For Chef Kunal Kapur, one of the incredibly talented and celebrated young chefs in the country, travel is a passion and #TravelWithKunal is his way of sharing his travel and gastronomic experiences with the world. He feels that Culinary Artists need to travel to expand their palate, learn new skills, experience and take inspiration from exotic flavours from faraway lands. Chef Kapur recently went on an exploratory tour of South Australia to understand and capture the complete experience comprising food, wine and wildlife of the region through a seven episode web caste on #TravelWithKunal. He shared the details of his experiential tour with P Krishna Kumar. Excerpts of the interview.
Q Could you share the highlights of your recent food trail to Australia? How educating the experience been and how do you plan to encapsulate it to make it appealing for your Indian audience?
In my travels through Australia, I have noticed that one of the similarities between Australian and Indian cooking is that there is a lot of focus on cooking fresh and eating fresh. Unlike a lot of developed countries, the dependency on processed food is very low. Just like Indian bazaars, the local markets in Australia are bustling with fresh produce making a myriad of vegetables and meats easily accessible at competitive pricing. I had a phenomenal time browsing through Australia’s farmers markets and being introduced to their rich produce.
Travel is a dear passion of mine and #TravelWithKunal is my way of bringing it to life, and sharing it with all. I am excited to launch the first chapter with Tourism Australia. I can’t wait for the viewers to enjoy the best of food, wine and local adventures of South Australia through my eyes.
Q What sort of destinations entices you for your #TravelwithKunal journeys and how do you make sure becomes the centre piece with other elements gets equal importance?
When it comes to #TravelWithKunal, at the risk of sounding cliché, the world is my oyster. I have always aspired to be a connoisseur of experiences. Cooking is obviously my passion and I have been fortunate to receive so much love for the culinary experiences I created. Travel is another staple for me. I believe nothing teaches you like travel can. Food, of course, is a huge part of my travel. I love being on a journey of iconic history, new cultures and flavours, you become richer in experiences. So I guess, I never have to think about striking a balance. I get to live my passions for a living and what’s better than that!
Travel and gastronomy has always gone together. I think our generation likes to travel more than the previous. The more we travel, the more travel trends there are to talk about. Travel really expands your palate and introduces you to not just new flavours but the tradition and love behind different cuisines and palates. With #TravelWithKunal, I intend to share what travel means to me, the adventure, allure and mystic of it all.
Q How has your passion for travelling helped in your evolvement as a Master Chef at a very young age? How important is it for Chefs to travel and explore destinations to understand the food culture?
In my experience of 18 years, I have realised that you can master a cuisine through months and years of toil inside a kitchen. But you need to travel to expand your palate, learn new skills, experience and take inspiration from exotic flavours from faraway lands. Travel helps you with a breath of fresh air and an original perspective that makes you wiser, both personally and professionally. Trends in India have evolved through years from classic Indian to fusion Indian and now to molecular gastronomy. You can make the best Dal Makhni, but you need inspiration to reinvent and recreate it. Travel gives you that inspiration.
Q Food of any country or people is closely linked to their culture, heritage, life, customs, palate, etc., in that sense, what caution chefs have to take while taking food from one place to another and introducing it to alien people?
Expanding your palate is a unique experience. One cannot simply introduce and adapt a new cuisine through a recipe book. Authenticity of bringing in a new cuisine to an alien audience is crucial on the chef had experienced the same cuisine in its native place. Food is so much beyond a recipe. There are local skills and produce, historical relevance, cultural significance that the chef needs to experience firsthand before bringing them to newer audiences.
Q You also had undertaken a tour of India to discover Indian pickles which you have already announced to publish as a book? What was the innovative stuff you came across in the pickle kingdom in India?
It is an eye opener that pickles in India is not just about mango, lemon and chillies, there are ingredients and techniques that just keep you intrigued and surprised. Not just each region but each community has some unique pickles and reasons to prepare them.
Like with the Parsis in Ahmedabad it is mandatory to make Lagan nu Achar and give it to taste to elders and relatives in the family before they could formalise the marrige of a couple.
Another instance, the Karbi tribe from Meghalaya has evolved a special dance that enacts the recipe of the Bamboo pickle. The ancestors knew that if the bamboo was not pickled in the right season then it might lead to hunger in the winters, and so the recipe for this crucial pickle was made into a dance form and till date the couples enact it to reveal the recipe.
On the far west in Jodhpur the ker sangria ka achar is the legacy of love for nature of the Bishnoi tribe. Ker shrub and sangri tree is what grows in the otherwise difficult region. The cattle would eat it and give milk. The roots would hold on to the soil and at the same time the tree would give shelter. The fruits of the khejri tree are the sangria and this tree is a very critical tree to the ecology of the place. Many have sacrificed their lives to protect this tree. The ker sangria pickle made from this tree is one of the reasons for the survival of the Bishnoi tribe.
Another fine example is the Mahali pickle made by the tamilian brahmins. Mahalo is a root that smells of intense vanilla, bitter almond and cinnamon and is pickled in yogurt. It is not short of a miracle that no vinegar or oil is used yet the pickle survives for over 2 years in curd.
A hyderabadi style of mango pickle breaks the long held notion by me that a drop of water can destroy a pickle, as this mango pickle is made in water. Limestone or chuna is added to preserve the pickle. As I have discovered, pickles are an integral part of how people define their food culture, and each region is intensely passionate about their pickles!
Q You have been a judge in Master Chef Shows both in India and abroad. How do you compare the standards of Indian shows with the shows abroad? How these shows have helped the cause of culinary art in India?
Master Chef as a franchise considers its quality and standards of engagement and presentation sacrosanct. The passion for food and the commitment of home-cooks remains the same across countries.
Master Chef has created a never before platform for home-cooks across the globe to bring alive, enhance and live their cooking dream. It’s heartening to be part of someone’s journey to fulfilling their dreams. Master Chef has made cooking mainstream again.