He has been named the “Hottest Chef of America” by People magazine and has won a Michelin star for his restaurant in New York, but Chef Vikas Khanna’s roots remain in India — and he now wants to take the country’s regional cuisines to the world….writes Somrita Ghosh
“My focus for the next 10 years will be on regional cuisine. Though it is extremely tough to assimilate all of Indian cuisines under one roof, I am trying my best. I want to bring as much of India as possible to the US,” Khanna, 45, told in an interview on the sidelines of an event where he launched Quaker Nutritious Food products.
Khanna has put Indian gastronomical delights on the world food map and was recently named by Gazette Review in its list of Top 10 Chefs in the World.
His charm is no secret. From serving food to the Obamas to gifting his book “Utsav” to a host of global personalities, Khanna has immensely contributed to giving Indian culture and delicacies a global identity.
Twelve handcrafted, gold-gilded, hand-painted copies of “Utsav” were created. They have been presented to world leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former US Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, religious leades like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis and celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, among others.
The 12th was to have been presented to Apple founder Steve Jobs, but he died before this could happen. It was auctioned earlier this year and went for a whopping Rs 30 lakh (more than $46,000) that will feed 200,000 under-privileged children in India through the NGO Smile that Khanna supports.
Talking about his love for regional cuisines, nothing can be more exciting for him than discovering the hidden recipes of the eight northeastern states.
“I would love to explore the northeast more. I have travelled extensively in the northeast, even have taken choppers to go to the remote corners of the region to know about their hidden food and recipes. Their way of life has not been touched because of connectivity issues. Things are very pure and natural over there,” Khanna explained.
On his many trips to the northeast he encountered several techniques that cannot be performed in a modern kitchen.
“I have found how, in places where there is no refrigeration, people are preserving food. For instance, take spinach, add garlic, wrap it in a banana leaf and bury it under the ground. It’ll virtually be fresh for ever. The whole of the northeast is home to such natural culinary tricks,” he pointed out.
His love for regional recipes is evident from “Utsav”, a magnum opus of 1,200 pages that covers the length and the breadth of the country. The book, which took 12 years to compile, also explores the festivals, ceremonies and rituals that symbolise India.
“But still it covers only 12 per cent of what we have. The remaining 88 per cent cannot be penned down. You will not get to know them because they are from diverse regions and so many of the recipes have been forgotten,” the chef lamented.
Khanna opened his first restaurant, Junoon, and, in virtually no time, it started attracting praise from every quarter. Junoon has been awarded a Michelin star by the Michelin Guide for six consecutive years since 2011.
Former US President Bill Clinton once said to him: “Vikas, I hope you will focus on selling culture and not food. Because culture is more important than the food.”
“More than focusing on food, we need to highlight our culture as cuisines are equally a part of it. We are aware of Western dishes because of their marketing. We have so much of beauty and diversity, but we don’t push it,” Khanna lamented.
Asked about the trends that would rule the gastronomic world this year, he said it was the Spanish Tapas cuisine for him. And what would be over done? “Punjabi food,” was the quick reply.
Everything else apart, he is also working on a new book.
“My new book, ‘My First Kitchen’, is going to be released soon. It is a massive book on how to run your kitchen, how to do parties in your kitchen, how to make cocktails and mocktails, and how to be very , very conscious about your cooking,” Khanna said.