Recently in Bangkok for a cooking demonstration at Rang Mahal, TV personality Sarab Kapoor went from watching her mother in the kitchen as a child to becoming an ambassador for Indian vegetarian cooking. By Reena Karim
Last month, the Rembrandt Hotel’s Rang Mahal restaurant was transformed into a cooking show set. Sarab Kapoor—lovely in pink, with her signature string of pearls a la Julia Child and a flower neatly pinned in her hair—was checking ingredients and ensuring if the oil that she requested was in fact 30 ml. The sweet cooking show host started out in her own kitchen and has now made her way into the homes of many through her cooking show on Zee TV, Cook, Love, Eat…with Sarab. But despite having a cookbook and a show that airs in over 18 countries, she still considers herself to be “just a housewife”. Here, she clears misconceptions about vegetarian food and tells us how her time abroad has shaped her culinary style.
What are your fondest food memories from childhood?
I was born and brought up in Bombay in a family that owned restaurants. My mother was also a good cook, so growing up I always saw her cook for the entire family. It was a traditional joint-family system, and she, being the eldest of the daughters-in-law, was cooking very happily for her seven brothers-in-law and the kids. Whenever anybody came at an odd time and said, “Bhabhi bhook lagi hai”, she would say, “Just give me two minutes,” and would put something together.
What was Indonesia like?
I was 21 when I moved to Indonesia. There, cooking mein kafi farakh tha because even though they make Indian food, they add an Indonesian touch, making it stir-fried and very light, like Thai food. But I liked it immediately because it was different. The freshness of the food appealed to me very much.
How did you develop a passion for cooking?
Indian food was all through my mother’s side of the family, so when I got married, I cooked that food, and it was appreciated by my in-laws. Then I travelled a lot with my husband on his business trips. He would often request [his clients] if we could stay at their place instead of a hotel. When he went on his meetings, I took the wives [of his clients] and went into supermarkets. In Japan, we stayed in a Japanese house for two nights, and I learnt Japanese cooking from this lady, who was so excited to teach me. The same in Greece, where he often went for business.
Has all the travelling and relocating changed the way you cook Indian food?
I think when I cook authentic Indian food, I still go back to my roots—my mom’s cooking. But I keep modifying it to modern taste. For instance, biryani with mozzarella and roasted peppers, then a rabri with white chocolate. I like to add something Western to our Indian dishes.
How did the cookbook deal happen?
About 12 years ago, I did a cook book called OM Cooking for Chinmaya Mission, a spiritual organisation. Initially, I thought I couldn’t do this book. Then six months later, when I got started, I was absorbed in it. I would do five to seven recipes a day. For this book, I converted all non-vegetarian dishes into vegetarian dishes. It took me three years to finish. The book has 360 recipes. It is not a fancy book and was done on a low budget. Many of the photos I had taken in my kitchen with my small camera. But at the end of the day, it’s the content that matters. For me, it was a very satisfying and fulfilling experience, and I was able to complete it in time for the 50th anniversary of the mission.
Tell us about your TV show.
Anil, the director, took my book to Media Corp, one of the local channels in Singapore, without me knowing. He came back to me and said, “They love the book, and they want you to do a show.” So I said, “Are you mad? Me and a TV show?” So he kept pestering me because he felt I needed to do something, and that I could do it. So I said jokingly, “I will not do it on any altu-faltu channel. Koi achha channel laogay toh baat karenge.” Yeh keh kar tal diya maine. Then in the next two days, he came back with a contract with Zee TV. Even then I wasn’t convinced. Then I spoke with Swami Swaroopananda from Chinmaya Mission, who gave me the moral support to go on.
What misconceptions do people have about vegetarian food?
They think it’s just ghaas-phoos or that it’s not satisfying or filling enough. I think that’s wrong. I have converted every cuisine’s recipes into vegetarian. In fact, at home, when I put together a Thai, Italian, or Indonesian meal, my kids don’t even realise they have eaten vegetarian food. If you give people a variety, they don’t feel they are eating vegetarian food.
From being a homemaker to a TV star, has there been a change in your personal life?
My entire life has changed. I am leading a new life altogether, and I am born all over again.
What does your family think of this decision?
My family is very proud of me. My elder son is married, and I have a granddaughter, and my younger one is getting married in three months. They are very happy because they are busy in their lives, and I am in mine.
There’s your book and a show on Zee TV. Any exciting new ventures on the horizon?
I take each day as it comes, but a second book focusing on show-related recipes would be nice.
Catch Cook Love Eat with Sarab on Zee TV Asia-Pacific at 2:30pm every Sunday.
Any food you won’t eat
Anything raw, like sushi
Sweets, anything meetha.
Favourite comfort food
Indian food, ghar ka khana
One Indian dish everyone should master
Any Indian dish, but with dessert for sure.
Vegetarian version of chicken curry?
I use mock-meat, soy, or mushrooms.
(Featured in Masala Lite January 2013, Thailand)
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