The Indian celebrity chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Sanjeev Kapoor is a human dynamo: the face of Khana Khazana, the longest-running cooking show in Asia which is broadcast in 120 countries, Kapoor also runs more than 40 restaurants across the globe, has written countless cookbooks and, in 2011, launched his own food channel called FoodFood.
He was in Dubai last week to oversee the opening of his latest restaurant in Dubai, at the Mövenpick Hotel, Deira: the second branch of Options by Sanjeev Kapoor. The first branch of Options is located at the Convention Centre, Dubai World Trade Center; it opened in 2006 and was voted Best Asian Restaurant at last year’s Masala! Awards.
“We don’t want to differentiate between the offering of the two restaurants,” says Kapoor. “Both are located in different neighbourhoods and locations and are different branches, but that’s where the difference stops. This new branch of Options maintains the vibrant, chic and smart vibe that the original Options restaurant is known for. It serves the same high-quality Indian food which is skewed more towards North India. We have a range of kebabs, curries, birianis, rotis and stunning desserts.”
Kapoor explains that Dubai is one of the few places where he can keep his restaurant offerings true to the real tastes of Indian food.
“If there is one city outside India where tastes are true, then that would be Dubai. This is largely because of all the people who have migrated here from India over the years and also because the palate of the local people has been trained to these true tastes due to Indian people around them, be it coworkers, friends or maids. Their understanding of real Indian food is phenomenal.”
The menu at Options features staple favourites from North Indian cuisine, all with Sanjeev Kapoor’s special twist. He says that his favourite items on the menu continue to be laala musa dal (lentil curry), chandi kaliyan (boneless chicken chunks, mildly spiced, coated with edible silver foil) and aloo nazakat (deep-fried potato shells marinated and stuffed with a cottage cheese mixture, and baked).
Kapoor says the menu design for his restaurants is very methodical. “When you have 40-odd restaurants, you know what works and what doesn’t. We have had restaurants in this city for the past 15 years and we know what the people here want. With any menu, you start by keeping yourself in mind first and think about what you would want if you were to eat out in an Indian restaurant. You would want to start with things such as a soup, drink, salad or starter. When it comes to starters, it’s mainly kebabs that people like, so you need vegetarian and non-vegetarian options for that. In meats, people enjoy fish and chicken the most, and a little bit of goat meat. You also need a lot of vegetarian options.
“Keeping all this in mind, you start designing the menu. You also have to looks at the taste palate, which is khatta, meetha, theekha, namkeen (sour, sweet, spicy and salty). You balance your menu offerings according to these tastes and once that structure is done, you go and try those dishes. Once you have perfected them, you train your chef, and those chefs then train the team at the restaurant. We keep on playing with the dishes and keep on doing some experiments, but not over the top.”
What about cooking and eating at home? “When it comes to eating at home, I have one preference: the simpler the better. I do prefer vegetarian dishes. I am very lucky that both my wife and my mother cook at home. It’s on the weekends that I cook and then it depends on what my daughters feel like eating.”
Kapoor terms 2013 as his “year of growth”. Work is currently ongoing for nine new Sanjeev Kapoor restaurants across the globe, including his first one in Africa. Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel that far to get a taste of the marvellous morsels he whips up.
• Options by Sanjeev Kapoor is now open at the Mövenpick Hotel, Deira