Who is the most famous chef you might not know?
If India’s present-day 1.17 billion people are any measure, the answer is Sanjeev Kapoor.
Chef Kapoor is the Emeril Lagasse of South Asia, and he is poised to become the first global Super Chef. His reach through the FoodFood TV channel, launched in January 2011, could transform food television. It has the potential to bridge the gulf between India and Pakistan. Hell, it has the potential to span every region of the world to which the Indian diaspora has spread — which is to say, pretty much the whole darn world!
Super Chef had the opportunity to interview Chef Kapoor on his recent visit to the US during which he participated in the Varli Food Festival in New York. Varli’s mission is to promote Indian cuisine, and be the ultimate guide to Indian fine dining. It publishes a bi-monthly magazine, organizes food festivals, and has discount dining cards. New York’s festival included 60 top Indian restaurants, and food events that included Padma Lakshmi, Vikas Khanna, Suvir Saran, Jehangir Mehta, Maneet Chauhan, Hemant Mathur, Prasad Chirnomula, and Hari Nayak. But the biggest draw was Sanjeev Kapoor.
Super Chef: How did you come up with your TV channel, FoodFood? Is it modeled on The Food Network or on something else?
Sanjeev Kapoor: No, it is purely Indian. When I first thought about it eight years ago, I thought of Food Network and BBC Food. I had them in mind, but in terms of content, it is what works in our market. Basically, it targets Indian and South Asia.
Super Chef: Who is watching?
Sanjeev Kapoor: When we first started our target were women 25-44, but as we launched we saw traction from men. We have a gentleman who does a show – it’s an entertaining cooking show, and he is very popular with men. Children of all ages have an affinity to food television. They love watching food being cooked. While they are not our target audience, they do make up part of our viewership.
Super Chef: What is the most popular show on the channel?
Sanjeev Kapoor: That is the show that I host, Sanjeev Kapoor’s Kitchen, I am most known, and it does very well. My show gets the highest rating, but others get very good ratings, too.
Super Chef: Are most of the programs about Indian food?
Sanjeev Kapoor : No, it’s about food for Indians, not Indian food.
Super Chef: I saw there was one show with “Frangi” or French in the title.
Sanjeev Kapoor: I do French, Mexican, and Thai food I teach the audience how to make gnocchi, but with ingredients we get in India. It’s all about what works in India and for Indians. Indians are primarily vegetarian, so if I do spaghetti, with meat sauce, I do it with goat meat, not beef. If I do a Thai curry, I don’t use dry chili,I use fresh. I don’t use fish sauce, since we don’t use it.
Super Chef: Are these shows on once a week or every day?
Sanjeev Kapoor: A few shows are daily, mine is Monday through Friday. Others are three times a week, and we have specials on weddings that change weekly. We also have a show similar to Master Chef. The winner is called a Super Chef!
Super Chef: Is your aim educational or entertainment or both?
Sanjeev Kapoor: Both but more learning. Our viewers want recipes. When we build the lifestyle part of FoodFood, we see how people can learn about healthy living. I also host a news show. We report about new product launches.
Super Chef: Are the shows produced by the FoodFood channel – by your partners or by the talent or independent producers?
Sanjeev Kapoor: Combination of all. I have a production company, and a few other companies produce shows, and BBC produces for us, and other, independent producers
Super Chef: Your partner Astro Overseas Ltd is Malaysian – is FoodFood going to expand to other Asian countries, or does each market need its own channel?
Sanjeev Kapoor: Our aim is to reach the global Indian Diaspora. We have already launched in the Gulf successful. We are advanced state of discussion for US, next few weeks for Canada, and UK, Singapore and Malaysia, and in we have an active discussion for Africa.
Right now we are consolidating our viewership in India. We have increased our viewership three times in our first year, reaching the same level as Discovery channel in 10 years. Our plans are that we reach the entire Indian Diaspora next year. But it’s not just Indians watching. I met an Israeli in the elevator who watches.
Super Chef: Is your competitor the Food Network?
Sanjeev Kapoor: FN is not in India.
Super Chef: What is the next step to expanding Turmeric Vision Pvt Ltd? You already have a TV channel, products, consulting. Are you going to go into print at all?
Sanjeev Kapoor: No, I have 140 books. My wife said, to be honest, I am glad you are not launching a magazine. I haven’t focused on it.
I am very keen to launch in regional Indian languages. We need to reach all of India. The TV business is divided into Hindi, and South Indian. South Indian is bigger than the Hindi market. My next focus is there. I have applied for permission. I want to see FoodFood in other languages – that would be very interesting. I know the Food Network in US launched in Mandarin, so, it is something they have done, so for me, the next step is to launch in regional Indian languages.
Super Chef: What about Pakistan?
Sanjeev Kapoor: We are in active discussion with Pakistan.
Sanjeev Kapoor : Currently we are making our own celebrity chefs. They are more relevant to our audience. The US-based Indian celebrity chefs aren’t well known in India, except for Madhur Jaffrey. They are looking at younger options. Also, food has changed in India, we would give these people exposure in India, but it would fulfill their needs, not ours.
Super Chef: Is India reacting to the same obesity epidemic we have here in the US? Is FoodFood doing something about that?
Sanjeev Kapoor : We schedule over 250 live events a year. There were 20 events last month. I think FoodFood is the only channel in the world to do this. We reach out to schools, mothers, we invite them, our chefs go and demonstrate how to cook healthy food, in schools. FoodFood is one of the top ten most trusted channels among over 600 channels in India. We have to do things no one is doing – through TV, on the ground. We are investing money in this, this will make FoodFood stand apart.