The 50-Year Legacy Of Copper Chimney: How J.K. Kapur Went From Film Distributor To Restaurant Owner

Copper Chimney

As a kid, I remember going with my father and grandfather to the restaurant, sitting at the back punching bills for guests to come in and order food. We had the old DOS computers and I clearly remember putting the code B41, which would be the order for butter chicken. This is one of the small memories while growing up being in the restaurant and the kitchen,” recalls Karan Kapur, grandson of Mr. J.K. Kapur, founder Copper Chimney.

With the Indian culinary scene buzzing with the launch of new restaurants every week, not all make you come back for more. There are some iconic places that have stood the test of time as it offers comforting food with flavours that evoke a sense of nostalgia and create memorable moments for you, irrespective of the age group you belong to. Case in point: Copper Chimney, a place where most of us have had our fair share of memories with friends and family. 

Copper Chimney

The restaurant which introduced he concept of a show kitchen in India, recently completed 50 years and to celebrate the huge milestone, it has launched a new Limited Edition Autograph Menu as a tribute to Mr J.K. Kapur. You can now head to the Worli outpost and create more cherishable moments with the new menu featuring dishes made with J.K.’s secret recipes alongside some of the classics that have been there on the menu since the 1970s. 

We caught up with Karan to tell us all about the history of Copper Chimney, its journey so far and the newly launched menu. 

Starting From Scratch 

J.K. Kapoor came to India after the partition in 1947. As a refugee, leaving his home behind wasn’t easy. Young J.K. could carry little with him but a few essentials and memories of the flavours he grew up with. 

Copper Chimney
Mr J.K. Kapur with Copper Chimney Worli Signage

Not many know that it took him about 25 years to turn his passion for food into a 50-year legacy. J.K.’s first business venture was as a film distributor. “When he came into India, he took some odd jobs, and worked with our family member who was in the movie distribution business. He started distributing some movies in local theatres in Mumbai. When that business became successful, he also got into production and produced a film called Sagina with Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu,” shares Karan. 

But he was always very passionate about food. Karan recalls his grandfather making achar at home and leaving it out to sun-dry. “For him, it wasn’t just a meal. He was very particular about the food, recipe and taste. He had to get it right. He loved to cook at home, so when he opened his restaurant, a lot of his recipes were made use of,” he adds. 

Copper Chimney in 1972
Copper Chimney Signage
Copper Chimney in 1972

While working in films was J.K.’s bread and butter, his dream of opening a restaurant was very much alive. But he didn’t know how to go about it. So he approached his friend who ran a canteen back then. The two got together and started the restaurant. And eventually, over time, the food business became so successful that the distribution business took a backseat. By then, it had its own set of challenges because of how the industry changed. “Finally, it was in 1972 that he got the opportunity to open a restaurant of his own. It took time but it was just perseverance and sheer commitment to passion,” Karan says.  And it was the late Dilip Kumar himself, who inaugurated the very first Copper Chimney making it a full circle moment for J.K. Kapur.

Copper Chimney
Mr J K Kapur (right) with Mr Dilip Kumar (centre) and Mr Prem Chaddha (left) at the launch of Copper Chimney in Worli, Mumbai in 1972

What Makes Copper Chimney Iconic 

Many of Copper Chimney’s unique dishes from 1972 have been loved and enjoyed by the likes of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and other legendary actors. It’s the doors of Copper Chimney have seen the patrons from across industries over the years. But there’s more to Copper Chimney’s claim to fame. It became an iconic spot because they did a few things which stood out back then. 

Copper Chimney
Tari (left), Copper Chimney’s lady master chef who led the tandoor kitchen through the 1970s

Firstly, it was the first restaurant in the country to have a show kitchen and have it headed by a female chef. “Chef Tari helmed the kitchen in the ‘70s, which was quite unique to see back then,” Karan shared. The restaurant was also strategically located next to the theatre. “Kids and families who went to watch movies would also come and watch the chefs tossing Rumali rotis in the air. In the ‘70s, people didn’t trust restaurants that much in terms of quality and hygiene. And the idea of the slow kitchen really inspired people – where you can see the food being made in front of you. It’s fresh. Nothing’s carried forward. Everything’s cooked to order. So I think it was about developing that trust with people. Interestingly, there’s a sign which we still have displayed in the Worli outpost, which says that the owners of the restaurant also eat here. And we laugh about it today ‘cause it’s a funny line to have at a restaurant, but back then it meant a lot, because it assures that the food is safe and good as the owners and their family eat here as well,” Karan adds. 

Copper Chimney

But mainly, it’s simply about quality. “We go to the same suppliers we’ve been connecting with for decades. Even the kind of grade of spice that we use, when we buy it, that’s not changed at all. And we’ve kept that consistent, whether prices go up or go down doesn’t matter. So it’s all of this combined that makes Copper Chimney grow from strength to strength since the last five decades,” he says. 

Food From An Undivided India 

Each dish at Copper Chimney is a narrative of a rich culinary culture and legacy of an undivided India.  It’s no surprise when its food brings people together. But it also has dishes inspired by JK’s mother’s recipes. One such dish is the Dal Maharaja–his version on his mum’s black dal. 

The restaurant also takes pride in introducing dishes like Burrah Chops from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the Iranian-inspired Chelo Kabab and the Smoked White Pepper Chicken Chop delicately flavoured with Baluchi spices, to India. 

“The very popular Chelo Kabab is one of those extreme dishes that has a cult-like following, where we know people only eat it every day or every week or people who like to freeze it and carry it when they go abroad to study or when they land back. It’s the type of thing that has very strong emotions around it. There are some people who don’t like it at all. So that dish is our take on Iranian dish which is Chelo rice. Ours is very different and has been on the menu since the last 50 years,” Karan shares.  

“There’s also the signature Kadak Rumali, which is a dish that every diner begins their meal with at Copper Chimney. We take the whole Rumali roti and make it crisp on the tawa. We serve it as a giant Rumali on your table as an experience,” he adds. “The other is White pepper chicken chops, wherein we took the whole concept of lamb chops and did it with chicken with a completely different flavour profile. And there is the Burrah Chops which now you get in a other places as well but it’s dish that’s been there on our menu for the last 50 years. They’re not as popular, but there are a few other dishes which were kind of ultra unique, the Chicken Bharta, which is a Copper Chimney creation,” Karan says.

What’s more? The popular street food made on open pits by the local ‘kababchis’.  You’ll find this cooking technique in Mutton Kalia and the Parda Chicken Kabab. The Himalayan Gucchi Pulao (featuring the exotic black morels or Gucchi from the foothills of Kashmir) and Subz Akhrot ki Seekh (flavoured with crunchy walnuts and seasoned with authentic spices and an unique dip garnished with Kashmiri Chili Rogan) in the Autograph menu highlight the essence of Kashmir. 

Copper Chimney

Another must-try is the slow cooked Raan Peshawari that originates from the campfires of the warriors and tribes of North West Frontier Province. In honour of the local bread makers of Peshawar called ‘naanbais’, the Kabuli Naan is a Afghani influenced bread with mildly sweet flavours and garnished with nuts and dried fruits. The Royal Chicken Kofta borrows influences from the Maharaja’s kitchens in the Punjab Province. The dhoda barfi that originated in 1912 as an energy food for local wrestlers of Undivided Punjab is presented as the Baked Dhoda–Copper Chimney’s version of a chewy, milk fudgy barfi served with a saffron sauce. 

Copper Chimney
Baked Dhoda

You cannot leave without tasting the tangy Kashmiri Soda inspired by the sodas sold by pushcart vendors in the by-lanes of Lahore–the land where J.K. comes from. 

Copper Chimney
Kashmiri Soda

We may get fascinated by truffle fries, pesto pizzas or sourdough toasts, but nothing comes close to familiar flavours that hit home. And that’s what Copper Chimney does with aplomb. 

- Lifestyle Editor


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