In Conversation with ‘Energy Chef’ Harpal Singh Sokhi
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is a celebrity chef from India. Also known as “Energy Chef of India” is now a “Dancing Chef of India”. He has vast experience of 25 years in hospitality industry. He is also known as
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is a celebrity chef from India. Also known as “Energy Chef of India” is now a “Dancing Chef of India”. He has vast experience of 25 years in hospitality industry. He is also known as Culinary Icon across different nations. He has been articulating the approach and process of Food business set up for various clients situated in different parts of India and abroad. His end to end consulting right from Conception to implementation to operations set up has benefited his clients across the globe.
He was awarded Indo-Australian Cultural by the Victorian Council Australia in October 2014, for promoting Indian food and culture in Australia. Currently, he was awarded as the Best Chef of the year 2016 Award at National Restaurants Congress, 2016.
He is the founder of 4 chains of Restaurants that are BB Jaan, Dhadoom, Chika Chika and Twist of Tadka.
Chef Harpal is a music lover and is fluent in English and five Indian regional languages – Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Oriya and Telugu.
HospiBuz brings you an exclusive interview, straight from the words of Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi, to know more about how he evolved from his experiences, his journey and his views on current market trends.
HospiBuz : Sir, you are world famous for the song “Namak Shamak” and twist and turn in your dance steps, similarly you are an epitome of a refreshing twist in Indian cuisine. What is the underlying concept or mantra in your style of cooking? How it differentiate you from others?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: I must say that cooking is a very passionate thing and it comes from the heart of a person. Having spent 25 years in the industry and outside cooking for various genres I only look upon the audience that I cook for and follow my own principles. For example when I cook for television I put myself into the shoes of the audience and think can they replicate what I am cooking in all corners of the world. Similarly when it comes to cooking hotels and restaurants I look at the surprise elements in each dish that I cook.
HospiBuz : You are an expert in blending a variety of ingredients while cooking. What are your strategies while designing the wide range of palate in the menu?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: The most important thing in any cooking is understanding of each ingredient and how it would work best in a dish. Since I specialize in Indian food which actually is a very complex cuisine as compared to most cuisines of the world, imagine one cooking a biryani with more than 30-40 ingredients yet you want to achieve one flavour which would remind you of a great biryani. India being a vast country with produce that varies across the country hence dishes vary in each part as the produce influences the cuisine.
Since I manage a restaurant franchise business and the offering in each of the brand concept is different so that they fit well and can be housed in a single city depending on the city size too. I think the first and most important thing when you develop a concept is based on the need and then you define the menu offering. For example my brand Twist of Tadka which is a restaurant that offers popular and comfort Indian food, my food memories from my mothers kitchen, Turban Tadka my television show and my travels across the world. BBjaan is a concept that offers high end fine dining a concept which i formulated during my days of training in the Nizams kitchens where the head lady in the Jagirdhar family was address as BBjaan because she was responsible for the entire food offerings in the Nizams kitchen. So when you dine in BBjaan the offering is purely Nizami food and Royal cuisine food which is well researched from across the Royal households. Dhadoom is a fast casual, young QSR meant for youngsters who are looking for some fun and the offering revolves around fries and more. Dhadoom when you first hear is a flavour blast in your mind and the concept offers food that creates a blast of flavour in each bite.
Having defined the offering then you select locations that would be apt to house each restaurant, not all can be opened everywhere For every restaurant apart from the common offering some bit of localization is important and we adopt that in all our restaurants..
HospiBuz : You are founder of 4 brands that is BB Jaan, Dhadoom, Chika Chika and Twist of Tadka; could you please share your experience, journey and motto behind you restaurants?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: As a Chef I am sure we all have ambitions and wish to have our own restaurants. While my television show Turban Tadka became immensely popular across the country and the World people started approaching me to open restaurants with them. I saw an opportunity sitting there and registered a few brand concepts based on the offering. My first restaurant Turban tadka opened in 2011 in Kathmandu and became immensely popular and we opened more of the same concept in other brand names, which I finally consolidated to Twist of Tadka, offering food with a bit of twist. I also registered BBjaan a concept based on my training in the Royal Kitchens of the Nizams. I found that free standing star hotels required Celebrity Chef driven restaurants and this was an apt upscale brand for such individual star hotels. This was conceptualized during my training in the Nizam’s Jagirdhar family kitchens in Hyderabad and in the royal kitchens across the country.
While I covered the Indian genre I had to develop a brand for the younger generation and here we developed Dhadoom which I am now opening across the country in association with Yellow Tie Hospitality LLP. The offering quirky fries in different formats that appeal to younger generation. We would extend this probably into large scale fun restaurants with craft beer.
The most popular cuisine after Indian couldn’t be missed Chinese and specially the Rasta Chinese which everyone relishes across the country. So we created a brand called CHIKA CHIKA and we would be opening the same in association with Yellow Tie hospitality.
HospiBuz : You have redefined cookery shows with own style of cooking and presenting. How have such shows and especially the social media affected the youth in entering the culinary world and the concept of cooking as a profession?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: I remember it was 2010 when most people I would speak to would shy away from the kitchen. I was doing television in bits and pieces for various channels across the country and realized that if something that would excite people and encourage them to cook was not done then we loose out a complete generation who would not be interested in cooking. Fortunately during that period serious players in Television emerged and so did cooking. That is the time I conceptualized Turban Tadka and offered it to FOODFOOD televison network. They loved the concept right away and since the channel was just launched it slowly became popular. I did what people wanted me to do. I used to hear them out when I traveled across the country for road shows and live demonstrations. I always kept people first in my mind before creating any recipe. I followed a principle that everyone can come, you just to start and the most important thing bringing humour and fun in cooking. I understood that in India generally there is one person cooking for the entire family so there has to be some fun and that is how Namak Shamak happened and it became popular.
It was also during this period that other food channels and other food shows were launched in Main stream channels. All this helped to make food the hero and everyone got excited about food as a subject. Social media helped in building up the momentum further. People started sharing food photographs, their selfies in kitchens, travels. All this added up to make food popular and I am sure this has helped many FMCG companies to create new offerings. While traditional is still the approach to food, however the younger generation is definitely looking at things beyond tradition.
HospiBuz : Ayurveda is said to enhance the value of food and you yourself is known to incorporate ayurvedic concepts into your recipes. Can you please tell us some of the principles and techniques of Ayurveda being applied in your cooking?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: Ayurveda is a way of life as we all know. To cook Ayurvedic food in todays world is a challenge but not impossible. I try to incorporate principles of ayurveda into my cooking and that I feel every Chef who wants to learn Indian cuisine must follow and read. It is such a great subject we all run to acquire the knowledge of International cuisine, molecular, progressive but we have a treasure house of food in Ayurveda and I am sure in time to come we will see food companies bringing in Ayurvedic products across the Food Shelves.
I think the most important aspect is to understand each ingredients how it best works when blended with others. In my latest research I realized that while Turmeric Latte is becoming very famous across the world, however see that most people use Cinnamon powder as topping which is probably not the best match a little bit of freshly crushed pepper and jaggery instead of sugar works best. So these are basically understanding of Ayurvedic principles which help me build most of my recipes. Another great example is Mirchi ka Halwa that is offered in my restaurant Twist of Tadka. After a great Indian meal in my restaurant two to three spoon fulls will help you in digestion and will not make you feel bloated.
HospiBuz : You have a spectrum of people from 2 years to 90 years, following you on TV and Web series. How have you managed to win the heart of such large viewers? What is the mindset of the people due to which audience love your show?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: Like I mentioned before I do what people love me to do. It is simply a delight to watch how people react and feel happy when they watch me cook on my television show Turban Tadka. I am first of all thankfull to God for this. The younger generation watches me specially the 2-8 year old kids, for the Namak Shamak jingle, they all run around the house singing the same. Even when they meet me the first thing I hear from them is Namak Shamak. The younger generation 18-35 watches me because they feel that I bring in simplicity in cooking and watching me they feel like cooking. The older generation watches me because I share food stories from across India and specially which they can relate to feel happy. So the underlining to everything is spreading happiness.
While on television I am fun to watch, familiar, one among-st everyone’s family, these are the things which I keep hearing from people. The love that everyone shares with me is amazing and I can only thank the almighty for this. It brings in immense responsibility on my shoulders to see that I must keep doing this for ages and be myself in the ageless genre.
HospiBuz : The Joy on your face, singing and dancing while cooking, it seems you are celebrating the experience of cooking. How this jolly approach to cooking makes a difference?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: This actually reminds of me of my mother spending the whole day in the kitchen cooking alone with nobody around. When I started cooking I would always feel that how did our mothers achieve such a great feat, making the family happy with each meal. I am sure there is divinely love which comes from passion and the heart. When I started cooking I wanted to experience the same thing and somehow my whole identity changes while I am in the kitchen be it in front of camera, my studio kitchens or my restaurant kitchens. I love to spend hours and make my team happy. When you keep everyone happy and spread happiness it reflects in the food and even the consumer who is consuming feels the happiness. I must thank my mother and all the mothers who have given us great food memories.
HospiBuz : You have been acknowledged for promoting Indian food and cultures in Australia.Please tell us about your restaurants in abroad. How do you differentiate Indian food across the globe?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: It has been a great journey promoting Indian food through food festivals in hotels, my restaurants and my food products. I share a brand called Sabrini in Australia which I work with a very famous brand called Pattu. As a brand Pattu has been very popular in Australia for distribution of commodities and they lacked in culinary value added Indian food products. We first started off creating authentic flavoured food products which had memories of my travel and my mother’s kitchen. WE created a line of Frozen food products which included kekabs, Asli Punjabi samosas, culinary value added Potli Samosas, Harra Bharra kebab restaurant style, Moong dal Stuffed Aloo tikki they way you would get in Amritsar, meal trays. It has now been over three years and Sabrini is a well established brand in the frozen food line. We are now looking at extending the same to chutneys, pickles and healthy snacks.
It is a great learning for Indian food abroad, while the popular Indian food has changed a bit become less spicy in most countries but the authentic restaurants and high end restaurants in Australia are offering authentic flavours and have not compromised on the spice levels. They strongly believe that authentic flavours give you the real taste of Indian food. My childhood friends restaurant Dehi O Delhi, in Sydney which is a One Hat restaurant offers authentic food and I have conducted food festivals for him, he does not compromise on flavours and the spice level at all.
HospiBuz : What was the idea or purpose of getting associated with Yellow Tie and creating new quirky QSR concept?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: I had concepts that were operating in the specialized Indian food genre. They were typical family dining restaurants and I wanted a younger brand for the youth of today hence I thought that creating a new idea for the younger generation was important. It was during my travel to Canada for launching my food products I came across Poutine which was fries loaded with chicken makhni, cheese and that was a rage in Canada. I felt that this is a great concept for the younger generation. I picked up the idea and shared with Yellow tie to create the concept.
Similarly Yellow Tie was also looking at more concepts within their company so we extended the brand Chika Chika which is a Chinese QSR to them. We would probably roll out one to establish the brand and then grow it further.
The whole idea of extending my brands to Yellow Tie was to have a serious player managing them on day to day basis. Since I had conceptualized the menu for the first brand concept of Yellow Tie called Broasters our synergies matched and I thought that they are the best people to manage my own brands on day to day basis. For any business association I think it is important that your thought process matches, which helps to grow the business.
HospiBuz : What would be some quick tips you would like to give to our aspiring young chefs who dreams to enter into the global market and becoming global chefs.
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: A few important things, stay focused, be passionate about whatever you do and keep reading everything about hospitality and food.
HospiBuz : HospiBuz is working on its vision to be the most informative media house on hospitality where HospiBuz aims to cover well accomplished and budding heroes of hospitality sector. With your immense experience and knowledge in the industry please suggest, what should journalism in Hospitality sector covers the most?
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi: I think hospitality should cover things beyond hotels. It should look at covering everything that revolves around food. I wish you all the best.
Thank you so much for your prestigious time!!