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Dishing Up a Storm

Chef Vikas Khanna fields accusations of choosing drama over culinary excellence.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | New Delhi |
May 3, 2013 2:24:20 am

Chef Vikas Khanna fields accusations of choosing drama over culinary excellence.

The set,upon entry,resembles a godown of discarded items – with tables,wires and wooden planks strewn all over. What lies beyond could be mistaken for a gourmet store. The massive makeshift room is lined with shelves that hold a variety of cooking ingredients such as fresh vegetables and fruits,olives,blueberries,tahina,icing sugar,chocolates and cheese among other items.

Meet Mr Chef

In the double storey hall,chefs Sanjeev Kapoor,Kunal Kapoor and Vikas Khanna stand under the spotlight,addressing the contestants during the shoot of MasterChef India,season 3. At work,it is interesting to watch Khanna play second fiddle to Sanjeev.

Born in Amritsar,Khanna moved to the US in his 20s. Today a Michelin-Star chef,Khanna’s restaurant,Junoon,is a popular Indian eatery in New York. The 42-year-old celebrity chef has hosted a banquet for American president Barack Obama and worked alongside the likes of Gordon Ramsay. He has also featured on The Martha Stewart Show and been a judge on Hell’s Kitchen. His role as a judge on MasterChef India is his latest assignment,for the second consecutive season.

Current Assignment

Over two decades old and originating in the UK,MasterChef debuted in India four years ago when its popular Australian version premiered on Star World. The high standards and stiff competition kept the English-speaking viewers hooked. In 2010,Star purchased rights to the format for a desi version,with Akshay Kumar,Chef Ajay Chopra (executive chef of Westin hotel in Mumbai) and Kunal Kapoor (executive sous chef at Leela Kempinski,Gurgaon) as judges. The show has since had two seasons,neither of which were as successful as the ongoing season.

Kitchen Rules

The show follows what has become a success formula for reality shows — drama and sob stories of the contestants,transforming the show into a tear-jerker. Khanna has especially roused critics’ ire. With quality and technique at the centre of his work,it is surprising that he should compromise it for a TV show.

Khanna,however,says that in a socially,culturally and economically diverse country like India,emotions are the only binding factor. “Stories such as that of Khoku Patra,a housemaid in Delhi,give wings to the dreams of people with limited means. And if it encourages them to pursue those dreams,why is it bad?” he quips,adding that a contestant from the previous season recently hosted a Punjabi food festival at a five-star hotel in Mumbai. Besides,the diversity of contestants also brings regional cuisines into focus.

The show isn’t as low on the culinary quotient as it is made out to be,Khanna stresses. There’s grooming process for the untrained. “They are provided with recipe books and a functional kitchen. The chefs also conduct workshops,exposing them to different cuisines,ingredients and techniques,” Khanna explains. The participants are then put through severe tests.

Head Count

While Khanna’s arguments may seem valid to some extent,one cannot help but argue that the show’s claim of finding the best chef in India is far from the truth. The show,telecast in the north,west and parts of east India,didn’t reach out to the south for auditions. Such a bias only reiterates that the show is merely a business model and the hunt isn’t on for a chef but for TRP ratings that would make the channel’s advertisers happy.

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