Master chef and food entrepreneur Sanjeev Kapoor and his daughter Rachita have experienced the evolution of food and the kitchen first-hand, personally and professionally.
In the inaugural episode of Season 2 of Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation, they talk about what food, especially home-cooked food, means to them. What does ‘going out’ and ‘eating out’ mean to them? And how do they see the foodscape changing with Covid-19?
Edited excerpts from the discussion, anchored by Harsh Mall:
Ghar ka khana (home-cooked food)
Rachita: There are two aspects: everyday food (dal-roti-sabzi), which is part of a routine—and maybe boring. But when you move away from home, you miss that ghar ka khana; it has a nostalgic value.
Sanjeev: Predictability makes it boring—that’s quite understandable. As a child (in north India), there were celebratory meals even in ghar ka khana. We ate roti-dal-sabzi every day, but on Sundays it would be rice with rajma or kadhi. Rice was celebration for us. We looked forward to Sunday. It was predictable, but that predictability was not boring for us.
Over the years, many changes have come in. Ghar ka khana has taken so many different shapes.
First there was home-cooked food that you ate at home. Then came food you’d order from outside, but eat at home.
So, is it food that is important or where you are eating that is important?
Maybe we didn't have the luxury of thinking like that. For us, whatever we got on our plate, we were happy.
I would say there were not too many choices. Life was much simpler. We were lucky that life wasn’t so complex and complicated.
You mentioned nostalgia. Nostalgia is an emotion which food links very well to. Ghar ka khana, to my mind, you remember the most because it is made with emotions. It is unconditional, and in some sense it’s free. Bahar ka khana (outside or restaurant food) is commerce. It is cooked for profit, but at home it is cooked for care.
Going out and eating out
Rachita: We have so many more options when we go out. Going out is also an easier way to eat for us. It doesn’t involve all the hard work of cooking at home when you have to entertain guests. Because food is just one aspect when you entertain.
Eating out is like a whole journey, a process—right from deciding where to go, which kind of restaurant, the location, the [ambience] based on who you are going with.
Going out to eat is also a reward and a celebration.
That’s how we are wired. We perceive going out as an unwinding or relaxing.
Sanjeev: I was listening to you very carefully. In the last five minutes, you probably said ‘going out’ 83 times. I think that's the difference. Going out, is eating out.
But for us, going out and eating out were different things. Going out meant going [to a park]. When someone said “lets meet” it automatically meant they’re inviting you home. And the ghar ka khana they’d cook would have some set of dishes which you would not eat regularly.
When you are eating out, you are more free, it’s a social need.
I would say that we as a generation are probably more conservative with everything. And that reflected in our food, in the way we spoke, the way we behaved. That has changed a lot and that reflects in food also.
Though sometimes I feel a convergence is happening. There's a desire for home-style food even when people eat out.
We were doing menus for an airline’s first-class travelers. We did a survey. They said when we’re travelling out for a holiday, we want restaurant-like food. But when we are coming back home, we want home-style food. We want khichdi.
Covid-19 and the changing foodscape
Rachita: In the first few weeks of the lockdown, when groceries were limited, we consumed a lot of one-pot meals.
There were things we used to take for granted. Like sliced bread. I remember how excited Kriti (my sister) and I were when we got bread after some 10 days and made sandwiches.
We realized how important food is in our lives. It happens as a well-oiled machine when you live with your parents or you have someone cooking for you. When suddenly it stops, you realize the value.
Since there was no place to go, we started cooking as an ‘activity’. We baked cakes and cookies. But we soon realized that you can’t do this every day.
My friends who live alone, when push came to shove, they had to cook.
So, people who took up cooking as an indulgence, there was a novelty factor. That started going away once the lockdown began to ease up and you could order food again, or get your cook to come again. That said, there are a few people who continued cooking. Maybe they realized I can do it, and it's not that difficult.
Sanjeev: Covid in a sense was a boon for the coming back of home cooking. Globally, home cooking was losing its sheen. It was dying down. There was a McKinsey report—by 2030, they predicted, home kitchens may not exist in the United States. In many countries kitchens have already vanished. And that would have been disastrous. Because home cooking is equal to healthy cooking.
If you're not cooking at home, that means you are not eating as healthy. And if a whole generation finds home cooking cumbersome and boring, and they start to eat unhealthy food, that’s not good.
Rachita: I think a little shift is happening. When we post recipes on your social media platform, on Instagram [which is largely the younger generation], they appreciate it when we post healthy recipes.
Harsh: A question for Sanjeev the entrepreneur and Rachita the marketer: in a world where the pandemic didn't happen, how would you encourage people to cook at home?
Rachita: We as a generation want things quick and convenient. Now there are appliances that do this.
Sanjeev: Our company, Wonderchef—our existence is at stake. If kitchens don't exist, we don't exist.
So we seriously started to look at this fact and in my communication, because I can influence millions of people—I have been consistent with my approach that even if we have to eat restaurant style food, or junk food, cook it at home. Because chances are, you will make it healthier for you.
One will have to bring kitchens back though stories of responsible living, sustainable living, and healthier living.