Director Hansal Mehta and chef Sanjeev Kapoor bond over their iconic TV show, the fad of molecular gastronomy and working on a biopic together

Hansal Mehta and Sanjeev Kapoor discuss modern food at Masala Library. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Hansal Mehta and Sanjeev Kapoor discuss modern food at Masala Library. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

"You finally made us meet," exclaims filmmaker Hansal Mehta as he spots celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor at Masala Library in BKC. The two embrace. "We keep in touch but haven't managed to meet, till now," adds Kapoor.

The two may have met after six years but nothing in their demeanour suggests it. While Mehta jokes about forgetting his make-up and requests our photographer to avoid showing his tummy in the photos, Kapoor who was honoured with the Padma Shri in January, reveals how he lost eight kilos in three weeks by eating vegetarian food.

The conversation veers from TV culinary shows and recipe books ("I have a room full of them," says Mehta) to plans to eat authentic Kashmiri and Awadhi food, and their current work. But the warmest moments are about Khana Khazana (KK) - the iconic show that made Kapoor a household name, and paved the way for Mehta's entry into film industry.

Joanna: How did Khana Khazana happen?
Hansal: It was early days of TV and no one was doing a food show. It was the right time.
Sanjeev: I was to do just one episode. Then, after the first episode, he asked me to host it.
Hansal: I doubt there is another Indian food show that was so iconic. Today, while leaving home for this session, my daughters enquired where I am going, and instantly recognised Sanjeev's name. They know him as much as they know Salman Khan. He is the Salman Khan of Indian food on TV.
Sanjeev: Back then, we were criticised a lot. If there was one person who believed that Sanjeev Kapoor could do this, it was him. I don't even know what he saw in me.
Hansal: Credibility. I wanted food cooked by somebody who knows it, from whom I can learn. There is something appealing about him. We got good feedback. All my actor friends would come to the set to eat, because there was always food. Manoj [Bajpayee] especially - he would call me and ask 'kya ban raha hai'. The landmark came eight episodes later; he cooked something called Shaam Savera, and it became a legend.

(Starters arrive: Wild Mushroom Chai, Marinated Chicken Salami, Galawat Kebab, and Fresh Chenna Bhalla Chaat)
Sanjeev: This has intense flavour. The consommé is too salty for me.
Hansal: Salt is a personal detail, and Indians tend to use it heavily. It is a refined taste. This chaat is good.
Sanjeev: The taste of India is khatta, meetha, teekha and namkeen. These flavours can make any dish delicious.
Hansal: This is good stuff, but most places serve average molecular
gastronomy experiments. Half the part about molecular food is the experience. It is fascinating to watch but it is not something you can do at home.
Sanjeev: The problem with molecular gastronomy is its predictability. Ferran Adrià did this 15 years back. Why are we eating the same food today? Few places can deliver and yet, it is considered a trend.
Hansal: That's the thing about impact. KK worked because it had impact. People in villages and smaller cities wanted to learn to cook, and Sanjeev showed them how.
Sanjeev: There are a lot of embellishments you see in shows these days but the core has to be teaching people to cook.

(Main course arrives: Bacon-wrapped Tandoori Morels, Pan-seared Rawas, and Tadka Artichoke Hearts and Asparagus)
Hansal: All of this is nice. Good work by the chef - she balanced my meal; it was getting meaty.
Joanna: Why don't we see food in films?
Hansal: We don't write those kinds of scripts. I've been looking for one where food is at the centre; perhaps, when I write his biopic.
Sanjeev: If my biopic is made, I want him to do it. It will be honest.
Hansal: Yours should be titled, 'From Rajauri to TV', or actually, 'From Rajauri to Padma Shri.' There are things we know about each other that no one else does…
Sanjeev: We won't tell anyone either, not even our wives. We could include it in the biopic.
Hansal: And I will add a disclaimer saying this is a dramatised version!

(Desserts arrive: Jalebi Caviar, Chenna Payesh Cheesecake, Ras Malai Tres Leches, and Candy Floss. Both pick up the Candy Floss and are in splits while posing with it.)
Joanna: When not cooking or making films, what do you do?
Hansal: He makes music; he is a drummer. He has a band and they perform too!
Sanjeev: And he cooks!
Hansal: It was my dream to get into catering college, which I managed to live through the show. I don't know if I would love food as much if I do it full-time. I love my full-time job; there's a new story to tell every few months, but food helps me sustain that passion.
Sanjeev: Likewise. I love making music but I don't have it in me to do it full-time.