Celebrity chefs are cooks par excellence, who usually author a set of cookbooks and have their own TV shows or magazines. Some leverage their brand equity to create and sell food products or open restaurants. You will see celeb chefs starring in reality shows where they judge contestants’ cooking or dish out all kinds of temptations in their kitchens or signing copies at book launches.
What do they do?
It’s probably some wicked, secret ingredient they put in their food that gives them the huge energy surges to happily don the numerous hats of cookbook writer, chef, TV star, restaurateur, food product manufacturer — all at once.
But Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal are not giving anything away at the moment – or showing signs of a burnout while they roast, toast, puree, marinate, baste and taste their way to success and more success.
Both were not born cooks. Dalal, a Padma Shri and one of the top five best-selling cookery authors in the world with more than 200 titles to her credit, knew nothing about food apart from some Gujarati dishes before cupid shot his arrow and tugged at her apron strings. Kapoor’s father and brother would cook now and then and he used to follow them into the kitchen. He wanted to become and engineer and she got married and moved from her parents’ home in Pune to Mumbai.
“My husband,” Dalal reminisces, “who had studied abroad, liked all kinds of cuisines, and I did not even know what desserts were.” So it was just to please him that she started reading up more on global and Indian cuisines, experimenting and joining the only cookery class going on in Mumbai (then Bombay) at that time. The city had just started getting interested in Western cuisine – and she made sure she got to learn everything there was to learn about it.
Kapoor, an IHM (Institute of Hotel Management) Pusa graduate, who juggles the TV show Khana Khazana with his restaurant chain Yellow Chilli and all kinds of book launches, was supported by his father when he decided to go in for the hospitality industry. The beginning was a little shaky. “I could not roll out absolutely round rotis, so I smartly took a saucer and used it as a stencil to cut out my rolled out dough. I did present ‘round’ rotis to my parents that day,” he says.
Being a science student helped Kapoor understand the science of cooking wonderfully. “There is science in everything you do in the kitchen: how much water goes into flour while kneading the dough, how to retain the colour of the greens while they are cooking, how an egg cooks, understanding why boiling is always done in water and frying in oil etc,” he elaborates.
For Dalal, confidence happened along the way when creativity got the better of her and made her decide that she could do more than just cook for the family.
“A few friends of mine, who had really liked what I cooked, requested me to teach them. I said I would, but was very honest with them – that I only knew 20 dishes and that was all I could teach them. Being friends, they agreed. Yes, I was very nervous on the first day, but it turned out fine, and – this was in the ’60s – I was charging my students only R20 a month as fees. At the end of the month I had R120 with me and that was a great feeling.”
Dalal feels her classes through the years gave her the confidence to appear before larger audiences (for her TV show Cook it up with Tarla Dalal run by Sony) and do the books. “When I started my cooking classes, I was nervous but gained confidence over the years. Then friends suggested that since so many people were learning from me and copying my recipes I should start writing cookbooks. My neighbour had a printing company and he urged me to write. The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking, priced at R50, came out then and it’s still selling today,” she says.
Though not a hotel management graduate, Dalal feels she is universally liked because “Professional chefs usually like to measure things by the gram and kilogram, and the recipes are complicated. My methods are simple and for everyone – from a housewife to a corporate executive. My measures will be in cups and teaspoons, the servings are usually for four people and the recipes are easy to follow, with the ingredients easily available in India.”
. Should be a good cook and passionate about food and cooking
. Great communication skills
. Good writing skills
. Good public relations and marketing skills are essential
. Fantastic networking skills
. Scientific knowlege of food,harm caused by particular types of food and benefits,dietary habits etc
How do I get there?
Start at home. Watch your mother (or father) at work in the kitchen. Enquire about your favourite dishes and try and write down the recipes. Take an interest in home science classes in school. A science background helps as cooking is all about oils and fats and vitamins and chemical permutations and combinations.