“Banana chips coated with dark chocolate. Would it work? Like a dream. It would be like having a piece of salted caramel chocolate,” says chef Sanjeev Kapoor, discussing ideas on how to take the popular Kerala snack to a global audience. The chef, entrepreneur and TV personality, best known for his popular cookery show Khana Khazana, was in the city to meet fans at his restaurant chain The Yellow Chilli, which has 27 restaurants in India, and 16 restaurants worldwide.
The 55-year-old has a finger in every pie. He has a cookbook empire with over 150 titles mostly in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, Khana Khazana, a brand of food products, Food Food, a 24-hour satellite cookery channel, Sanjeev Kapoor Official App, a platform for his fans to stay connected with him… and now, a skill on Amazon Alexa under Sanjeev Kapoor Recipes and Klovechef. “Every pie is ultimately about food. Every business of mine has food at its core; only the media of reach is different,” he says.
It is all happening so fast, it seems like Sanjeev is still coming to grips with how quickly his business is expanding. He sounds perplexed when asked about his cookery game app, currently up on the Google Playstore. “But we are still working on it,” he says, puzzled. A phone call later, he grins and states that the test mode for android is what is up on Google Playstore. The chef-entrepreneur plays himself in the game. He is seeking an interesting restaurant to feature in his reality cookery show.
“People love to play games on their mobile phone, especially food games. In our game, players can cook a meal, create their own restaurant and build a cooking empire. Not only does the game demonstrate the challenges of being a chef, it will hopefully carry motivational messages.”
A tech enthusiast, Sanjeev enjoys keeping himself up-to-date with the latest in the industry. Sanjeev chuckles recalling how at a Smart Kitchen summit in Seattle recently, what many at the convention went gaga over, was something he had already introduced.
The man, who “enjoys being a step ahead of the rest” claims he has the ability to spot trends. Sanjeev says: “I was in Los Angles when I noticed my taxi driver relying on his phone for music, directions, traffic alerts… I smelt a possibility in voice technology, just like how I realised earlier on that in my restaurants I can only serve a few thousand a day, whereas on a YouTube channel, I can reach one million subscribers at one go and so, started one.”
As Sanjeev needed to understand the ‘voice medium’, he began hosting a cookery show, ‘Khana Aur Ghana’, on radio.
The savvy entrepreneur is currently working with Amazon’s Alexa for voice-based recipes. “You can ask Alexa for a recipe and there will be a step-by-step voice instruction. There’s a lot of work that goes into it: the technology, recipes, voice…,” says Sanjeev, adding that he has started integrating voice technology into a few of his Wonderchef products.
It’s all about convergencePeople are embracing regional Indian cuisines like never before today. Convergence is happening and a dosa is as much a part of Kerala as is to Punjab. At my home, we have a South Indian dish for breakfast at least twice a week. Even my mom, who is not exposed to a diversity of food, enjoys her ragi dosa and idlis. I was trolled for introducing Malabar paneer, people complained saying paneer is a foreign ingredient in Malabari dishes. I am a chef and my job is to keep on creating new and innovative recipes. The ingredients, technology and local complexities push me to create something new. We talk about authenticity, but that is a relative word. Our grandmothers would probably refute to what we call authentic these days. Who knows people might start calling noodles biriyani authentic in the years to come.
“In fact, our Nutri-Pot is now paired with a customised app.” The app, available on Google Play Store and Apple App Store, is integrated with Alexa. “The app helps users navigate through my recipes easily,” says Sanjeev, pointing out how recipes are now no longer noted down in diaries to be passed down from generation to generation. “From diaries, it moved to cookery books, then TV cookery shows. Soon, television was no longer the only screen audiences were hooked to, social media had appeared. Now, with mobile phones, recipes are available at the touch of a button. Mediums may change, but the content remains the same. Also, while food viewership has increased, it is on the digital front.”
Asked if the concept of dining at restaurants will fade as home food deliveries gain prominence, Sanjeev says: “That’s like saying there is no business at movie theatres. However, my colleagues were laughing at me when I said restaurants will soon be a place where you can bring in food from anywhere; it will be like a pot luck, with some bringing home-cooked meals, while others offer food from restaurants; it will be a place where people will fulfil their social need.” Guess we will have to step back and see if his eye for trends, holds true.