilliance – otherwise we are copying. So Signature is all about finding new things in the traditional. So you find a new tradition and there were two directions – we could do cutting edge, or we said no, let’s step back and make it relevant for today’s needs. That’s the effort…we’re excited.

Your two compatriots Vineet Bhatia and Atul Kochhar’s London restaurants have earned Michelin stars – what are your thoughts on Michelin? If you are in a race then you should win it and I think Michelin is a race, but I have not been in markets where it is present. But am sure if we were in one of those markets, then we will have to be in that race.

Is Dubai ready for Michelin? Does it need it? I think Dubai’s ready. Michelin is a very emotional need – it’s a celebration of excellence for some people, but it does not make anyone a better or worse cook or product. So a mother’s cooking may not be celebrated as much, but does that mean it’s not good? – no. It’s how you look at it. Michelin is like a filter, but today there are many filters. In certain markets, I may not believe what Michelin says, but I will probably listen to a particular person, a guide, reviewer or critic – and give more credence to that.

Have you realised your dream? What else is left? I think there is more to achieve – but yes I have succeeded in some ways. If you don’t dream big then it’s not worth being a dream. The dream keeps on amplifying and my need to see it bigger also grows.

And finally five quick fire questions:

  1. Name one thing about you most people would be surprised to hear. I want to learn how to create music.
  2. Who has inspired you? My dad. He wasn’t in this business, a banker – I picked up two things from him. His need for constant knowledge and also his ability to think out of the box. When you combine these two, it becomes very powerful – gives you so much confidence and you can virtually do anything. My mum was vegetarian, anything not vegetarian in the house was cooked by him. And he would create combinations that now as a chef I think ‘my God he used to do that so many years ago.’ He wasn’t afraid or worried who would say what. And those were the days when people would laugh at men in the kitchen.
  3. What’s your own personal favourite dish? Depending on where I am, my favourite would be from that region. Home-style cooking is at the top. If I am in India, masala dosa is one. I am from the north, but at least once a week we have that for breakfast – I can eat it every day. Punjabi-style pakora curry, but without the pakoras as they are fried.
  4. If you could operate your own restaurant in the world – where would it be? Bombay – really upscale, really large, true blue Indian, world-class. I don’t think Bombay has one. So I take it that’s the next step in your dream? [He laughs].
  5. What’s the most embarrassing moment in your career? Many things! A few years ago, I was cooking live at a fancy new mall in Bombay for 600-700 people and the main sponsor was a company that makes high quality glass cookware. So I was cooking on a gas fire, and I started responding to a question, chatting away and forgot. The whole proposition was unbreakable cookware. I poured some stock and it cracked! I then said ‘this is a fantastic product but don’t indulge in Q&A like this for 15 minutes, otherwise this will happen even to a great product so I wanted to showcase this to you!’ The audience started clapping even though they knew I’d made a mistake.

In a town overflowing with Indian restaurants, licensed and high-end included, will Signature make its mark with ‘sparks of brilliance’ and will Sanjeev realise another notch in his dream? Like always, time will tell.

Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor opens tonight with a special dinner experience priced at AED 395 per head – tables still available.

Melia Hotel, Port Rashid, Bur Dubai. T; +971 4 3868111 E; Licensed. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Click here for a peek of the menu.

A bientôt. FooDiva. x

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17 Responses to “Meet a man with a dream – Sanjeev Kapoor”

  1. dave reeder June 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Interesting character. I met him for interview last night expecting to meet a smooth media manipulator, but instead spent a fascinating 90 minutes in the company of a straightforward lover of real food. He gave full credit for the success of his restaurants to right hand man Harpal Singh Sokhi, who oversees as Kapoor restaurant openings and reinventions. Looking forward to trying the food tonight.

  2. Shumaila June 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I do like his style- very down-to-earth on the Indian TV channels I have watched him on. He’ s been going for years! Great write-up. Thanks for sharing!

    • FooDiva June 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      Thanks Shumaila. He comes across as a true gent, very relaxed and a real family man 🙂

  3. Shy June 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Love him…he is a true inspiration…Not only a wonderful chef…a great person….Had the pleasure of dining with Sanjeev & Alyona last night @ Signature…Love the decor…very chic…and the food…needless to say…outstanding.I love your interview with him Samantha:))

    • FooDiva June 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      Lucky you Shy! I have to wait until tonight, but am a sucker for high end North Indian cuisine so really looking forward to the experience. It’s a beautiful intimate space. Thanks for dropping by.

      • Shy June 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm

        Enjoy your dinner tonight FoodDiva…and of course look forward to your review on Signature:))

        • FooDiva June 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

          Fabulous evening. His wife spoke very sweetly of you. They are a lovely couple. I will give it a few weeks to settle in and will return for my review – stay tuned!

  4. kelly June 7, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    This will be another restaurant on our list for our next visit to Dubai. Enjoy your evening tonight!!!!!!!!!!!

    • FooDiva June 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

      Certainly will be, especially as you love a good high-end North Indian 🙂

  5. Mishti June 8, 2012 at 12:42 am

    I like the guy – very warm, very easy-going. One of my wedding events was at his restaurant in Kolkata. And though the food there was fabulous, I was a tad disappointed at Khazana here. I find it way too rich and creamy.

  6. Mishti June 8, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Oops, I mean “one of the events at my wedding” 😀 I don’t plan on having multiple marriages

    • FooDiva June 8, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Ha ha Mishti, I kind of gathered but glad you set the record straight! The last time I ate at Khazana was probably a decade ago. I do remember being impressed, but can’t for the life of me remember what I ate. Last night, we were served lots of taster dishes as it was a set menu. The highlights for me were a lemongrass infused butter chicken and a lobster biryani – but I will definitely return to order a la carte.

  7. IshitaUnblogged June 21, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Ultimately read this post FooDiva and I think I too am becoming this man’s fan. My entire family is awed by him to the extent that my daughter writes about him in school project -‘Famous People’ (I think I’ve already shared this with you).

    The menu of Signature seems absolutely exotic – what a fusion combo – Tandoori wasabi lobster,Crab anari tikki, Kandhari sumac prawns, mussels Kolhapuri bhat – I think visiting Signature should be a must.

    And I think he filled in some necessary voids in the Michelin debate – specially love this line – ‘So a mother’s cooking may not be celebrated as much, but does that mean it’s not good? – NO’!
    Wonderful reading FooDIva:)

    • FooDiva June 22, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Thanks Ishita. How incredible that Sanjeev’s touched the life of your daughter too. I didn’t appreciate how revered he was until I met and researched him. I can’t wait to return for my review. I’ve also bookmarked a few of his recipes for some much needed home-cooking!

  8. IshitaUnblogged June 24, 2012 at 2:02 am

    More incredible is the fact that in an international school they actually showed an episode of Khana Khazana just because her classmates were not aware of the person my daughter had mentioned abt!

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