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Food shows on TV: Then and now

MUMBAI: Move over dal tadka and bread pakoda—it’s time now for enchiladas, berry cheesecake and the likes on television! Food is an emerging genre of importance on TV that acquaints viewers with different kinds of cuisine and styles of cooking. This, in turn, has made the  TV chefs get busy to dish out much more than a simple item of food and to present something that is different yet easy to cook.

Chef-Sanjeev-KapoorWay back in 1993, a young chef by the name of Sanjeev Kapoor launched the first cooking show on Zee TV. Called ‘Khana Khazana’, the show introduced viewers to simple home-cooked dishes done in a different style. Kapoor also added tips and trivia, making viewers tune in to the show with a pen and diary ever ready to note down the culinary tips.

The trend caught on and other channels also started adding food shows to their programming. Two high points were Zee expanding its popular show into a new channel called Zee Khana Khazana in 2010 and Kapoor launching his own channel FoodFood in 2011.

Speaking to TelevisionPost.com, Kapoor says, “When I started, there was no food on TV and the two were poles apart. Now a lot of things have changed. The biggest need was how to make a few simple things. That continues to be the biggest need, but with that there is a lot of entertainment that has come in. The meaning of food and taste has changed, and with that expectations have changed as people now are aware of many more things.”

Given this changing face of food on television, TVP talks to popular chefs about what defines a food show on today’s television.

Rakesh SethiRakesh Sethi, who also had his own food show ‘Mirch Masala’ on Star Plus in 2000, recalls that back then people were only interested in how to make everyday dal-roti. But slowly the channels started showing how simple home food could be made more interesting, providing tips and tricks to improve the presentation.

“Food is no more a basic necessity now. It has become entertainment. Moreover, people travel a lot these days and are aware of new trends and ingredients. This has increased their knowledge and expectations from cooking shows on TV. They want to see something innovative, creative and healthier in terms of food,” he says.

In fact, in his time vegetables such as yellow and red capsicum were not available in metros, let alone small towns, so their use was not allowed on TV because the average woman would not be able to relate to it.

Though not many are aware, Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is also credited with co-starting ‘Khana Khazana’ with Kapoor. It was he who suggested Kapoor to do the show ‘Turban Tadka’ on FoodFood.

One of the most popular culinary shows catering to the changing taste bud of the viewer today is FoodFood’s ‘Mummy’s Magic’, hosted by celebrity mom Amrita Raichand.

Amrita RaichandSpeaking about her show, she says, “I connect with moms because I am a mom myself. When I had my baby and I started weaning him, I didn’t let anyone touch my son’s utensils. I brought separate pans and cookers and used to wash and cook with my own hands. I think that’s what works in my show because every mom wants to please her children and my show is about junk food made healthy, making kids happy and giving power to moms.”

Raichand started cooking at the age of eight as she had a working mother and would always hang around in the kitchen trying to help and learn. To her mother’s pleasant surprise, Raichand one day made a sumptuous lunch of tamatar ki chutney, aloo ka chokha, chawal, dal and bhindi ki sabzi, which marked her rite of passage to the world of cooking.

Another chef who started out young was Ajay Chopra. Dining out on dal fry and roti in dhabas years ago in Delhi, he would notice how the cook was making the dal fry. Once back home, he would religiously replicate that.

Ajay-ChopraChopra, these days a renowned chef at the Westin, Mumbai, says there are over 10,000 chefs in India and only less than a quarter of them are omni-recognised for their talent.

“Chefs are gradually being recognised through different mediums, especially TV. I think being on TV gives one the opportunity to take the art of cooking to a wider audience. It especially helps to take the taste of Indian food to people around the world,” he adds.

Interestingly, Chopra’s first stint on TV was as a judge on the cooking reality show ‘Masterchef India’. For him, it was just a random call to audition for being a judge, which he cleared and started enjoying after receiving training for it.

Having appeared in different cooking shows on TV, Chopra agrees that the programming and filming of food on TV has become more colourful and exciting with a more lifestyle touch and is encouraging for the viewer to watch and learn.

“The sales pitch is happening on each channel, but food per se has become sexier on TV and we are trying to teach food not just from India but around the world. People would earlier sit with a pen and paper to note down the recipes, but now they know they can probably get the same recipe on the internet,” he mentions.

But before you become an expert on television, you must become an expert off-screen to tell people what is good.

Harpal Singh SokhiSokhi states, “When I cook a dish on TV for presentation and after the final photography is over, the only thing I notice is how soon my crew clears the plate. If it is cleared in less than 30 seconds, it means that the dish has top-of-the-mind recall in terms of quality and taste. For me, food is a product which has to be saleable. I am subconsciously selling a recipe to numerous people who are watching me. If they replicate the dish, it means it’s sold.”

Talking about one of his ‘back then’ experiences, he says that recipes and replies used to come by postcard and he would spend his evening sorting out three-month-old recipes apart from minding his hotel job. He fondly remembers a recipe a viewer sent of a bread cake, which was indeed a creative savoury cake.

He says, “I miss those days and seeing those handwritten letters. Some viewers would draw colourful things to express themselves and the letters had a more personal touch.”

These days, food shows are an inspiration for males to put on the kitchen apron and give cooking a try. Chefs too are more interactive with viewers through light-hearted banter that makes the shows a fun experience. Parents too are encouraging youngsters to take cooking as an alternative career option.

All the chefs we spoke to also inform they have even seen and heard of kids aged 9 or 10 years showing interest in cooking. Besides, viewers in the age group of 80–90 also send in their often funny but mostly informative and helpful kitchen tales to the chefs.

Chefs’ favourites

  • Sanjeev Kapoor: Every Sunday just a meal of kadhi chawal, or in my early days going every Thursday with dough to a tandoor to get tandoori roti made and eating something made by the tandoor-vali were my best memories of food.
  • Rakesh Sethi: My favourite recipe is the French Fricassée de volaille à l’ancienne, which is a boneless chicken dish.
  • Harpal Singh Sokhi: My favourite recipes are yellow dal tadka, tamatar ki chutney, tamarind rasam and rice, which my mom used to make.
  • Amrita Raichand: My son loves chocolate pancakes and chocolate doughnuts, while I am partial to Japanese food and chicken and cheese casserole prepared by myself.
  • Ajay Chopra: My favourite recipe is that for galouti kebabs.

Talking about one such correspondence, Sokhi says, “I once got a message from an 89-year-old person in Bangalore who wrote that so long he had troubled his wife with his whining for good food. But after watching my show, he felt he should no more sit idle and started cooking at 89.”

Most of the celebrity chefs admit to being motivated by their parents’ love for cooking. Sokhi says that 20–22 years back, he was influenced by his father who would buy vegetables every Sunday and fetch groceries for the entire month, and cook for the family too.

Kapoor envisages more entertainment in the food space as food is one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the league of Bollywood and cricket in India. Maybe food is more culturally intrinsic than both of the former.

“Bollywood and cricket are very well represented on TV. It’s food’s turn now. We are always interacting with viewers to know what they want and that is how food shows and chefs adapt,” he states.