A young boy from a small town in West Bengal, Chef Harpal never knew that the title of a Chef would precede his name in times to come. The bubbly and chirpy chef that we see today on screen was always a fun-loving and jolly person, making people smile along the way. A major switch from engineering to the kitchen happened as a chance encounter and next thing he knew, he wanted to be a Chef. Instilled with foodie genes and a love for all things tasty, Chef Harpal has won hearts not only with his peppy jingle but also his groovy dance moves at a reality show. 

Reminiscing his days of learning from maestros of Hyderabadi cuisine, he has managed to compile all those exquisite recipe under one roof with his cookbook on the same. Sharing his days of making mango pickle at home with his father as well as the comfort that his wife’s delicious food provides him, Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi engages in a an exclusive interaction with us. Excerpts. 

Q1. Since Punjabis are believed to be hard-core foodies, did the foodie gene run in your family too? 

Well I believe so that every Punjabi household has foodie genes and I have witnessed that in my growth as a chef. In my early childhood days, I remember my father would get vegetables and mutton every Sunday and cook for us. We had an annual ritual of pickling mangoes in our house and I have seen my father cut those mangoes into small pieces and I would help drying them up in sun every day for almost a week before they were pickled. My mother would create the proportion of spices and then the day of creating the end product was a celebration. The mango pickle would be mixed in a huge Paraat (a traditional Punjabi huge thali) and the spices that were left would be mixed up with steamed rice and eaten. Now that is something I cannot forget in my life. My mother would cook delicacies that I loved like sund(Almost like a ginger halwa), kala channa with wadi and many such dishes which are like legacy dishes. My brother was very much involved in community kitchen service and in the langar seva of Gurudwara. He would spend nights cooking langar with his group of friends. My sisters were apt in making regional dishes like idli sambhar as we had lot of neighbours who were from Andhra Pradesh. So I would say that those memories are still fresh in mind. It was only when I joined Hotel Management and started cooking that I realised that it was a hidden talent in me which I polished over a period of time. 

Source: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi

Q2. As a young boy from a small town in Punjab, how did you aspire to become a chef? 

Actually I grew up in West Bengal and all my paternal family settled in a place called Kharagpur in West Bengal. My maternal side was from Punjab and we did visit them regularly during my early childhood days. 

I never every thought of picking up chef as a career in my life. In those days, every parent wanted their child to take up engineering, medical, banking services or govt. jobs as they felt that they were secure and had great acceptance in the society. Hotel Management never had that society acceptance until the 80s and 90s. So taking up an offbeat career meant you were failing academics. It was seen as a halwai course in society. However, after completing class XII, I was busy giving competitive exams for engineering but with no luck. I started graduation and my second attempt for engineering schools. During that period, my brother’s friend, who had done hotel management from IHM Kolkata, was employed in a good hotel and would come back suited-booted. We were all very impressed and that’s when my brother thought asked me to sit for the exams of IHM. I got through and was selected for IHM Bhubaneswar. Without having a fair knowledge of what hotel management is about, I went ahead with the course since it was skill-based and had more opportunities of being employed just after the course. However, as destiny had it for me, I developed a deep unknown interest in the course after a while. That’s when I decided to become a chef. 

Q3. We can’t get over your catchy jingle, Namak Shamak. How did you come up with the tune? 

Now Namak Shamak is a not only a rage in India but abroad too. I got many opportunities to do television since my early days while television was evolving. It was in 1993 when I got the opportunity of hosting Khana Khazana for the first time on Zee TV. However, I did not pursue it seriously and went on enhancing my culinary skills in hotels. When I finally took the step of doing television, my director Girish Madhu asked me a question. He said, “Harpal, you must do something which people will remember you after you die”. He refused to shoot my series on television until I came up with something unique. I toiled with the idea and took my own sweer time. I realized that in the 2000s, cooking wasn’t of much interest to many people. I also felt that all the homemakers always cooked alone at home without any entertainment for them while cooking. During that period, I was also reading a book on Gandhiji and Salt Satyagrah. I realised that Gandhiji initiated the freedom movement with a basic ingredient like salt. Putting together these ideas made me realise that salt is an essential component of any dish. One thing led to another and out came the jingle “Oh jee Namak Shamak Namak Shamak Dal Dete hain”. I call it the National Cooking Anthem, a jingle which spread smiles across people of sections of society and encourages them to cook. 

Source: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi

Q4. Your strong sense of energy and presence brings life on screen. What’s your vision behind this method of cooking? 

Being a Punjabi, I am naturally fun-loving. When I was young, my friends would always love my company they would say oh now Harpal is here toh ab hogi masti. Food should be fun, one should have a positive and loving attitude while cooking because it actually reflects in the taste of your food. It builds team work, strengthens the team bond and creates delicious magic with your hands. 

Q5. Seems like your cap is too full with all kinds of feathers. What’s next then? 

I think the cap is never full until an individual draws a line. Yes, by God’s grace I have achieved a lot but there still more to come. We are working on multiple things to create larger businesses so that our career is more meaningful to the society at large and can contribute to the upliftment of the lives of more people. 

Q6. Tell us more about your tryst with the royal cuisine of Hyderabad. Is your book a culmination of your experiences?

It was in 1992 that I got employed as an Executive Chef of a premium standalone Hyderabadi restaurant which also served continental food. We had an excellent Hyderabdi chef called Habib Pasha and his cooking had people cue up for tasting all the delicacies. Since it was first of its kind super-speciality restaurant, the food was cooked on stones, dum etc., the way it would be done in the Nizams’ Palace in Hyderabad. I personally got excited to learn the fine points in detail from Habib Pasha. My tenure in the restaurant was just for about one and half year but the my inquisitiveness about the cuisine got me excited. I got connected with Begum Mumtaz Khan who belonged to the Jagirdar family of Nizams and undertook a crash course with her. I also got the opportunity to learn from Mehboob Alam Khan. She encouraged me to explore the Old Hyderabad City and learn the techniques from traditional kitchens. My hunger grew more for learning regional cuisines and I went ahead learning more about things from the Nawabs of Lucknow and then across the country. When you travel around the country you realize that there is so much to learn about food.

Q7. Pick one favourite dish from the Nizami fare and share the secret recipe with our readers. 

Pathar ka Gosht is something which I cannot forget. 

Patther ka Gosht


  • Boneless Mutton cut into 1½ inch pieces 800 gm.
  • Ginger 2 inch
  • Garlic cloves 8-10 no.
  • Green chillies 4-5 no.
  • Green papaya grated ¼ cup
  • Oil 3-4 tbsp + For frying
  • Onion sliced 2 no.
  • Yogurt 2 tbsp
  • Black pepper powder 1 tsp
  • Green cardamom powder 1 tsp
  • Garam masala powder 1 tsp
  • Stone flower (Patther phool) 1 tsp
  • Malt vinegar 1 tbsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Ghee for basting

          Source: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi


  1. Pound the mutton with a steak hammer or the blunt side of a knife to make quarter-inch thick pasandey.
  2. Grind the ginger, garlic, green chilli and papaya to a fine paste.
  3. Heat oil in a kadai and deep fry the onions till brown.
  4. Drain, cool and grind with the yogurt to a fine paste.
  5. Mix together the ground spice paste, onion-yogurt paste, black pepper powder, cardamom powder, garam masala powder, stone flower, malt vinegar, salt and 4 tbsp of oil.
  6. Coat the mutton pasandey well with the mixture and leave to marinate for 3-4 hours.
  7. Take flat slab of rough granite or kadappa stone that is about one and half feet long, one foot wide and two inches thick.
  8. Wash the stone and place it in firmly on two piles of bricks.
  9. Light a charcoal fire underneath the stone slab and heat it well.
  10. Season the stone by smearing it with oil. When it is very hot, sprinkle the stone with little salt and wipe with a clean cloth. It is now ready to use.
  11. Sprinkle a little ghee on surface and place the marinated pasandey on the hot stone.
  12. Turn the pasandey a few times, basting occasionally with ghee.
  13. When it is well-cooked, remove in serving plate and serve hot with tandoori roti and kachumber.

Q8. From being a celebrity chef to launching your own restaurants, do you recall any memorable experiences on the way? 

As you become known, restaurants are the first thing that come your way and people believe that we carry a magic wand that would create a blockbuster overnight. However, restaurants are very personal, people expect a lot  from me and I also feel that I should be present almost all the time. 

Over the years, I have created many restaurant concepts and exited out of them. I had bought the first Poutine in India and we grew like a storm, created The Funjabi Tadka chain and exited in due course. My latest venture Karigari in Noida has been well-accepted by people. In my Innovation Center in Mumbai, we keep creating new things for our restaurant venture and at Karigari we have a complete story board on food, we have a dal story, we have bread story from my mother’s kitchens, we have a great blend of fusion elements in traditional Indian offering and more. However, what is well talked about is the mirchi ka halwa. I had created this some 8-10 years back for my restaurant chain and people just loved it. It was kind of luck by chance that I called my Ayurvedic friend Dr.Onkar Bilgi and made him taste the same. He just gave me a full disclosure on why it is so important to have a mirchi ka halwa after a great fulfilling Indian meal. It helps in Digestion, no burping, builds your immunity and a good source of Vitamin C and D ( since it is made in Pure Ghee only). This has become an intrinsic part of Karigari now. It begins with sourcing the right kind of chillies to make the halwa. 

Source: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi 

Q9. What do you have to say about the confluence of Indian and international flavours?

I would probably say that I was one of the early chefs who started creating blends and marrying Indian flavours and international ingredients and vice-versa. In those days, we had no support of the Internet and books were our sole companions. Even great raw material sourcing was an issue. The country was opening up to imports of raw material from across the world gradually. I remember when I was a chef at the Regent we had seen kiwi just come into India and we created kiwi ka panha from it just moving away from the traditional mango panha. This happened around 1996-98. We would go to imported stores and get canned products, jams etc. to create dishes. I also remember the blueberry kulfi which I created by using St. Dalfour Blue Berry Jam, it was a hit in my hotel. I remember creating Rasmalai Tiramisu and many other things like that. When you blend ingredients and try to alter a traditional recipe, you have to carry immense knowledge of flavours and those ingredients, the end product and how would it impact the dish overall. This knowledge acquisition actually takes time and builds up over the years. I would still say that I am learning and acquiring knowledge everyday to grow on this subject. 

Q10. 3 Ingredients that you love to work with and why? 

Mentioning three such ingredients would be difficult, especially when you are a classified Indian Master Chef. However, let’s only talk of one Hero Ingredient in my life, salt. I don’t think any dish is complete without salt, you can forget the almonds, pistachios, cream, butter or saffron but if you forget salt then that is the end to the most tasty dish. Salt has so much relevance in our life, historically and from a cooking perspective that we believe that salt is the purest form an ingredient that we have got from God. 

Q11. Savoury or sweet, what’s that one thing that you can have for the rest of your life? 

As you grow up I think savoury palate takes over the sweet palate in life. I believe that savoury and bitter things are good for me. Not to forget that I am from West Bengal and yes, there is a hidden sweet tooth in me and I indulge in my cravings, whenever I travel to West Bengal. 

Source: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi 

Q12. A home-cooked meal that you swear by? 

A home-cooked meal by my wife Aparna is what I would swear by,  made with so much love and passion. It all begins with buying the right ingredient and she would not compromise with the raw material and the process. I would swear by the rajma, kala channa Curry, rice kheer, gehoon ki kheer and many more.

Q13. Does the chef in you start critiquing a dish that you’re having at another restaurant? 

At times, there are suggestions that are passed to chef in the most humble manner so that correction happens for good of the restaurant or dining area. We believe that we all are humans and can learn from each other to grow for good.

Q14. Your stint in the reality show Jhalak Dikhlaja was much appreciated by your fans. Any insights into how that happened? 

This is seriously something which I cannot forget. You enter a dance show when you are 50 years of age and are competing with people about 20 years younger than you is quite an experience. What I actually think is that my fitness regime helped me perform well. 

It so happened that I got a call from Colors TV and went on to give audition which all happened in about 2 hours of time and I became a part of the show. The first twenty-five days went into dance practices. I remember that the first day we did loads of yoga and stretching for six hours and when I was totally exhausted, my choregrapher told me that we had to begin the dance practice now. All my businesses were running on auto pilot and my focus was my dance show. I went upto the fifth round and then got eliminated. However, the experience left an impact across the country. I think it is the focus that matters to achieve something. I remember when I did the movie Bank Chor for Yash Raj, I was witnessing how focused the director was while making the movie. His sole positive thought of making a blockbuster movie kept the entire crew motivated.