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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

‘Indian food gave me a voice; it represents the country’s diversity, soul and fabric’: Chef Vikas Khanna

The Michelin star chef opens up about his journey, struggles, connect with Indian food, lockdown and social initiatives, as well as his message for young people

Written by Shreya Agrawal | New Delhi |
August 15, 2021 11:40:46 am
Vikas Khanna"The pain I felt of the lockdown, living in New York, was something I had never experienced before." (Source: File photo)

Chef Vikas Khanna needs no introduction. He has set an exemplary standard in the culinary industry and taken Indian food to the global level. The Michelin star chef has also created an impact as an author, filmmaker and humanitarian. His journey, from a child with misaligned feet to one of the most influential chefs in the world and a cultural ambassador of India, is nothing short of an inspiration.

Capturing this incredible life story along with an essence of Indian culture, heritage and customs, is the film Buried Seeds — The Life Journey of Chef Vikas Khanna that takes viewers on an invigorating ride this Independence Day. It will air on August 15 at 9 pm on National Geographic India.

Buried Seeds is very personal to me. It uncovers many memories and emotions that were hidden inside me for so long. It is my hope that people will see something of themselves in my story. I hope they will see the possibilities of what they can become,” the chef said.

 

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A post shared by Vikas Khanna (@vikaskhannagroup) 

Terming the film “a celebration of India”, the director and producer of the film Andrei Severny said, “The name of the film came from a poem by a Greek poet that said, ‘They came to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.’ To me, Vikas’ life story is the embodiment of this”.

In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, the chef opens up about his journey, struggles, connect with Indian food, lockdown and social initiatives, and his message to all the young people out there. He also reveals his special dish for the 75th Independence Day.

Excerpts:

Your story is an inspiration to all young chefs. How would you describe your journey?

Work in progress. We are still learning, still trying to rise, falling and then again rising. I think that’s important for any artiste. You work hard and there’s also a role of destiny. We can’t deny that fact. But, destiny also favours people who don’t give up. But, when things happen in real life, it hits you very differently.

I am an extremely lazy person who gets content with everything he gets. If people were not pushing me so hard, I would actually do nothing (laughs). I would be happy running my catering business in Amritsar and still making Rs 5,000 or 10,000. It’s the people around me who created this ecosystem that made me work harder and improve myself. I don’t like to take  much stress till somebody calls me out. I think, most of us are like that. We take things for granted. We sit on what we have and we don’t run after what we deserve. Sometimes, the insults were not limited to me, they were limited to the entire nation. And, that changed my whole DNA.

How would you describe your connection with Indian food?

Indian food gave me a voice. It is not just a cuisine that comes out of the kitchen. It is the collective nation’s contribution to the world. It is scientific, intelligent and genius. It represents our diversity, real soul and fabric as a country. I feel very fortunate that I was representing that. Because of that food, I could tell the entire story of what this country is made of. I always tell people who want to study India that before you do that, go to an Indian restaurant and try to order everything. That is India. One will be surprised at how a single country is able to produce these authentic flavours. This is not a chef’s version of things. It is the cultural version of things. I don’t think anyone in our generation or the next generation can master Indian food.

Vikas Khanna The Michelin star chef has also created an impact as an author, filmmaker and humanitarian.(Source: Vikas Khanna/Instagram)

Not limiting yourself to the culinary industry, you also don the hat of an author, filmmaker and humanitarian. What drives you in life?

I feel that when you are running a Michelin star restaurant or writing bestselling books or being on TV, you always keep searching for a bigger purpose. I ask myself, “Why were you chosen from a small town to New York?” I am just a very hungry person. I figured out that you can’t sit on laurels. You need to find a way to use those laurels to bring more people ahead with you. Even Buried Seeds is about a very collective human race. It is not about an individual. At some point in our lives, we have all been dominated, suppressed, oppressed, or have everything taken away from us. It’s the cycle of nature. Once you are buried, it is also the time to show your grit and begin to rise above the ground.

You spearheaded several social initiatives during the lockdown in India. Can you elaborate?

Sitting so far, you have a totally different connection with India. Many times, I get shunned by people saying you are an NRI, you aren’t really an Indian. That would always be bruising me. We are Indians, we are just dispersed Indians. The pain I felt of the lockdown, living in New York, was something I had never experienced before. I realised looking at the world that there are so many uncertainties and shortages of food in so many places. To jump into this and do it wholeheartedly was a calling for me. It’s been more than a year and we are still doing this in small pockets. My mom told me that I have given birth to a warrior and you need to stand up for your country. She reboots my moral compass.

What has been the impact of the lockdown on the food industry?

It is painful and hurtful. But, we didn’t let any of our staff leave. At the same time, restaurants will be the first place that will start blossoming post the lockdown. It is because we are still looking for socialising events and for most of the people, that’s a restaurant. Food is going to be the centre of many people. We saw that during the lockdown when people were in their kitchens. That gave them a certain growth and soul.

Vikas Khanna Vikas Khanna undertook several social initiatives during the Covid-19 lockdown in India. (Source: Vikas Khanna/Instagram)

Tell us about your special Independence Day dish. 

I feel every dish is an Independence dish. It comes from the story of this country. We got inspired by the colours and decided to do something. We thought of doing something like a shirmal. We figured out a topping from different coloured vegetables. That’s where the idea came from. When it came out, it was so amazing, delicious and colourful. It reminded me of home in a very artistic way.

What is your message to the young people of the country?

Don’t give up. There will be a lot of people in your life who will have a very dark side to them. Don’t get demoralised. They are there to teach you a lesson and make you stronger. You will find them throughout your journey. You’ll be surprised how people turn their backs towards you when you fail. And, how suddenly your extended family from everywhere in the world will come to you when you hit something which was successful. So, don’t be worried about it.

Find your gravity and stay true to the people who are actually there, just for you and not because of what your tags and success stories are. This is my advice for not just chefs, but for every artist, because you will have to endure a lot. These people who are there just for your well-being are going to help you more than people who just come and disappear suddenly.

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