SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Renowned Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor is known for wearing an eternal smile, his sense of humor and, of course, his lip-smacking food. The celebrity chef showcased all of the above in good doses at the launch of his new restaurant, The Yellow Chilli, here June 18.
Located at the Monticello Apartment Homes complex off Lawrence Expressway, the restaurant is the latest addition to Kapoor’s growing chain of restaurants.
When Kapoor arrived for the inauguration ceremony, he received a grand welcome – replete with a red carpet, Bhangra dhol playing, and local dignitaries felicitating him – befitting a chef of his stature.
“It’s a lovely reception,” remarked Kapoor after the ribbon cutting ceremony, adding that “we’ll keep on giving good food to people in this part of the world, I promise you.”
Once inside the yellow-themed restaurant, the exuberant chef was all smiles after he was greeted by a room full of excited guests, many from the Indian American community, who said that over the years, he had touched their lives in some way, shape or form.
In a freewheeling chat, Kapoor, who hosted the beloved food show, “Khana Khazana,” for 17 years, spoke about what defines his food, how he interacts with the ingredients, his culinary philosophy, and his expansion plans.
“My belief is that The Yellow Chilli should stand for true blue Indian food the way Indians eat, we eat. It’s not that we want to change it for the world,” he said at the outset. “Yes, we would do customization…our repertoire of India food is so big that if I want to create a menu just with the steamed foods from India, I could do that. I could do spicier and less spicy, too.”
Kapoor stressed that he wants to show the world that Indian food can be cooked with “great quality and fresh ingredients and a lot of expertise and there can be finesse.”
“It’s not just cheap and cheerful,” he told the guests who mingled over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
The chef, who began his career whipping up fancy dishes at five-star hotels, told the attendees that his goal is to serve similar food at half the cost.
“We deliver high-quality food and service at great price point, that’s our philosophy,” he said, adding that though customers come to The Yellow Chilli because of his name, they should remember the names of the chefs when they leave.
Kapoor also revealed that as a brand, they do “play around” with the ingredients but the changes are very subtle, like their signature dishes, ‘shaam savera,’ a take on saag paneer; and ‘gulab-e-gulkand,’ gulab jamuns stuffed with rose petal compote.
“The food should bring a little bit of smile to your face,” he said. “There is a certain touch of an ingredient, which if you want to notice, you will, and if you want to ignore it, it won’t bother you, like a traditional kebab with a touch of lemongrass.”
He kept the conversation light, with answers like, “If you want to lose weight, start throwing your weight around.”
While stating that one should “smile” while cooking to lend the food positivity, Kapoor prepared a bowl of clam chowder with some Indian ingredients and presented it to Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
The Indian food franchise is currently available in most Indian and Middle Eastern cities. Kapoor told India-West that he has plans to expand the brand’s footprint in the U.S. and Canada, with many more locations lined up.
“We are looking at growing the brand Yellow Chilli in America,” Kapoor told India-West. “And we would be opening at few other places: Atlanta, Georgia; Irvine, Calif.; New Orleans, Louisiana; we’ve opened one in Toronto, Canada. We’ve signed 11 outlets in the Greater Toronto area.”
Kapoor said that the next year or so would provide more clarity in terms of their expansion plans.
“We are looking at other locations but we want to make sure we have a strong foothold in understanding the market, the challenges, whatever there is to learn before we have our aggressive growth pattern,” he told India-West. “So, I would say we would look at all the things in the next one year so that we can learn.”
Kapoor, who has authored over 150 cookbooks, also runs his own food channel, through which he shares thousands of recipes. He also owns the appliance/cookware brand, Wonderchef.
The Padma Shree awardee, who has alternated between being a chef and an entrepreneur with equal finesse, said that even though every restaurant is managed locally, it has to comply with the set regulatory standards.
“It’s not just the taste, it’s the whole experience. We have brand standards,” Kapoor told India-West. “Our belief is that it’s not a cookie cutter kind of approach. The Yellow Chilli brand is a neighborhood area concept brand and we have to be relevant in the area and so we are constantly learning. So, the way we work is we have our core values which defines the brand, and then we work very closely with our partners – our chefs, our team, investor team – and collectively come up with solutions. and in that as a part of the process, we have audits, both mystery and regular. We also have product upgrade teams.”
Kapoor told India-West that this is “serious business” for them.
“We are not fly-by-night operators. We are here to stay,” he said, adding that they want to minimize mistakes. “We work constantly and continuously to train newer people and to make sure our brand standards are met.”
Kapoor is a man of many talents, and playing drums is one of them. He also has his own band, and he promised the attendees that he will bring live music to the restaurant.
Some of the Indian American dignitaries present at the event included Harbir Bhatia, cultural commissioner of Santa Clara; Saratoga councilmember Rishi Kumar; Ajay Bhutoria, member of the Democratic National Finance Committee; TiE leader Vish Mishra; Ravindra Lal, board member of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce; and Cupertino councilwoman Savita Vaidhyanathan.
Vaidhyanathan, Gillmor, and Bhutoria were among those who welcomed and felicitated Kapoor at the event.
The restaurant will be managed locally by Yogesh Gupta, Navin Tekchandani, Mr. Murthy and Mr. Kumar.
The Yellow Chilli is located at 3555 Monroe St., Suite 80; Tel: 408-380-4143.