The cover of Kunal Kapur’s ‘A Chef In Every Home’ shows the smiling chef dressed in a casual open shirt over a Tee and jeans. Somehow, this laidback demeanor is far removed from the image of the stern chef one had seen on MasterChef India, where he hardly cracks a smile and often admonishes contestants about their cooking skills.
It is courtesy MasterChef India that Chef Kunal Kapur, and by extension his book, do not need an introduction. The sight of an easy-going Chef Kunal on the cover is bound to intrigue people enough to pick the book up and go through the pages. Once they do that, chances are that they will be inclined to buy the book. Why? Because the eye-catching photos by Shirish Sen tempt one to try the dishes out, and try them out pronto!
INFLUENCES OF MASTERCHEF TV SERIES
In his introduction to the book, Chef Kunal mentions that his culinary journey began in the large kitchen of his joint family in Delhi, where he often played the role of Chief Stirrer. Strangely, he acknowledges the cooking prowess of his father, uncles and grandfather; in short only the men folk, rather than the women of the family.
He also goes on to mention that contestants of Masterchef India inspired the recipes in his cookbook, especially those home cooks who went on to present esoteric dishes with unusual ingredients. In fact, as one goes through the book carefully, one can see quite a number of dishes that were similar to those showcased on the TV reality show.
Each recipe has a short prologue where chef explains the reason he included that particular dish in the book. Several of these preambles touch upon his stint at Taj Group of Hotels and his experiences while working in the Gulf. While some might find this an interesting insight into the chef’s culinary encounters, others might find it bordering on megalomania as the chef tries to impress readers about his familiarity with Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. It is a tightrope walk where the chef does sometimes teeter into one domain or the other; but not enough to put one off the book.
MIDDLE EASTERN INSPIRATION
The cookbook has several recipes with Middle Eastern origins, be it the Falafel, Hummus, Tahini, Chicken Machboos, etc. Commanding another major chunk of the pages are assorted Indian recipes from South India, Punjab and Kashmir. A smattering of popular recipes from Chinese, Italian, Mexican and even New Zealand cuisines also make it into the book. In short, the cookbook aims to be the go-to reference guide for home cooks on the threshold of becoming culinary whizs. It encourages them to try out dishes from these cuisines and then plate them elaborately by observing the accompany photos of some of the dishes and present them with panache. In short, the cookbook proclaims that armed with the recipes, anyone can transform into a gourmet cook.
We, however, would have appreciated the inclusion of some dishes that are nouveau in nature, because several of the recipes are commonly available online. After all, this is the least one would expect from Chef Kunal given his association with a food show that is synonymous with presenting rudimentary dishes differently.
The good thing about the book is that most recipes have ingredients commonly available in most Indian kitchens. So, one does not have to dash to a supermarket to pick up exotic ingredients every time one decides to cook a complete meal.
Intent on testing some of the recipes from the book, we zeroed in on ‘Tawa Pulav’, a ubiquitous rice dish that every Mumbaikar knows well. Since it is a simple recipe, we figured there was minimal chance one could go wrong. Strangely, the recipe did not include potatoes, which is the mainstay of this dish, but we were willing to overlook this since every chef has his own take on the pulav. Despite following the recipe to the T, the end-result sadly did not come close to what one can enjoy off the numerous food carts dotting Mumbai’s famous Chowpatty beach. The rice turned out quite dry, unlike the juicier versions served at these food carts.
We moved on to the ‘Olive Paratha’, curious about its taste. Impressively, this is a complexly simple dish. Playing off the tartness of the chopped olives was a mixture of fresh garlic, dill leaves, basil leaves and chilli, with a generous dollop of nigella and sesame seeds. It also turned out exactly as depicted in the photograph given in the book.
Next up, we tested the ‘Chicken Machboos’. The flavor was good, but the rice turned out too squishy; we expected the grains to maintain their separate shape. We suspect this was because of the quantity of water mentioned in the recipe.
In a cookbook with over 100 recipes spread across 157 pages, there are bound to be some hits and misses. Our biggest complaint is that none of the recipes have any suggested accompaniments. If one is trying out a particular recipe for the first time, then it is always preferable to know what will go best with it, so that one can plan a complete meal.
This cookbook, priced at INR 599, can be a good help for people who want to cook hitherto untried cuisines sans fanfare. Whether it will transform them into a gourmet cook is difficult to predict. However, they can bask in the knowledge of having cooked a recipe that a popular TV chef has tested himself. At least Chef Kunal lives up to his promise that with this cookbook, anyone can cook good food.