Life and Zest


Cheerful disposition this man talks of good food and health. His cooking-style and screen presence has earned him many fans. Children identify him with the catch-phrase, ‘namak-shamak’. Known for propagating happiness, Harpal Singh Sokhi is simultaneously worried about lethargy taking over. In an exclusive interview with Special Correspondent Siddharth Iyer, the celebrity chef talks about a wide range of issues. Excerpts.

You are popular as ‘Happy Chef’. Even children love your catchphrase ‘NamakShamak’. But when you see 9 out of 10 people suffering health disorders what goes in your mind?
I will be honest with you. As chef, I believe it’s very important to teach children about health. Even as a father it worries me because my daughters are obese. Kids must be taught good food habits from day one. And most importantly make them hyperactive.

If you are not curtailing their habits, then make them hyperactive. Make them run around, jump, dance, swim. Do not stop them. That’s how you will be able to burn their energy. Otherwise, they will keep eating chocolates. They are not in your control. The moment they are 7-8-years old, they will start hanging out with friends and eating chips, burgers etc.

It’s not that I wasn’t eating anything as a child. I used to eat everything I used to get. I never thought I will get obese because I used to play cricket three hours. I used to run around for another two hours. So, 4-5 hours I was hyperactive. During those days life was not sedentary. I didn’t have a driver or a car. Today, I provide such facilities to my daughters.

provide the same to our children. But we are not making them physically active. They enjoy sitting in front of TVs and having chips. Rather, they must be sent out of the house so that they burn whatever they have eaten.

Of course, care must be taken so that theirs is not overindulgence. Limit their food without limiting their nourishment.

It is very easy to say don’t eat this or that. But when it comes to certain favourite dishes, people are sometimes confused…
In my TV shows I cook healthy stuffs but also say a paratha can’t be delicious without a good amount of ghee/butter. I say enjoy food but ensure you balance it well the next day by exercising. If you can’t balance it the next day stop eating good food! Good food comes at a price. First, the price is good taste. So, a good samosa or a papdi-chaat needs to be burnt well. That’s very important. One must balance by eating in a restrictive manner.

Gujarat is diabetic capital of India. Be it south or north, people don’t have control over food…
Entire India doesn’t have control over food! Forget Gujarat or South. Punjab completely has gone out of control.

Whenever I watch a cookery show, they will start with a healthy dish. Suddenly, paneer becomes healthy for them. Then white butter is healthy. And, cheese is very healthy because they think it has good calcium. It’s not the harmful fat they think about. They don’t want to compromise on taste. But as we do that, remember we must ensure the country exercises.

In future, I may become diabetic. My family history is diabetic. But I am trying to prolong it as much as possible. Since last 5-6 years, I have consciously stopped consuming (sweet) tea. I used to earlier take 7-8 cups of tea. I have a sweet tooth, but I avoid it sometimes. When I eat a sweet, I ensure I jog/walk the next day. Sometimes, due to family history you may become victim to a certain disease. But you can prolong or control that by exercising.

When someone comes to know about being diabetic, he/she will stop eating rice, roti. It’s wrong. I say eat but in proportion. Diabetes is a lifestyle disease. If it’s hereditary, nothing can be done. But if you change your lifestyle, including food habits, you will be happy.

Also, ensure you don’t have dinner at 11 in the night and then go straight to sleep. NO! You are inviting trouble. Fortunately, in Gujarat people do eat before 8 pm. That’s a very good habit. In north, dinner begins at 10-10:30 pm. That’s the most dangerous thing. And after that, people don’t even sit in vajrasana.

Vajarasan for 15 minutes is very good. People say they will see once they are diagnosed with a disease. It’s a dangerous mindset, and welcomes disease faster.

As chef you must have certain moral duties in making people healthy. How are you working in that direction?
Through my show ‘Turban Tadka’, I keep telling people ‘India is a fantastic country.’ It produces so many seasonal food-items. But how many do consume bajra or jowar in winters? Nobody! Unless there’s a brand that talks of multi-grain atta or bread, no one is bothered. But you won’t go for a natural and cheaper bajra or jowar. They think making these items are difficult.

But they can be learnt over a period. Moreover, people must also consume green leafy vegetables. One of the most challenging thing in our diet is the quantity of oil. Control oil intake.

As a chef, I do tell people to indulge in good food because I show them on TV. But I also tell them to keep their health in mind. For instance, while making deserts I tell people to be responsible. I advise them to go for ‘gud-bajraki barfi’, or a ‘jawari-roti churi’. I also tell them to add 85% dark chocolate in the dishes.

Most have no discipline in eating. After consuming watermelon, they will immediately drink lassi. Or after having papaya, they will have a milkshake. These are all ‘killer habits’.

In times of competition, a channel has 5-6 cookery shows. Most go for innovative dishes. But don’t you think these innovations sometimes risk our health? As chef, do you face such dilemma?

As you rightly pointed out, chefs pan India do innovation. It’s a good thing since food-awareness increases. But more and more youngsters are getting drawn into fast-food culture. Along with innovation, spreading health awareness is also important. And so, I ask my viewers to balance food intake with exercise.
These days, a food-stall guy earns more than a normal salaried person.What can be the reason for people running behind fast-food, especially in urban areas?As we are growing, our aspirations are growing. We have also started believing that ‘live in today’. And today’s youth believes in living the life in present. They don’t worry about the future.

Even parents are too protective towards their children, so they keep feeding them everything. This aspiration for food will always be there.

You can’t run away from food. It’s a basic need. For the modern kids, it’s also a matter of culture. To sit and have burgers with friends is a culture. There’s nothing wrong. But they must also indulge in running, walking, jogging etc. Input will blast the system unless output is there as exercise.

Food and hospitality is the first sector which gets the impact of economy. Because lots of people come and spend. The thought of saving money reduces, and you channelize money behind food. And most people prefer instant food-products like pasta, noodles etc. Change is difficult unless people change their mindsets. People think if they change, then their family won’t like it. If you ask your mother to put a completely different ingredient in the dal, will she allow? No.

But is there any vaccination for fast-food?
No there’s not! Look at the beverage companies. Is there any vaccination? They still sell. Despite all educative videos, still most people go for such items.

So you are saying it’s difficult to change the mindsets?
It’s changing slowly. It won’t change overnight. But it will take time.

These days there’s a trend of ‘Smart’ things like ‘smart cities’. Have you ever thought of ‘smart food’?
Yes, of course! When you talk about salads, green tea, soya/ tofu you talk of smart foods. Previously, tofu was very limited in shops. Nowadays, there are heaps of tofu in markets. Which means, people are eating. Earlier, there used to be complaints that tofu doesn’t sell. You also see vegetable puffs, veg chips, low fried/ oven baked snacks etc. So, things are changing.

Sometimes, I see people drinking 8-10 cups of green tea. They don’t know the actual effect of green tea. They just see that green tea helps in weight loss. Green tea is anti-oxidant, and it’s such a broad term people don’t understand. Green tea has a simple function: thins the blood. So, they must also learn to consume such things in moderation.

Since my dad was a diabetic, my mother used to prepare curry out of drumsticks’ leaves. It was quite normal for us. In those days, we didn’t go to markets to buy them. We also had a neem tree, so my mother used to prepare neem curry. But today, people don’t know how to eat such things or how much to eat. Moreover, they abstain from eating them since they are bitter. So, we must know the benefits of natural products and consume them often.

If India needs to become a superpower, its people must be healthy! And as chef, I strive to make people healthy!

Thanks chef! Would you tell our Prime Minister to promote ‘smart foods’.
Sure, sure! I will.

You might have won many awards, right?
Yes. But these days, awards come with a price tag. (laughs)