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Growing Up with Mustard Oil

Celebrity Chef, restaurateur and writer Kunal Kapur grew up in Punjab. He recalls that food was always a topic of conversation, even while eating, and the aroma of Mustard Oil was a common smell wafting enticingly from the rasoi (kitchen). These conversations and aromas are indelibly linked with almost all of his happy childhood memories.

Chef Kapur’s latest cookbook is called: Kunal Kapur in the Kitchen – Family Meals, and it captures many of those conversations about food that he grew up listening to. And one of the important lessons that he learnt from the Punjabi culinary style was that food is all about bringing family and friends together. Food unifies. Food offers a platform for sharing not just recipes but also passions, dreams and aspirations.

Food is also about togetherness. During Chef Kapur’s childhood, all meals had to be eaten as a family… at the dining table. This rule was stringently enforced by the elders. Eating in the living room while watching television was unthinkable! No, every meal was a family experience with the food as the centrepiece. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that ensued had one positive outcome, according to Chef Kapur – families started cooking together and eating together once again.

One of the first dishes that he made as a kid was something he calls Masala Piyaaz… made with an onion, some basic everyday spices and, of course, Mustard Oil. He would take a whole onion, carefully make a series of slits in it using a knife, add the spices, gently brush the onion with Mustard Oil and then grill it.

One thing is sure – the traditional Punjabi culinary influence, the food-centric discussions, the close-knit family and the familiarity with Mustard Oil had a profound effect on Chef Kapur, shaping his career and propelling him to fame and success.

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