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It’s a 1,200-page love of labour that’s taken 12 years to compile and on Tuesday, the 12th copy of Michelin Star Chef Vikas Khanna’s limited edition “Utsav – A Culinary Epic” was auctioned for Rs 30 lakh that will go to feed 200,000 underprivileged children through an NGO he supports.
“Today is my beloved late father’s birthday and I am proud that this has become more significant for me. I am very proud to share that the 12th copy was sold to (realtor) Rasesh Kanakia at an auction. The bidding opened at Rs 800,000 and the book was finally sold for Rs 3 million (Rs 30 lakh),” Khanna said in an email interview from New York, where he is currently based.
“It is very heartwarming to see how a book is so treasured to reach this benchmark. This will be the highest in the history of cookbooks and most importantly, the funds raised will feed 200,000 meals to kids through (NGO) Smile Foundation. It feeds the future of our nation,” added Khanna, who also wears the hats of restaurateur, cookbook writer, filmmaker, humanitarian and the judge of MasterChef India Seasons 2-5 and Masterchef Junior.
Describing the book as the “world’s largest compilation of festivals, ceremonies, rituals and foods that symbolise India and its resplendent heritage”, he said it explores the counry through a ‘festival and food lens’ and weaves the old world charm and traditions into the rich tapestry of the nation’s culture and history.
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“The food across regions and communities is the jewel that sparkles and makes ‘Utsav’ a precious collection of India’s unique yet diverse and magnificent inheritance. The magnum opus is a kaleidoscope of colors and delightful imagery with each picture telling a story of celebrations — some that continue to thrive while some have got lost with passage of time,” Khanna said.
Twelve handcrafted, gold-gilded, hand-painted copies of “Utsav” have been created. They have been presented to world leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former US Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, religious leades like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis and celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan, among others.
Each of these 12 copies is a collector’s delight.
“(Designer) Suvigya Sharma has created some covers out of 24 karat gold and used vegetables and natural colors to paint the covers. Each of the 12 copies is different from the other and they have gold-crusted work on the cover as well as the box containing the book,” Khanna explained.
The book was originally launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Another 500-copy limited edition will be released on Diwali, October 19, 2017. Every book will be numbered and documented. Other details — format, pages, publisher, price — are in the process of being worked out.
What went into the writing of the book?
“I have spent more than 12 years compiling ‘Utsav’ as I researched and captured festivals across seasons as well as those that have disappeared over time or have been left to just community-sharing today,” Khanna explained.
Travelling extensively across the country over the last few years — whether to capture a Jagannath Yatra and its significance in the East to Uttarayan in the West, Ugadi in the South to a Krishna Janamasthan in the North, “the idea was to re-energise the almost non existent yet significant festivals like Rosh Hashanah for Jews to Cheti Chand for Sindhis or remote festivals like Hornbill in Nagaland or Losar in Ladakh”, he said.
Tribal festivals like Bonalu or the simple celebration of Saavan or Teej also find their rightful place. The grandeur of a Diwali, Eid, Durga Puja and Christmas has been explored and taken to another level while small, hidden festivals like the Three Kings Feast have been given their rightful place.
“I have also tried to detail the history behind the ceremonies and sacred ingredients that have been used scientifically as well as mythically in our rich heritage. While the festivals help build the aura, the food is what connects people and brings the celebrations to life,” Khanna noted.
What of the future?
“I take life as it comes but sometimes, I feel that projects choose us. Just like ‘Utsav’ or my documentary series ‘Holy Kitchens’. I want to continue to do more meaningful work with food, literature, kitchens, hunger, malnutrition and education,” Khanna replied.
Is he doing any TV programmes?
“I only do 2 TV Shows, ‘MasterChef’ and ‘Twist of Taste’. I hope to continue doing them in the middle of my crazy schedule. My time is also committed to doing 3-4 ‘Cook for Smile’ shows where the CEOs meet not in boardrooms but in the kitchens,” he concluded.