The Power of Food is really Spiritual. It not only brings the whole family together on the same table, but also brings the whole world together. ∼ Vikas Khanna
From receiving acclaim for his good looks as well as his passion for cooking, it is hard to keep up with all the titles that are conferred on Chef Vikas Khanna. A restaurateur, a TV host, an author, a humanitarian and of course the Michelin star association – there are too many overwhelming feathers in the cap that he so humbly wears upon his head. I have had the pleasure of meeting him in Dubai on two occasions – once celebrating the launch of his restaurant Junoon in Dubai in an exclusive dinner hosted at Junoon Dubai, and the second time when he came to launch his new cookbook – World Feast. And in both occasions Vikas Khanna has left me overwhelmed and awe inspired. Do read about the interview that I have compiled from both these momentous meetings when it comes out in the Summer/Ramadan issue of FoodEMag dxb.
When he had come to launch his cook book ‘World Feast’, the Z-Sisters had a school break. I took Big Z along with me as I wanted her to be inspired by how a simple guy from Amritsar was today the world’s most sought after chef. A small cooking demonstration of stuffed zuccini was followed by a simple lunch in the restaurant. Soon Vikas Khanna joined us in our table. He told us how he was inspired by his grandmother who loved to cook, and how her kitchen became instrumental in imparting *life skills* in his kitchen. He spoke passionately about his next book Utsav (which was recently unveiled in Cannes )and is supposed to cost from INR 8 Lakhs or 16,000 USD. He looked at me with disbelief when I asked him whether it was going to be hard bound copy in gold or simply the cost of the extensive research that went into the book! A snapshot from our conversation on Utsav:
About Utsav: Tell me which country has the power of being the most diversified nation in this world? Have we ever been able to tell that to the world? Every 5 miles the language, fashion, taste – everything changes. How about a book happening in our present times which showcases India beyond its cliched and stereotypical image. I am telling the story of India through Utsavs/festivals. An average Indian would know 6 – 10 festivals. I have covered almost 90 festivals and the food that is cooked during each festival, why it is cooked, the reason for its celebration. It’s not only a cookbook, but I am also preserving the beauty of Indian women through the book – their attire, their jewellery – across the different regions of India. There is so much to the country (he gets emotional as he emphasises this!). Every festival is so unique and is a part of heritage. We have inherited these different flavours – if you look at the way Durga Puja is celebrated in Bengal, or the way Baisakhi is celebrated in Bengal, it is totally different than how they are celebrated elsewhere. Only my grandmother knew what had to be cooked during our festival. I feared that when she passed away we wouldn’t know what to do. I travelled throughout the country and I felt that this fear might be there in all the children around. So I have preserved every costume in the book. Now when you go to a festival, everybody is dressed up in jeans and a T-shirt and that is so sad. I want to talk about how many saris are created and in how many different styles, not how many Levis jeans are produced in India.
This sounds like a very colourful book. Have you shot most of these pictures? I want to show you one picture I shot outside a school in Bombay last year. This is not a typical picture that you would associate with India but this is India (he shows me a picture of a Burkha clad Indian Muslim lady walking holding the hand of her child dressed as Santa Claus. He digs out more pictures in his smartphone – a myriad of pictures). I have grown up amidst a lot of poverty and probably the sensitivity that has developed in me because of that is very different. Poverty is really a great art. It teaches you to be creative and it can also drive you crazy. To capture this book I have been on the road for two years – I have attended every tribal festival, every festival possible in every corner of India. I have tried to understand every ceremony that is performed. There is no right time than now to come out with a book like this which will make every Indian really proud, specially when we live in such a globalised world. Everybody talks only about the persisting problems. Who doesn’t have problems? But why are we not writing about India that is so exotic, given birth to artists, philosophers etc? Why America today rules the world is because of the sheer pride they have in being an American – they will not stop inventing, exploring etc. I do not know where this inspiration comes from. Abundance doesn’t make you generous, but abundance in pride makes them generous. I was doing a book on Himalayan cuisine and I had to go to Bhutan, Burma and I just asked a few American friends of mine – I want to do this book… every want came out with their support.
Like most Indians (read ladies), I have been a huge Vikas Khanna fan. But I hadn’t realised how immense his fan power was. One tweet directed to him and it will be retweeted a minimum of 20 times. Ask Vikas a question over Twitter, there will be 20 females replying to your tweet. A simple update on his Facebook Page will be having 58,809 likes and 273 shares. And what is the update?
Stay Hydrated please. V’
That’s all? Yes, that’s all. Honestly, this is Vikas Khanna. Even if he updates one letter – V – it will have as many likes and as many shares. And there are reasons why he is what he is. His humility shows through his face. His passion and pain when he talks about his food and his heritage is so damn honest that it affects you. When I tell him that my mum-in-law (yes, for whom I have written odes on pickles) is a big fan of his, he tells me ‘Phone lagalo/Dial her number’. It’s 11:30pm Dubai time and that would mean that 1am back home in Kolkata. I send her a sms before calling her up – ‘don’t panic, I am calling you up – Vikas Khanna would like to talk to you. The Chef Vikas Khanna!!’. Vikas starts his conversation – ‘Good Morning! Main Vikas bol raha hoon/I am Vikas speaking! Did I wake you up?’ And they chat about garnishing and the tadkas in the early hours of the morning! Although Ma hasn’t yet met Vikas Khanna, but she got to taste the food at Junoon Dubai even before it opened its doors to the public (she had accompanied my as my +1 on a media preview invite) – something that she still boasts about to her friends!
Thanks to my blogging journey and as the Editor of FoodEMag dxb, I am meeting many food personalities – celebrity chefs, authors, food writes and more. One thing I can say with certainty, is that I haven’t met such a humble celebrity who is insanely passionate when he talks about food and who looks so comfortable mixing with people irrespective of colour, class and religion. I am not sure whether I will be able to afford a copy of his cook book Utsav, which was recently unveiled in Cannes, but I can already visualise what is going to be inside the pages – a sense of deja vu, a myriad of images – Vikas Khanna with different people – all coming together in one space. Keep your Junoon/Passion ignited!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: I had been an invited guest in all the three out of my five visits to Junoon Dubai so far. Do read my fellow blogger Burp & Belch’s story on Vikas Khanna. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
PS 1: I have never believed in watermarking my images, but thought I should watermark the above image vehemently as this is the same image that has been shared by Vikas Khanna’s official Facebook Page. So many shares and likes, and not a single mention of me…. sigh!
PS 2: The article that is being talked about here has been written by me. Just to clarify, I have written about 7 of the finest Indian restaurants in Dubai, in no particular order of ranking.