She got her first hike to cook at age of 12. In the year of 2013, she got selected for the Finales of IIHM Youngchef, London. And then she won. Ever since, there are been no setbacks and seconds thoughts. Meet Simran Kapur, a Xaverian from Kolkata, on food talks, chef icons and her secret ingredients.
Highlights of this episode
- Making saffron infused mushroom and cheese risotto.
- Running for the IIHM Youngchef 2013 in London.
- The best of her creations.
- The job market for culinary professionals.
- The secret of this showstopper: The Coconut Tart.
quotes and takeaways
- Get your gravies right! – this advice rings in my ears even now.
- Less is always more- Try channelizing your efforts into dishes that are simple yet elegant.
- History does play an important role while cooking but the trick is to be honest with your roots and achieve a balance with the modern day taste- buds too.
- Like a good film leans on a good script the secret to a good meal lies in planning.
Tell us about your startup. What are dishes where you carve a niche? Do you think your methodology of cooking has a different edge to it?
So basically my love for cooking has been one for long, however post winning IIHM Youngchef 2013 I managed to gather the courage to venture out further in this field. Cooking is something which calms my soul, hence by getting into a cooking school post class 12 was not an option for me. How could I let something which calms me at the end of a tiring day be the reason for my tiredness. Hence I opted for Mass Communication and Videography, choosing my second love which is writing. In the past one year looking up to various aspiring chefs and taking their interviews rekindled my fire for cooking. So someone popped this brilliant idea to me of having a start-up of my own. Something which I could manage easily and give my attention to, along with concentrating on my studies. So I started taking small orders. Baking is my forte; hence I began taking cake orders for small occasions.
My friends are my biggest critics, however all of them have varying taste-buds and to please them, I need to keep experimenting with my recipes. For the ones with an Indian palette I prefer making my saffron infused mushroom and cheese risotto. For those with a sweet tooth my special triple chocolate cake is the showstopper (it has cocoa, chocolate chips, chocolate sauce in the batter, topped with dark chocolate ganache).
Cooking for me is calming to the soul, the best food cooked by me is when I am frustrated. It is not normal for most chefs to have a cloudy mind and cook a meal but for me that is the best time to walk into the kitchen. I choose to impress with my cooking and aim to make something I would myself love to eat.
Tell us about the Young India Chef Competition. How was the experience of running for the finales in London?
London was the best experience of my life. Even when I look back to that day while typing out the answers for this interview, I have goose bumps. Working in a professional kitchen is not an easy task and honestly I was close to having a nervous breakdown during the finals. Youngchef happened to me by chance, it was a matter of a day, when a shy Simran decided to walk up to the Principal’s office to seek permission for taking part in the very same competition. Cut to 2015 a much confident Simran is writing up her experience post the win. There was a point where nothing was working out in the kitchen during the finals. But god knows from where I gathered the strength to get back up on my feet and finish what I started. Serving food to eminent chefs like Atul Kochhar, Andy Verma and Cyrus Todiwala was no joke, but their humble personalities made me less nervous. In the entire journey I met several people and made several friends (a little secret we played antakshari inside the kitchen during the finals to calm ourselves down). It was an enriching experience, one which I will never forget.
As a part of the competition, you met a plethora of restaurateurs of London. What secret essentials did you add to your culinary knowledge from them?
Get your gravies right! – this advice rings in my ears even now. If you don’t have a smooth non-grainy gravy, you have got to do it again and again till you get it right. Never underestimate the clock- you run fast the clock runs faster than you. Help your competitors if required, show humanity- by panicking or nagging nothing productive will materialise. Wait for your turn patiently, the mixer grinder will be available to you shortly. Keep your station clean- separate chopping boards for aromatic vegetables and meat, you do not want your phirni to taste like onions. Do not waste anything- if it is of no use to the dish it should not be on the plate, out goes anything that is on the plate just to decorate; that is just a waste. Seasoning- you may have a really elaborate dish but without proper seasoning it is of no use, you’d rather have a dish that is simple yet seasoned well. Less is always more- Try channelizing your efforts into dishes that are simple yet elegant. These were the many essentials I learned while working in a professional kitchen.
What is you “Last Supper” meal? Your Death Row meal as Anthony Bourdain puts it.
If it were the last meal of my life, it better be grand, as I always say I would rather die of overeating than a heart failure. Being a Punjabi girl it would most definitely include all of my mother’s delicacies with Butter Chicken on top of the list.
Fill in the blank: In the kitchen time, pressure and ______ is most important.
A clear head! Plan your entire preparation before jumping into it. Like a good film leans on a good script the secret to a good meal lies in planning. Choose your dish, plan the expected cooking time and what needs to be done first. Even if that means wasting 20 mins of your 3 hrs cooking time.
You’ve been baking for nearly 7 years now. What has been your best creation of baking so far?
I remember my first baking experience clearly, where I put cornflour instead of baking powder in the cake, instead of expanding it collapsed. It was an anniversary cake for my parents, which they had without complaining. Present day sees me Baking cakes for all occasions in my family, I fail to remember the last time we got a cake from a shop. My best creation so far is by far my Coconut Tart. The secret lies in getting the tart flaky and light and if you achieve that the rest of the work is a cakewalk.
History plays an intrinsic role in the intuition of the flavors by chefs. What do you think has influenced You the most?
See when we look back into history to our roots, a very basic fact pops up, the very essentials of Indian cooking such as potatoes, tomatoes and chilies were not always available in India. In olden days people would spice their food with pepper. History does play an important role while cooking but the trick is to be honest with your roots and achieve a balance with the modern day taste- buds too. Like I said less is always more, and food is something which is malleable and can be easily altered with different taste buds as long as your base is strong.
How do you see the job market for culinary professionals? How do you think it will be in the next five years?
Looking at the current increase in conventional job opportunities I see a bright future for culinary professionals. The people in India have become very varied in their food, they have accepted and relished and made foreign recipes their own. Even parents of the 21st century have become open to job opportunities in the culinary world, 10 years back no one would allow their child to get into a kitchen, “bawarchi nei banana hai usko” was a common reply. Now parents send their children off to culinary schools due to the increasing prospect and good job opportunities in the future.
Last but not the least, what would you say to fellow chefs who are pursuing their passion?
Give it a try, do not hesitate so what if it doesn’t turn out perfect in the first go there is always a second chance. Cook with your heart and never fear a thing. Don’t bother what people say to you, even if they judge tell yourself at least you will have a good laugh about it later with a nice plate of food in front of you. It takes a lot of dedication to make a name for yourself in the culinary world, enjoy every minute of it, and keep moving ahead remember you do a good deed by feeding hungry people.