“What is a better source of happiness than food,” asks celebrity chef and TV personality Harpal Singh Sokhi

A well-known celebrity chef, Harpal Singh Sokhi is a trailblazer in culinary art. He is known for his energetic and exuberant cooking style that takes him on a gastronomic journey of evangelising Indian fusion food. Harpal Singh’s TV persona of a happy, dancing chef is loved by all and closely mirrors his personality. He talks about his TV shows, restaurant businesses and namak shamak in this interview with Vikhroli Cucina.

17 May 2019

Foodie for life

Harpal Singh’s interest in cooking and all things food began in his early years. As a young boy, he loved helping his mother in the kitchen and enjoyed cooking up delicious food with her for the family. Impressed with his penchant for food, his older brother suggested that he study hotel management, which Harpal Singh says was excellent advice, “While I was studying hotel management in Bhubaneswar, I decided that this makes me happy and I would like to pursue this as my profession.”

Harpal soon developed a great interest in Indian cuisine and traditional Indian food. His thirst for knowledge led him to Hyderabad where he approached venerated chefs Begum Mumtaz Khan and Ustad Habib Pasha to teach him the intricacies of traditional Hyderabadi cuisine. Harpal Singh recollects, “Begum helped me appreciate Indian cuisine and taught me a series of traditional vegetarian dishes such as Ashrafi ki mithai, Khatte baingan and other treasured delicacies.”

These great chefs taught him about striking the right balance and how to bring out the best from spices and herbs. He recalls, “Learning with Begum and Ustad changed my perspective on Indian cuisine. I learned how to create the right blend of herbs and spices. Every recipe has several stages to it and it very important to add the right ingredient at the right stage.”

A great believer in learning, the chef in Harpal appreciates the importance of knowledge. He opines, “When you are a chef, the learning never stops. The learning is multiphase and extends beyond cooking.”

The happy chef

Chef Harpal’s TV show Turban Tadka brought him immense fame and popularity not only in India but around the world. Aired on Food Food channel, the show was one of the top-rated cookery shows in the country. His energetic style of cooking and his now famous catchphrase of ‘Namak shamak namak shamak daal dete hai’ won the hearts of the audiences. Harpal Singh says, “I believe cooking should be a fun process. If you cook with a positive attitude, the food is automatically very tasty.”

With Turban Tadka, he showed people how to cook delicious food using certain ingredients that they had not previously used or even heard about. Harpal Singh introduced a generation of Indians to these ingredients and taught them how to elevate their cooking. He says fondly, “The secret ingredient of my recipe always brought a smile on people’s faces.”

His jolly TV persona and his famous namak shamak tagline made him a recognisable face across the country. He recounts, “Salt is an ingredient that goes in almost all the dishes we cook. It inspired me to create my catchphrase ‘Namak shamak namak shamak daal dete hai’ which went on to reach every household in the country. Every time people hear me singing namak shamak, they are immediately filled with great energy and happiness.”

Chef Harpal possesses high-voltage energy and an infectious personality that immediately attracts people. On Turban Tadka, he dances his way through the show infusing humour and excitement in everything he cooks. Good food, he believes, comes from a place of happiness. He explains, “Happiness is produced from within, and is unrelated to and not derivable from external matters. Just as we need exercise to stay healthy, we need happiness too. And what can be a better source of happiness than food?”

Unique food style

Over the years, Chef Harpal has created a signature fusion style where he marries traditional Indian food with international cuisine. His most famous dishes – butter chicken poutine and Oreo pakoda – were received with great excitement. He believes that there is a method behind creating the perfect fusion dish and one must be aware of the taste and the blend of ingredients of both the cuisines to create a tasty dish that is the amalgamation of two different cuisines.

He says, “Fusion food is born out of a culinary technique that combines two cuisines in one. I like to combine desi tadka with international cuisines. I think fusion food can never be boring; there will always be something interesting that will come out of combining two cuisines.”

Chef Harpal has a deep understanding of the relationship between traditional food and its healing properties according to Ayurveda. He believes that the food we eat affects our consciousness and we must always eat mindfully. He elaborates, “I learned about Indian food and its healing properties from Dr Omkar Bilgi, a famous Ayurvedic doctor. He taught me the secrets of Ayurvedic cooking as mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures. The ancient texts say that the essence of the world is composed of three modes – the satvic (good) mode, the rajasic (passion) mode and the tamasic (ignorance) mode. Everything we do in life including the food we eat, our thoughts, our lifestyle and our actions are also categorised into these three modes. It is very important to strike a balance between the three modes to lead a healthy life.”

Future perfect

Chef Harpal is not just a popular chef; he is an accomplished businessman too. He has brought his love for food to the people with his restaurants, outlets and food brands. BB Jaan, named after his former teacher Begum Mumtaz Khan, is all about the royal cuisines of India with special emphasis on Hyderabadi cuisine. Twist of Tadka is a fun and casual restaurant with authentic food from his TV show, Turban Tadka. Dhadoom is a fun and young food brand of poutines, mains, desserts and beverages. Genuine Broaster Chicken is available in 36 countries and in more than 20 stores in India. It is positioned as American Soul Indian Heart and the menu is crafted with Harpal Singh’s style of tadka.

In the future, the happy chef plans to spread his outlets and restaurants across the globe and spread happiness forever with a pinch of his favourite namak shamak. Team Vikhroli Cucina, wishes him the best in all his endeavours.