Epic night at Khazana!

Things I love – Family, food, music and friends. So when my good ol’ buddy Chef Montu Saini, Executive Chef at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was in Canada on a personal invitation from Canada PM Justin Trudeau, I didn’t wait to invite him to my restaurant Khazana at Brampton. Montu took it to the next level by making it an exclusive dinner for the world’s top presidential chefs! #clubdeschefsdeschefs.

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The hallowed guest list:

  • Katie Brown – Executive Chef to the Prime Minister of Canada
  • Neil Dhawan – Chef to the Prime Minister of Canada
  • Cristeta Comerford – Chef to the President of USA
  • Mark Flanagan – Chef to Her Majesty, Queen of UK
  • Martin Kristoffersen – Chef to Her Majesty, Queen of Denmark
  • Taigo Lepik – Chef to the President of Republic of Estonia
  • Isto Tahvanainen – Chef to the President of Republic of Finland
  • Bernard Vaussion – Chef to the President of Republic of France
  • Maurice Alexis – Chef to the President of Gabon
  • Ulrich Kerz – Chef to the Chancellor of Germany
  • Ingimar Ingimarsson – Chef to the President of Iceland
  • Fabrizio Boca – Sous Chef, Chef to the President of Italy
  • Franck Panier – Chef to His Highness, Grand Duke of Luxemburg
  • Christian Garcia – Chef to His Highness, Prince Albert II of Monaco
  • Jose Roca – Chef to the Prime Minister of Spain
  • Magnus Ake Rehbäck – Chef to His Majesty, King of Sweden

 

Meanwhile the franchisees, my team at the restaurant swung into action. The excitement in the air was palpable.My brief: Once in a lifetime opportunity. Nothing but the best in everything, from food and service to hospitality within the stipulated timeframe! And they delivered! From Signature dishes like Pakhtooni Barra, Harripa Paneer, Trio Tikka, Afghani Malai Tikka, Bhatti ka Murgh, Boti Tikka for starters and mains like Country Chicken a.k.a Puran Singh da Tariwala Murgh, Nalli Rogan Josh, Makhanwala Paneer and 24 Karat Dal to the perfect breads, rice dishes and exquisite desserts!

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I am overwhelmed with pride, kudos to my team’s efficiency for the spectacular show. The wonderful feedback that I’ve been getting on a personal front takes me to cloud nine.

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Thank you and keep up the good work! Loads of appreciation.

As for my friend Montu, you make us all proud!

‘You have been awarded a Padma Shri’

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25th January, 7.02 a.m, I was still in bed and my phone was vibrating by my bed.  As a rule, I never keep my phone by my bed side, don’t know why I had kept it that day. Also, it is always on silent mode. Alyona was up and about as she was getting ready to go for her UK visa, she heard it and got me to pick it up. The caller identified himself as Mr Chauhan, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he said ‘Badhai ho. Bharat sarkar ne aapko Padma Shri dene ka nirnay kiya hain.’ I thanked him and disconnected the call. Alyona asked, a trifle worried as only during emergencies does my phone ring at that hour. I reassured her that everything was fine and the call was to tell me that I had received the Padma Shri. Now the first thing that came to my mind was that, someone was playing a prank, after all one doesn’t expect government offices to start functioning so early in the morning! I then checked the number on truecaller and sure enough it showed up Mr Chauhan’s name with the right designation. But I needed more proof. I logged on to the Ministry of Home Affairs website and Mr Chauhan was featured there as Joint Secretary.  As a last measure, I called him back. I told him I was calling to reconfirm the news. He laughed and said it is confirmed, it’s not a prank, you have been awarded a Padma Shri. Now I knew it was happening for real!

In the last 6-7 years, friends, well-wishers and people I know would ask me when I was winning the Padma Shri, honestly I didn’t have an answer to the when, because there have been very few instances of people in the culinary category being awarded, a matter that has come up at many forums I’ve attended. I have also spoken about this at many high end forums about the need of recognition for chefs. Year after year awards had been given for excellence in the field of arts and science and for me, cooking is definitely one of the greatest art and science. So I won’t say that the news came to me as a shock, somewhere deep down I was expecting it to happen sooner or later. Interestingly for the last few years, every 25th January, I would get many calls telling me that my name should’ve been on the list and that I should have got the Padma Shri.

This 25th January, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing for another reason. As my mother always said, you will get what you deserve. Patience pays!

5 fascinating facts about inflight food

They say a lot of things in life are mediocre and love shouldn’t be one of them. Being a chef and foodie I believe the word love can easily be replaced by food in this context. Food should never be mediocre – even when you are on a flight. Being on the panel for Singapore airlines for more than a decade I can assure you that serving food 30,000 feet above ground level is a different ball game all together. There are a number of challenges you need to prepare for to make sure every flyer has a great experience – and this struggle is something a lot of people are unaware about. So here are 5 first hand inside facts about the fascinating world of inflight food.

Taste test

Your taste buds are almost 30% less sensitive at that altitude than at ground level and that is the main reason why in-flight food doesn’t taste as good as regular restaurant food. To overcome this chefs have been known to taste food for an in-flight menu in pressurized cabins, similar to how it would be on a flight and rework the dishes till the desired taste is reached.

Process and protocol

Inflight food has way more processes and protocols than restaurant food. The production base, location, mass production facility, portion sizes, cooking techniques, storing and reheating temperatures, transportation, flight destination, kind and number of passengers and the types of meal options – are all factors that need to be considered. For an in-flight service, everything needs to be planned down to the T. Since all these processes are interlinked, one small glitch could blotch up the entire flying experience for the customer and you definitely don’t want that!

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Time lapse

There is always a big gap between when the food is made and ultimately reaches the passenger. So you need to think about the food being on flight for a couple of hours before being served to different passengers at different intervals. Menu planning involves carefully selecting ingredients and techniques that will remain delicious and look good even after going through all the processes and procedures.

Heated situation

Not much cooking actually happens inside an aircraft, mainly because you can’t reach that kind of temperature with an open flame inside an aircraft. Nothing that will change form, when reheated or needs extreme high temperatures to cook, will work. For example – Leafy greens like spinach won’t retain the bright green colour, prawns might get chewy and deep-fried food like potato chips etc. won’t be crisp like they are supposed to be.

Pilot plot

This one is probably the most fascinating fact – pilots on a flight are served different meals and aren’t allowed to share. This is done as a precaution to prevent food poisoning, allergy or sickness from the food. Even in the times of auto pilot mode, at no point in a flight you want both your pilots to be unwell.

The next time you are on a flight these thoughts will definitely cross your mind and make you look at airline food in a whole new light!

Lastly I must add that if you ever fly Singapore Airlines make sure you try the Ruchithali which is something new we have come up with for economy class flyers to experience the fabulousness of Indian food the way we do in India – even when they are 30,000 feet about ground!

Till I write again

Happy flying, happy cooking and happy eating!

Do the detox!

The festive season in India is in full swing and it’s really a hard time to stick to your fitness goals! Even if you do manage to get the will power to keep away from the delicious mithais and calorie laden snacks, you will always have relatives and friends cajoling you to eat at first and then literally stuffing them into your mouth! Balancing out all that junk you are going to eat is only possible if you inculcate a few healthy food habits that nourish your body and nullify the effects of all those evil goodies!

Here are 5 of the simplest detox solutions I indulge in and you should too!

Drink away!

Start your day with detox drinks and then you are free to eat what you want throughout the day! Burn fat, get glowing skin and shiny hair just by gulping a tumbler of infused waters like Strawberry Lemon Detox Water or nourishing beverages like a Wheatgrass Juice, Lauki Juice, Coconut Green Tea or a khatta-meetha Jaljeera. Nourish yourself inside out – one glass at a time.

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Oats are ‘Owesome’

Oats are not merely a breakfast staple anymore, you can very easily turn it into a fulfilling lunch and dinner!  Rich in water soluble fibre it fills up the tummy and keeps it that way for a long time, urging you to eat again only once it is digested. Also, whenever looking for an instant energy boost, opt for oats! Homemade oats and dry fruit bars are your best bet during the festivals. You can add dry fruits, saffron and cardamom and other such desi ingredients to your oats bar and I promise you won’t be missing the mithais too much!

Yogurt will sort you out!   

When eating yogurt or curd, your body automatically is in a probiotic paradise – this healthy bacterium strengthens the digestive system as well as boosts the immune system protecting the body from various types of infections. Pretty useful to cure hangovers too! Make a smoothie out of it – add dry fruits, fresh fruits, spice powders, honey, veggies, oats and actually any ingredients you want or have a bowlful of it just like that and you will be sorted!

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Spice it up!

Spices don’t just help you counter all the mithais when it comes to taste it also counters the negative effect they have on your body! Spices like turmeric, cinnamon and ginger top the list of my detox favourites! You can make the most of the benefits from all three by drinking a cuppa of good old haldi wala doodh (or should we say turmeric latte at night before sleeping – add a bit of honey too! Cumin is another favourite – just boil it with some water and kadi shakkar/mishri and sip on it through the day – easy, peasy and delicious!

Be a fan of fruit!

Fresh fruits are by far the oldest and best way to nourish your body! On a detox diet chart pomegranates, berries and other deep coloured fruits are a favourite. A high anti-oxidant content is assured in all, most of these are also rich in fibre, vitamin c while being low in fat! Pineapples come a close second because of a component called ‘bromelain’, that improves the body’s immunity system. Check out this article on sanjeevkapoor.com to know how to glam up your fruit platter.

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These for me are some of the simple and most organic ways to detox, so you can enjoy your festivities to the max!

Happy cooking!!

Happy eating!!

Running for a cause

In today’s world success is a very subjective term, but I think if you are in a position to reach out to society and bring about a positive change in it – you are successful!I like to believe in a quote by Aesop that says ‘No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted’. I try doing my bit by supporting a few causes that are close to my heart – Forum For Autism being one of them.

I was introduced to the Forum For Autism little after its inception in 2001 and by 2004 I full-fledgedly pledged my support. During my decade long association with this parent support group for autistic children the one thing I realized is how unaware people are about this condition. There is a lot of insensitivity, where there needs to be plenty of love, care and patience. There is no doubt that living with autism can be complex and emotionally draining – for the child and more so for the parents. A support group of people who have dealt with or are dealing with the same condition helps make it much easier to go about. It is important to realize that autism is an absolute condition and does not have any guaranteed and miraculous cure. It is a psychiatric disorder that has different effects on different individuals, so much so that two people diagnosed in a similar capacity are likely to act very differently from each other. An early diagnosis and regular tests helps understand the pattern of the disorder and goes a long way in benefitting a child right through his/her life.

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Amongst the several workshops and activities the Forum For Autism engages in, the Standard Charted Mumbai Marathon is a must do for me! Running with these fabulous kids and raising funds for their betterment is something I look forward to keenly year after year. In the past 12 years our run has just got bigger and better – with family, coworkers, employees, friends and friends of friends joining in to support this noble cause!

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I am all geared up to do this run the following year too – Fundraising is on and so is the marathon prep! What cause are you running the marathon for this year? Let me know in the comment section below.

Also to know more about the forum for autism and to pledge support to this cause visit their website – http://forumforautism.org/

Till I write again

Give your Diwali mithai a dessert makeover!

Indian festivals were probably created so you could justify eating the delicious mithais our country has to offer! Serving up mithais on a platter for your friends and family to pick from just doesn’t make the cut anymore – you ought to add some oomph to your mithais to make them stand out!  That’s what I am going to tell you how to do. These are my tried and tested favourite recipe ideas to turn classic mithais into something exciting – that you look forward to serve and your guests to eat!

Gorge on Gulab Jamuns

These soft melt in the mouth dough balls are so delicious just the way they are, tweaking them too much would be a sin. Simply use them to make gulab jamun custard with jamun mousse. A cup full of silky custard studded with moist mini gulab jamuns topped with a light and citrusy jamun mousse. Since jamuns won’t be in season you can use any fresh fruit pulp or readymade berry compote, even orange marmalade works brilliantly to make the mousse. Another favourite is gulab jamun muffins. Imagine the joy when you bite into a soft muffin and are welcomed by the gorgeous sweetness of a gulab jamun pieces. A simple butter cream frosting takes this awesomeness to another level.give-your-diwali-mithai-a-dessert-makeover-gulab-jamun-mousse-skk

Halwa

While ghee and dried fruits are a requisite for most halwas there are a number of ways in which you can put a spin on this melt in the mouth dessert. The simplest way to do so is cut out crisp disks of toasted bread, top it with a quenelle of your favourite halwa and a sprinkling of dry fruit slivers. Arranged on a platter – these sure do look beautiful! If you are onto the dessert pops trend, then try out halwa pops dipped in chocolate and coated with crushed mixed dried fruits. When I make these pops I sprinkle some sea salt on the dried fruits to cut out on some of the sweetness of these pops! Smaller, better looking portions of halwa are a much better idea than cups full of them, isn’t it?give_your_diwali_mithai_a_dessert_makeover_badam_h

Stun with sandesh

When it comes to Bengali mishti, sandesh is my eternal favourite because of the simplicity of the recipes and number of variations you can put to them. A basic sandesh is delicious and gets made with just 3 ingredients – milk, lemon and sugar. It is because of this simplicity of ingredients and flavours that you can play around with it so much. Rose syrup, orange drink powder, saffron strands, fresh fruits, gulkand, ground spices, dry fruit powder – you can go as far as your imagination and taste buds take you! If you want to go all out with preparing a stunning dish with sandesh, I insist you try this herbal petha paan sandesh with coconut rabdi – the plethora of tastes will definitely blow you mind!

May this Diwali bring plenty of love, luck, positivity and delicious food your way!

Stay safe, eat your heart out but make sure your work it off later!

Happy Diwali!

Happy cooking!

Happy eating! 

Time for some offsite fun!

A trip to God’s own country amidst hectic schedules, SKR’s Offsite was a refreshing break! It was all about fun, food and a fabulous time for the entire SK Restaurants team. The presence of my better half, Alyona made it all the more special for me and all the team members!

 

Read on to know more about this short yet productive vacation…

 

Day 1 (September 1, 2016): Destination: Kochi Marriott Hotel

The group got a super melodious and grand welcome with the chenda melam – a traditional music performance with the chenda, a percussion instrument. This was followed by a lavish lunch. The Marriott team outdid itself with this one! Post lunch, it was time for a cycle tour of the picturesque Fort Kochi – the team peddled their way for almost 2 hours in the area and other places of interest in the Old City. Super exhausted and hungry, we went straight for dinner before retiring for the day, and the next eventful day!

 

Day 2 (September 2, 2016): Yoga and Sadhya

Started on a healthy note with a yoga session on the helipad with a view to kill for! After a hearty breakfast, it was time for an exciting water polo match. There were 2 teams, Red and White. The Red team headed by Rajeev Matta played their way to victory!

The most awaited part of the day was the authentic sadhya (‘banquet’ in Malayalam) lunch – an array of pure vegetarian dishes traditionally served on a banana leaf.

After such a heavenly meal, a nap was in order. Soon it was time for the conference meeting where the team members time-travelled with a presentation that spoke about SK Restaurants in the year 2015. It ended with a trailer for FY 2016-2017 and a felicitation ceremony for Rajeev Matta, CEO, SK Restaurants for outstanding contribution throughout the years.

 

Day 3 (September 3, 2016): Trek and treat!

An early start to the day with an exhilarating trek at the Athirappilly Waterfalls – India’s answer to Niagara Falls! With munchies to snack on in the bus and an Ad-Mad game alongwith it, the 2 hour journey went off in a blink! Athirappilly Falls is situated in Athirappilly panchayat Thrissur district. Straight out of the movie Bahubali, the falls were a sight to remember! Photography sessions followed by fun in the water amidst flora and fauna – what a day! Reached the hotel for a lovely hi-tea. It was party time in the evening! All the team members were dressed to kill for the dance party, suspenders for guys and minis for the girls. Other than toe tapping music, the highlight was the Fun Awards. And the winners were…

·         Best Dancer (Male) – Saurabh Saxena

·         Best Dancer (Female) – Sugatha Menon

·         Best Dress (Male) – Rajeev Matta

·         Best Dress (Female) – Aditi Mehta

·         Best Entertainer – Anupa Das

·         Most Punctual – Rahil Aga

·         Human Vulture – Swapnil Jaiwant

·         Late Lateef – Amar Mhole

·         Surprise Buddy – Esha Makwana, Reshma Nair and Priyanka Chavda

Day 4 (September 4, 2016)

It was the last day and a day to revel in the beauty of God’s own country and what better way than to float languidly on the backwaters? The team departed for a cruise in a House Boat. Coconut water and endless cups of coffee added to the charm of the day. After lunch, the rest of the day was kept for leisure – some shopping at the nearby markets, a visit to India’s largest mall, Lulu and eating out! Just before leaving for the airport in the evening, SK Restaurants felicitated the team at Marriott with special gifts for their warm hospitality.