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Meet the ‘Dancing Chef Of India’

It is best said that, if you wish to learn swimming you need to dive in and splash around. I did that! But having said that, my dad has been my biggest support…Chef Harpal speaks with Lothungbeni Humtsoe

Success comes in a variety of forms and at various times, but most often when we least expect it. This story is about a man who has been a global influencer and who has reinvented cooking shows with his distinct sense of humour and authentic Punjabi desi cooking. The Indian food industry seeks out Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi, who is regarded as the most entertaining and vivacious chef.

We have got in touch with Chef Harpal and this is what he has to say about being known as the “Energy Chef of India” and now the “Dancing Chef Of India”.

Q: Was cooking or being a chef your first dream?

A: Not really, I was born in a place that had two large institutions called Kharagpur. A small British hamlet known for IIT Kharagpur and the longest railway platform in the world. So the first preference of any person is to join IIT and the other to join the Railways. However, my dream was to become a fighter pilot as we also have a very important air base Kalaikunda near Kharagpur, the jet sorties would impress me.

I did appear for National Defence Academy but couldn’t get through, and did not fit into the second attempt as I had crossed the age. My first attempt at IIT did not go through either, so I started preparing for the next year. It was luck by chance that we had a neighbour who had given IHM and completed the course, we were impressed that he got employed immediately after the course and it played a big factor in perusing the course. My elder brother thought it would be a good idea to pursue a skilled course that is more employable. So he filled up the form and things went through that I took up Bhubaneswar as my college and joined the course. The interesting bit is that not a single member of my family knew anything about the course and we had no clue. We never really visited a restaurant as a family, if something had to come from a restaurant it would be bought at home and distributed equally at home.

So I entered a course with no clue or knowledge but something I realised after spending three years, I could become a chef, and from the core of my heart fell in love with it. Once that was decided then there was no looking back it was all about acquiring adequate knowledge on what was required to achieve success. Since then I can say that hardwork, passion, love for the job, perseverance, patience, and knowledge all put together made me who I am today. The journey is still exciting because for me still, every day is a new day of learning as a chef.

Q: What has been your favourite dish?

A: Well as I evolved as a chef I have been consistently training myself to get better at what I am doing. My initial days I remember I spend in the Cold Kitchen, Gardemanger as we call it and I loved doing butter sculptures, ice carvings, cold cuts, etc, then later when I went into the Indian kitchen, I started cooking black dal very well, I still remember in one of the five-star hotels in Nagpur where I was the chef, people would just come to pack the dal. Then in my own restaurant Karigari there are so many favourites that I love to cook daily Dal Makhni, Besan Spring Onion ki subji, Butter Chicken, Mirchi ka Halwa. I spent a lot of time mastering the art of Hyderabadi food under Begum Mumtaz Khan and Habib Pasha. I still remember the Pathar ka Gosht we used to cook in our restaurant Vintage was something people would queue up for. A good Hyderabadi Biryani is something I can eat daily with a proper Mirchi ka Salan.

Q: Who inspired you to excel in this field?

A: It is best said that, if you wish to learn swimming you need to dive in and splash around. I did that! But having said that, my dad has been my biggest support. He would keep articles about senior chefs and their recipes from newspapers, and give them to me when I visited. The efforts of the entire family helped me reach wherever I am today. All my seniors with whom I worked and those with whom I did not have always been there in my mind. Respect to all for those who supported me directly and indirectly.

Q: How did you choose to participate in a dance reality show?

A: This is one of the best things that have happened to me as a chef. ‘A never say die’ attitude led me to this great platform. I always thought what are the differentiators in life to stand out as a chef. This was one of the biggest things. Like I went to do hotel management without knowing anything about it, I choose a dance reality show without knowing how to dance. But once I entered then there was no looking back, I practiced for 10 hours and thanks to Bhavna Purohit and the team, who taught me everything. As a non-dancer, I am the only person in the history of Jhalak to reach up round 5. If you enjoy doing what you are doing then there is no looking back. Don’t worry about the outcome, give it a 100 per cent.

Q: What motivates you to keep going and exploring various fields?

A: Every day I wake and ask myself what’s new today and how will I make it more exciting. This is just not for me but for my entire team. We discuss what’s new and try to work around it. God has been kind that he puts me across various people from different fields and I keep learning. Be it learning offbeat things in my own field, like tribal foods, Ayurvedic food, packaged food, etc, or be its digital platforms and their learning to be updated with technology. Incidentally, I am the only chef to have done a dance reality show, two movies, and proper fiction serials apart from about 8-10 food shows in various mediums. I still feel there’s a music album and a proper mainstream movie yet to happen, someday!

Q: You’ve worn many hats, which is your favourite?

A: Well, I specialised in Hyderabadi food, and have spent time with Begum Mumtaz Khan, Mehboob Alam Khan, Habib Pasha, and the streets of Hyderabad Puran Quilla. That is something that I always mention as a specialisation. Incidentally, I am Punjabi so I understand the fine points of Punjabi food as I would closely watch my mother cook. These days the learning is on pro-biotic foods, tribals foods and the Ayurvedic food experience is never-ending.

Q: What message would you like to give to your followers?

A: Well, there is only one thing I understand, do whatever you do with your heart and soul in it, then you are bound to see success. It might not come early sometimes but it will surely come someday. Put in all your efforts, hard work, patience, and dedication, and acquire as much knowledge as you can, the world will be yours.

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