Food show hosting has seen a quantum leap, both in number and content, and viewers are not minding !
“Aap sabhi ko Sanjeev Kapoor ka pyaar bhara namaskar.” Some of you might remember that familiar introduction, delivered with a toothy smile by India’s (arguably) most popular chef and host of Khana Khazana, aired in the early 90s, continuing well into the first decade of the new millennium and a little beyond. In fact, Khana Khazana continues to be India, nay Asia’s, longest-running TV food show to date, and its reruns are also streaming currently on OTT platform. So, I am guessing some of you millennial readers might have also got your butter/tikka chicken/pepper rasam/sushi bowl fix from chef Kapoor.
I owe chef Kapoor the pleasure of many a home-cooked meal, be it a simple Tomato Saar, Dal Makhni or a more ethnic Sprouted Hara Chana Amti, and even the occasionally adventurous Baked Chicken-Mushroom Casserole, rustled up from recipes jotted down from his Sunday show and his cookery books. As a journalist beginning my career in the mid ‘90s in Delhi, night shifts on the production desk of a daily newspaper followed by business reporting during the day, meant seeking the comforts of home-made food only occasionally. The art of cooking, speaking for myself, was imbibed literally over the stove, on a live action format, with my mother or her cook on the other side of the phone, or it was Kapoor’s recipes and show to the rescue. It was Kapoor who showed us how to make al dente pasta and how to blanch tomatoes or spinach for the perfect purée.
I will not forget the look of absolute bewilderment on my neighbour’s son’s face on seeing me cook from Kapoor’s cookbook, when the little cherub walked into my apartment one day. Off he went running to his mother, who was perfect homemaker material (hot meals round the clock, which I was privy to, too) spilling the beans about Aunty cooking from a book. Sacrilege!
What explains Kapoor’s popularity? I think it has a lot to do with his warm and invested hosting style, looking straight into your eyes with a relaxed, easy-going smile, making recipes easy to decipher and always offering a ‘jugaad’ element. So, if you didn’t have this or that exotic ingredient, no room for panic because he would always suggest a more accessible (and affordable) alternative. There would be an occasional joke or anecdote shared, and it was literally like Bhai Saab who lived down the lane, had come to your living room and was sharing his cooking secrets and hacks with you, in an informal vibe.
And the extra edge was provided by taking our old familiar ingredients and recipes and tweaking it with the easiest contemporary style, so that we had the pleasure of enjoying an exotic creation, be it a Kokum Sangria or an Aam Panna Fizz or a Sweet Potato slider.
While my cooking has been honed over the years to near perfection, (or so I would love to believe), the occasional browsing for recipes with Siri chipping in, offering the best ones, draws me to Instagram handles and YouTube channels.
Back in those days, TV food shows were, literally, less than a handful. There was Khana Khazana, of course, followed much later by Cooking with Tarla Dalal and there was the cookery slot on Doordarshan with stiff collar chefs dressed to the hilt, right up to their starched white hats and smiling uneasily into the cameras, flourishing a Murg Mussalam or similar with a rose-carved-from-tomato garnish in the end. Gone are those days, and mercifully for us.
There are dedicated food channels now, with content celebrating Indian food cultures and histories spanning from Lost Recipes, Raja, Rasoi aur Anya Kahaaniya, Tyohaar ki Thaali and more of its genre to the more daily humdrum and relatable Three Course with Pankaj and Bachelor’s Kitchen thrown in.
Adding some gender perspective is also the fact of more and more shows by women chefs too, and not necessarily the grandma (think Tarla Dalal) kind. We don’t have a glamorous diva like Nigella Lawson or even a Padmalakshmi yet, but hey there is Rakhee Vasvani, often referred to in food circles as the desi Lawson and the absolutely delectable former Masterchef winner Shipra Khanna. There are also the stolid and sensible Pankaj Bhadoria offering Three Course Meals, former TV star Sakshi Tanwar with her Tyohaar ki Thali and former model Amrita Raichand charmingly smiling her way into our hearts with Mummy Ka Magic!
And with every new food show hosted, a unique hosting style in line with the celeb chef’s personality quirks, has been keeping us entertained of late. Here are some of my favourites:
The culturally suave food historian Rakesh Ragunathan made a deep impact on viewers, sharing some deliciously healthy temple Pongal or Payasam recipes, with his Dakshin Diaries and 100% South Indian shows. Aesthetically curated food shows, with a good-looking chef sharing some absolutely rare, organic and vegetarian recipes amidst pristine temple surroundings, be it Srirangam or Annavaram to the accompaniment of soulful Carnatic music, what is there not to like? I just can’t seem to have enough of his Appe Saar (mango rasam) or his Kodaikanal Tamarillo (local tree tomato) Jam.
The irrepressible Harpal Singh Sokhi of Turban Tadka fame, with his trademark line, Namak Shamak, Namak Shamak, Daal Dete Hain, with full-on desi vibes, which makes me want to break into Bhangra mode every time I spot his mischievous smirk and his dialogues, peppered with ‘Ae Lo Jee’.
Former TV star Sakshi Tanwar with her demure but eminently watchable Tyohaar ki Thali where she celebrates Indian festivals from Makar Sankranti to Eid and Christmas (while remaining vegetarian, quite a feat!) with her guests, usually from the TV or film industry and in a simple, easy to understand anchoring style.
Ranveer Brar’s wry humor while hosting Raja, Rasoi Aur Andaaz Anokha with his aide Mannu Bhai, cooking dishes from remote corners like the North east or heritage dishes like his Memories of Raj, is always watchable. Gainful culinary insights are a great takeaway.
I love home chef Pankaj Bhadouria’s no-nonsense anchoring style, explaining the making of dishes without any frills of side conversations. It is easy to see how this first-ever winner of Masterchef India made the transition from a school teacher to ruling the TV screen and winning legions of fans with her shows 3 Course with Pankaj and the currently-trending Indian Food Classic.
Kunal Kapur’s boyish charm and quick wit are a huge draw on Instagram of course, and as a friend remarked, in the eye candy department, he is the only Indian male chef who comes closest to Vikas Khanna. But on a more serious note, his recipes and kitchen hacks got us through the lockdowns, but it was his Curries of India and Thalis of India as well as Pickle Nation which got him all the eyeballs on TV. When he shared my Instagram story about making Sarson Da Saag with Makki di Roti following his recipe, in his stories, it was truly a fangirl moment for me.
There are several other food show host notables like the effervescent Saraansh Goralia or the charming and petite Shilarna (Chinu) Vaze with her bubbly banter, but that’s for another day.
And if you ask me my all-time favourite food show host, it will still be Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, albeit in his leaner and meaner look, sans that trademark Incidentally, he has kept with the times in being social media savvy (1.2 million followers on Instagram and counting), which is of course a tad lower than his younger counterparts Ranveer Brar (1.9 million Instagram followers), and Kunal Kapur with 1.6 million followers. But I still do think it was Sanjeev Kapoor who paved the way for making food show hosts more accessible, non-robotic and behave like one of us. Bon Appetit and cheers to more food shows and hosts!
Swati Sucharita is a Hyderabad-based journalist, food blogger and independent content consultant. You may write in at swati.sucharita@htmedialabs.