The Dancing Chef
If you watch Food TV, you would have heard the jingle “Namak Shamak Namak Shamak Dal Dete Hain” on the show Turban Tadka. And it is really hard to miss the effervescent Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi who is also the brand ambassador of Genuine Broaster Chicken. Having started in 1987 with The Oberoi in Bhubaneshwar he has worked with several leading hotel groups in India and abroad learning different cuisines. He has learnt Hyderabadi cooking from Ustad Habib Pasha and Begum Mumtaz Khan and has also done research on Ayurveda-based food to understand the nutritive value of the food. A familiar face on television, he hosted the first episode of Khana Khazana on Zee TV and also hosted Harpal Ki Rasoi and Kitchen Khiladi among others. He tells us more in this exclusive conversation.
How and when did you get into cooking? What drew you to be a chef?
It all started when I had completed my 12th and I was preparing to get into engineering exams and my elder brother mentioned to try hospitality and there the journey began. Before that as a family nobody knew about hospitality and neither had we gone out dining in any restaurant. For us as a family celebration meant cooking great food at home. It was only after joining the course within the first three months of the course I knew that this is what I was looking for and the idea of being a Chef for life was embedded right in my mind and there was no looking back ever since then.
You are a well known face on television; please tell us about your experiences.
I think I enjoy sharing my experiences of food on TV so that people watching me get benefited out of what I share with them. For me cooking on TV is just not about show casing my skills, it is about sharing my experiences and making lives millions of people easier in kitchen. It is also about adding fun to work in kitchen, people should enjoy when they cook. I bring in happiness into the lives of people when I cook.
What us your take on fusion of Indian food with International Cuisine?
I follow my own style of cooking and blend in food and ingredients while cooking. For me food has to be tasty and presentable. It has to appeal to people across all walks of life. This is very difficult to achieve because each person has his own preferences and liking, yet you need to cut across barriers and share your best. So when it comes to cooking I do not restrict myself to taking bold steps of blending ingredients. Fusion is a difficult subject one has to have a clear understanding of ingredients and how do they blend.
Tell us more about your experience of working in Australia.
Well I have a very popular frozen food brand in Australia called Sabrini by Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi. We do great quality restaurant style frozen kababs which are very popular, some of them come from my mother’s kitchen like Amritsari aloo tikki which is potato patties stuffed with lentil, I have a true Asli Punjabi Samosa, restaurant style Harra Bharra Kabab and Soya Shammi Kabab. We also have great wraps for people looking for quick solutions for food on the go and tiffin meals for bachelors who are missing their home food.
What is your take on organic and Ayurvedic food and their relevance today?
I think organic will slowly find a niche market for people who can afford it as it is expensive, only because the produce is low. Ayurveda is something which personally I am quite excited about as I feel you cannot use Ayurvedic food in totality in today’s world as the world is progressing however you can incorporate the age old principles of Ayurveda wherever relevant in cooking in today’s world. Since Ayurveda is way of life it also teaches you what to eat in which season and what is correct for your body types. Also principles of blending the right food with the right ingredients so that negatives are nullified when you consume food.
What is the best meal you have eaten and where?
I would have memories of great meals all across my travel and of course home cooked food is the best. However when it comes to restaurants I relished great rustic food when ate in a restaurant in Frankfurt called Adolf Wagner which served great grilled food and homemade apple wine. The lamb ribs is what I had eaten with some sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, food was simple and rustic but delicious.
What has been the most challenging meal you have cooked?
I remember I had to cook for this religious procession which Sikhs take out during Guru Nanak Jayanti and I was working in a hotel in Nagpur. I had to cook about ten thousand meals packets which included about 2000 kgs of Channa Masala, 10000 buns, about 1000 litres of rice kheer and we had to start working at least a month in advance to get the right equipment and the process. First it was how to cook so much food and then how to cool and protect so that it does not get spoiled and then packaging. But by God’s grace we could manage to do it all the staff support.
What is your take on food blogging?
I think food blogging is a great idea of sharing your food experiences. It could be either you having cooked something at home, restaurant or at a pop up. It could also be your experience of dining at a restaurant or any hospitality outlet or just sampling of food. It is a very personal opinion of a blogger who reviews the food he has cooked or eaten. It is like more sharing their food experiences across and I simply believe the more people talk about food across the globe, the more it benefits people across the world and allows them to experiment
What is the global food trends being seen today?
With people travelling across the globe now there are no boundaries left when it comes to food. This helps in brings in new chains to India as there is an ever increasing demand for something new in all aspects of life. Anything that is global with an Indian approach is always welcomed and has been successful be it the international QSR’s or Celebrity Chefs restaurants. In Mega Metros people would love to experience international dining format restaurants. That is why I created Indo – Western Fusion for Genuine Broaster Chicken, recently. I think in India food that is closer to Indian palates work very well.
What are your future plans?
When it comes to restaurants we have a very aggressive plan for the next five years. I have tied up Yellow tie hospitality to grow my restaurant vertical. Currently we have four restaurants operational in three cities namely Twist of Tadka a popular North Indian Casual dining restaurant, BBjaan a premium Fine Dining Royal Cuisine Restaurant and The Treasury which is a Café Format. We are also introducing two new concepts in QSR formats called Dhadoom which will sell fries in a new avatar and a Bar concept. We intend to roll out the QSR’s first from early next year and our expansion plans are aggressive as we are looking at least 200 restaurants in all formats in the next three to five years.
This story appeared in Deccan Herald’s Living here.