Chef Kunal Kapur tells us about reinventing Indian cuisine in Abu Dhabi

We sat down witth top chef to talk about a shared passion: food

Chef Kunal Kapur tells us about reinventing Indian cuisine in Abu Dhabi

Namak by Kunal Kapur in the Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi is impressive on many levels.

When it opened, few other locations in Abu Dhabi offered such a modern take on Indian cuisine, the dining room was bright and eclectic and the food was always impressive to the look at and to taste.

Wanting to find out more about the winner of the Time Out Abu Dhabi Restaurant Award for Best Indian in 2019, and the mind behind some of our favourite dishes, we were excited to get the chance to sit down with Kunal Kapur himself.

When we visit Namak for the interview, Kapur is busy in the kitchen, which should come as no surprise.

Dedicated and hands-on, the chef is in town to create a new menu for the restaurant and to develop even more innovative dishes with his trusted team in Abu Dhabi.

We’re impressed to see that Kunal has lost none of the passion that established him as one of the leading chefs in India and garnered him worldwide acclaim.

It would be easy to create a new menu from afar but if you have high standards and aim to achieve excellence, there’s no substitute for being with the team devising new culinary offerings together.

He takes a short break, head still buzzing with ideas, to talk with us about his life’s great passion — food.

“I wanted to break the mould of what people expect an Indian restaurant should be,” he says.

“Namak means salt in Hindi and salt is so important. It’s the cheapest condiment in any kitchen. If you don’t use them right, the most expensive ingredients are useless.

“You could have truffle, saffron or the most wonderful seafood but without a pinch of salt you can’t make it achieve its potential.”

When it comes to cooking often it’s the fine details that matter. While many of us stick to recipes and exact proportions, hoping to create delicious food at home, for Kunal and many Indian chefs cooking cannot be learned from a book, it has to be experienced and developed over time.

“Indian food is all about balance,” he explains. “An Indian chef never measures, it’s all about balancing the sweet, the bitter, the savoury, the salt, and that’s something that can’t be done in teaspoons. You don’t need them. You have to pinch this and pinch that. Feel it, sense it and achieve a balance.

“It’s something that really grows with you, you can’t just read it off of a page, it doesn’t work like that. Cooking becomes an extension of you naturally.

“You have to give it time, you have to be patient with it and you grow and you mature along with the food that you cook.”

It would have been easy for Kapur to take another path in life. In fact, he was never expected to end up in a kitchen. Instead he was lined-up by his family to follow in his father’s footsteps as a banker. It could have been a very different life for the outgoing chef, who, thankfully for us, never developed a love for numbers.

“My family thought I was crazy,” he says with a grin. “There were weeks where I didn’t have any time off and I would still get up in the morning with a smile on my face.

“They always asked ‘what are you happy about?’. They couldn’t understand that I was happy going to work even though it was long hours. I loved what I did.

“You need to work very hard but as soon as you take enjoyment from your work, no matter your trade, you’ll excel at what you.
“When you stop questioning everything and go with the flow, working hard, success will follow you.”

Namak opened in Abu Dhabi since 2018, and has drawn plaudits for the contemporary take on Indian cuisine, which led to its Time Out award-win.

Not content with resting on his laurels, the innovative chef is hard at work, determined to keep us all excited with what’s happening on the plate.

“In Abu Dhabi you can share your food with more nationalities and cultures than in any other country. That’s exciting as a chef and also a challenge,” he says with a smile.

“This restaurant represents my philosophies and ideas as a chef well but I still think we can push it more to get to an even better place.

“I’m always learning, every day, I want to do better and constantly improve. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over. You need to evolve.”

While we all have an idea of what Indian cuisine is ― think biryani, curry, tandoori ― the reality is that it’s impossible to compartmentalise and categorise the food of a country of more than 1 billion people.

“I’m an Indian chef but I don’t think I’ve even touched a quarter of all Indian food, there is so much, and I have so much to learn and experience,” he says.

“It’s impossible for an Indian chef to explore and understand all of Indian cuisine in one lifetime. It’s too big, there’s too much.

“There are so many regional dishes, and there is a slice of history alongside all of them. How did it come to be? Was it societal, religious was it circumstance?

“Every dish has a story and I love to explore this and learn more about that region’s culture and our culture through what we eat.

“You always have to learn, to discover and find inspiration.

“I’ve got so much more to learn, to develop and create. I’m still excited by food.”

And we’re still excited by Namak and look forward to seeing what the new menu has to offer when it launches later in 2020. 
Open Sat-Thu 12.30pm-3pm; daily 7pm-11.30pm. Namak by Kunal Kapur, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, Sultan Bin Zayed The First Street (02 698 8137).

Be the first to get all the latest Abu Dhabi news, reviews and deals into your inbox by signing up to our free newsletter, click here to sign up.

More from Restaurants

Get a free meal for the little ones at this Mexican chain

Diners in a hurry can get two courses for Dhs135 in Dubai and Abu Dhabi


Follow us