Pickle-making epitome of culinary strength: Celebrity chef Kunal Kapur (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, Sep 12 (IANS) It can’t get more micro than this: an 18-episode TV show on Indian pickles that celebrity chef Kunal Kapur is hosting as he says making preserves “is the epitome of culinary strength”.

“Making a pickle is the epitome of culinary strength; it is an art that is combined with a high level of science of preserving food,” Kapur, whose “Pickle Nation” show went on air Friday evening, told IANS in an e-mail interview.

“It is said that pickles were first made in India. It was here in India that, for the first time, the art form of cooking was taken to a higher level science, which is preservation. This preservation of art is to most of us just an accompaniment, whereas seldom do we realise how it is the reason for our existence and a living proof of the genius that exists in our country,” Kapur said, explaining the rationale behind the show, which will air at 8.30 pm on Friday-Saturday on Living Foods channel, the successor to Zee Khana Khazana.

The show took him to 11 cities of India, including Ahmedabad, Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kochi, Panaji, Pondicherry, Shillong, Udaipur and Varanasi to unravel an interesting pickle tale of each region.

“There are ingredients and techniques that keep you intrigued and surprised. Not just each region but each community has some unique pickles and their own unique reasons and stories behind how and why they prepare them.”As I have discovered, pickles are an integral part of how people define their food culture, and each region is intensely passionate about their pickles,” Kapur said.

For instance, with the Parsis in Ahmedabad, it is mandatory to make lagan nu achar and give it to the elders and relatives in the family before they formalise the marriage of a couple, said Kapur, who has been a judge on the Master Chef India show and has authored a book titled “A Chef In Every Kitchen”.

“In another fascinating instance, the Karbi tribe in Meghalaya has evolved a special dance that enacts the recipe of the Bamboo pickle. The ancestors knew that if the bamboo was not pickled in the right season then it might lead to hunger in the winters, and so the recipe for this crucial pickle was made into a dance form and till date the couples enact this dance to reveal the recipe,” said Kapur, who has also been seen on popular cooking show “My Yellow Table” on NDTV Good Times, with whom he is in talks for season II.

Towards the far west, in Jodhpur, the ker sangri ka achar is the legacy of love for nature of the Bishnoi tribe.

“The ker shrub and the sangri tree are the few that grow in this otherwise difficult region. The cattle would eat it and give milk. The roots would hold on to the soil, and at the same time, the tree would give shelter. The fruits of the khejri tree is the sangri and this tree is a very critical tree to the ecology of the place. Many have sacrificed their lives to protect this tree. The ker sangri pickle made from this tree is one of the reasons for the survival of the Bishnoi tribe,” Kapur said.

Another fine example is the Mahali pickle made by the Tamilian Brahmins.

“Mahalo is a root that smells of intense vanilla, bitter almond and cinnamon, and it is pickled in yogurt. It is not short of a miracle that no vinegar or oil is used yet the pickle survives for over two years in curd,” the chef noted.

Then, a Hyderabadi style of mango pickle breaks the long held notion by me that a drop of water can destroy a pickle, as this mango pickle is made in water! “Limestone or chuna is added to preserve the pickle,” said Kapur, who also anchored a travel show titled “Foodie Comes to America” that was telecast on Times Now in the US and is now shooting for its second season in New York.

“The depth of taste and passion along with the personality of the pickle maker is one common thread that I found in my wonderful journeys of discovery,” Kapur said, adding: “It is very easy to buy a pickle off the shelf and settle with it, but it takes a whole lot of love to go out to buy the right ingredient, put in the hard work, take the utmost care and then patiently wait as it pickles.”

“Love, honesty and dedication are what every pickle requires,” Kapur maintained.

Despite this, “we have never really given a pickle Maker his/her due importance. This show explores not just pickles but the unique pickle makers that have relentlessly been at it,” Kapur concluded.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

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