Chef Vikas Khanna needs no introduction. The Michelin star chef is well-known across the world for his culinary skills, and his charming persona (read: smile). Also an author and filmmaker, he is back with the third edition of Quaker’s web series, Kitchen, Khanna and Konversations. So, when we caught up with the celebrated chef, he spoke to us about all things food: ranging from trends, Indian cuisine on the global map and also revealed the most bizarre food he has ever had.
How excited are you about the latest season of the show?
I don’t know a lot of shows, because I put so much of energy into restaurants, researches and PhDs and all the other work I do with films and documentaries. But this is something which is very close to my heart. It has its inception in my lunch meeting with Indra Nooyi in Chennai. She said something amazing, “This conversation of health is not a one-time event, it’s a process.” That stuck in my mind. I said okay, when we are talking about conversations, let’s talk about healthy conversation, people using alternatives for healthier lifestyle and of course oats are a part of it and Quaker is the one that actually brings the brand together. So, I am emotional about it.
What’s so special about the show?
This is the most un-chef I have ever been in front of people. Because you are talking to celebrities and you are talking to people who are not into the kitchen, someone who has not been trained. So, it gives me a fresh point of view, to see how things can be made so easy. It’s about using the right techniques.
So, you have done a shoot with Shraddha. How was the experience?
Shraddha has such a positive energy and she absolutely lights up the set. And you know, it was funny. As I was cooking, she kept on interrupting me like one does at home, and I think it was beautiful.
You have experimented a lot with oats in the web series. What, according to you, is the best thing about oats?
When oats came into my life, I realised I could have it soaked in water or milk any time of the day. Not just for me, but the regime of all the boys in my kitchen has changed. I wanted to talk about the mistakes I made, not treating my body properly, so people can learn from that.
What makes oats a healthy and versatile breakfast option? Can you share a recipe that can be easily prepared at home?
Oats are a great source of protein and fibre, which eventually adds to overall energy. Oats are super grains that are often considered a powerhouse of nutrition and help build overall immunity.
I’m going to share a very simple recipe that I use. I lightly dry roast the oats and then add a little milk to them and put lot of nuts and fruits. That’s my typical go-to meal and you can have a small container and pack it.
You recently attended the banquet reception for US President Donald Trump at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where many guests thought you had prepared the dishes. While you put the speculations at rest with your tweet, had you been in the kitchen that day – what would you have served the POTUS and other guests?
I have hosted many dinners for dignitaries in my career and learnt a lot of lessons. Whenever it was about two leaders from nations, it was great to be a chef-pollinator. I had to intricately marry or fuse the flavour combinations of both nations. Today, chefs are like global ambassadors of their respective cultures. It reflects during these state dinners very well.
Which Indian ingredient (can be spice, fruit, vegetable) do you think is the most underrated and why? And overrated?
I feel bael fruit, millets, Indian gooseberry and pippali pepper are the most underrated ingredients. For example, the Indian gooseberry, commonly known as amla, is an excellent source of vitamin c. It can act as an alternative to add a citrus note to dishes.
You are a Michelin star chef. Why do you think despite having some brilliant chefs, Indian restaurants are yet to find a firm footing on the Michelin star map?
Our cuisine is still very new on this map. Our footprints are still very fresh. It needs some more time to establish itself.
What is the most bizarre food you have ever tried?
I had an interesting experience while eating silkworms in Assam. Bamboo charcoal powder in a chutney form in Arunachal Pradesh has to be another such experience.
What food trends can one expect in 2020?
People are becoming more conscious towards health and food choices. Due to which many people have started more research on what they consume. I think superfoods like oats not only increase the nutrition value in food but can also be tasty.
Regional cuisine has come up in a big way in India, with many restaurants whipping up dishes prepared from locally sourced ingredients. What do you have to say about the same?
It’s the biggest honour for chefs to bring forward regional cuisines. This is the true representation of India’s diversity. Initially, we saw many restaurants that served only North Indian fare but today I see new dishes and regions being explored, which is extremely heartwarming.
Would it be correct to say that more Indians are open to experimenting with food/cuisines today? What according to you has brought about this change?
The change happens when the relationship between buyer and supplier is created. When people are ready to pay for new dishes or tasting menus, the chefs will be ready to supply too. Many years ago, eating out was a luxury, today it is a routine. Thus, the consumer is looking for new and more interesting options. This is the genesis of change.
A lot of times restaurants focus on presentation, which often leads to the portion sizes shrinking. Indian food is all about generous servings, which gets lost somewhere. How would you describe this food trend? Is it fair to customers?
I think presentation is very crucial today, but it depends on the type of establishment and its vision. The world is changing very fast and information travels instantly, so the entire chef community around the world is struggling between balance, from casual to fine dining. These are divided by fine lines. Depending on the vision of the chef, this gets decided and today the market has become very large. Initially, we used to eat out as a group for social gatherings, today many diners eat for experience. When done with integrity, it will find its roots.
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