Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi On His Fun-Filled Journey In The Kitchen
Image Credit: Image: Chef Harpal Sokhi

Known for his fun and jovial nature, celebrity Chef Harpal Sokhi is quite popular among food lovers and cooking enthusiasts. The chef we see today on screen has always been a light-hearted and lively person, who likes to make people smile along the way, one dish at a time. While cooking happened to him by chance, chef Harpal now enjoys a fanbase across the globe. In fact, he has made a mark everywhere - from grooving on a reality show to making his way into the Indian kitchen with his peppy jingle ‘Namak Shamak’, opening a restaurant chain, and then writing a book about his journey so far.  

Sharing the stage with other renowned chefs - like Asma Khan and Vicky Ratnani - Chef Harpal recently hosted a live cooking session, complete with his wit and jolly persona, at the 6th edition of ‘Food For Thought Fest’ in Delhi. Curated by the South Asian Association For Gastronomy (SAAG), the fest celebrated the diverse culinary heritage of South Asia.

Chef Harpal then took us through his journey, the global impact of Indian cuisine, the influence of South Asian cuisine on India, and more, in an exclusive interview with Slurrp. Excerpts: 

Q. You are fondly referred to as the ‘Energy Chef of India’ and the ‘Dancing Chef of India’. How would you describe your style of cooking?

A. Yes, I have been given various titles for my ‘energy’ and ‘dancing’, which they say spreads through my cooking and my presence in the dance reality show that I participated in. My cooking is all about simplicity, straight food, and spreading happiness. Over the years that I have spent cooking at various five-star hotels, restaurants, and TV shows, I have realised that the most difficult thing to do is to keep food simple and with a taste that leaves a long-lasting impression, because that is what is remembered, and most successful restaurants have been doing it for years. 

Q. Tell us something about your foray into cooking 

A. Well, the journey is long and it is indeed an interesting one. I remember when I passed Class 12 and was preparing for engineering JEE exams, which I did not get through in the first round, my brother said that as sons of the family, we need to take up its responsibility by choosing a course that assures employment. One of our neighbours, who studied at the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), got employed in a hotel after passing his exams. So, given my interests, we thought this is something I can take up. Without much knowledge about it, I went on to pursue the hotel management course from IHM Bhubaneswar. That is when I realised that becoming a chef is what I want to pursue as a career. And from there on, there was no looking back.

Q. Tell us about your tryst with Hyderabadi cuisine  

A. After spending the initial four years of my career in the pantry as a member of the kitchen staff, I was put into the Indian kitchen. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to master the art of Indian cooking. It so happened that when I left Centaur Hotel Juhu Beach and joined a small Hyderabadi restaurant, I figured that specialising in a regional cuisine would be worth the challenge, especially during a time when you had no access to the internet, good books or great ustads of regional food. I got the opportunity to work with Hyderabadi Ustad Habib Pasha during my stint at the specialty restaurant, called Vintage. I went on to learn further under the guidance of Begum Mumtaz Khan and Mehboob Alam Khan in Hyderabad and at a small restaurant in Purana Qila. It was a great experience and that further helped me to learn more about regional cuisines of India. 

Q. In a way, you have redefined cooking on television screens with your jingle ‘Namak Shamak’. What was the idea behind doing a cooking show?

A. Having spent a lot of time in hotels and reaching up to the level of ‘executive chef’ at a five-star hotel, I didn’t know what to do next. It was during that time that television happened to me. But I felt that it was more of a ‘classroom-type’ process, which did not suit my persona. I was a fun-loving, happy chef, and I had to translate that through my TV show in 2010. Later, after my show ‘Turban Tadka’ took off, I was told by my director to create something magical, which will be remembered for a long time. That’s how the punchline ‘Namak Shamak’ came up. The idea was to spread happiness and make people smile when they cook alone at home; to be omnipresent in every kitchen through the jingle and stay there forever. All thanks to many people who helped me create this and reach out to the world. 

Q. Since you have also helped in spreading the popularity of Indian food abroad, what has been the response to Indian cuisine over the years internationally? 

A. I have been focused on spreading Indian food across the world, as I believe that Indian food is like the Amazon rainforest - yet to be explored in its totality. Forget the taste, the offering is so widespread that it is humanly impossible for one chef to explore and master it. Thanks to digital platforms, now we are able to at least see things from across India. Also, during the pandemic, the world understood the scientific approach of Indian food and its benefits - the value of spices, ancient Ayurvedic recipes, and their advantages.  

Q. What do you have to say about platforms like SAAG giving recognition to Indian culinary gems? 

A. I think platforms like SAAG help us connect and interact with people and spread the message of new-age Indian food and its benefits. 

Q. Tell us about the influence of South Asian cuisine in India? 

A. Well, I must say that after Indian food, it is South Asian food with a desi twist that is the most popular. It is all across mainstream hotels, restaurants, and streetside stalls. The best thing that I have realised from my travels is the combination that is quite interesting. For instance, in Goa people like Fried Rice with Butter Chicken, while in UP and Bihar, people like Paneer Chilli with Roti. 

Q. What do you think is the one ingredient, besides salt, that is a must-have in an Indian kitchen? 

A. I think I cannot do without chillies, besides salt, in the kitchen. 

Q. One Indian dish you think is highly underrated and deserves more recognition

A. Khichdi needs to be elevated to Risotto level, and made aspirational. Right now, it is lying down as food for sick people or comfort food.  

Q. Your most favourite dish and its recipe.

A. Well, there are many favourite foods, but I will share something for winter and it is pretty simple - Butter Garlic Green Pea Pods. Here’s the recipe:


  • 250 gms whole green peas   
  • 1 inch ginger 
  • 4 green chilies  
  • 12 garlic cloves 
  • Salt to taste 
  • 2-3 tbsp butter  
  • Salt to taste 
  • 1 tsp dry mango powder   
  • ½ tsp asafoetida  
  • ½ tsp garam masala  
  • ¼ tsp red chili powder  
  • A pinch of turmeric powder 
  • 1 tsp black pepper powder  
  • ½ tsp coriander powder  


  • Remove the string of the green peas. Keep Water for boiling. 
  • In a grinder add ginger, green chilies and garlic cloves and grind well. Keep it aside. 
  • Once the water is hot enough add green peas and salt & mix it well 
  • Once the water is boiled again, strain the peas and keep it aside. 
  • Heat butter in kadai, add green chili, garlic, ginger mixture and mix it well. 
  • Now add green peas, salt, dry mango powder, asafoetida, garam masala, red chili powder, turmeric powder, black pepper powder, and coriander powder and mix it well. 
  • Remove it in a serving bowl and serve hot.