It’s a place he is now very familiar with. A regular on the red carpet at Cannes, last year saw Chef Vikas Khanna officially unveil Utsav, his book on food traditions of India that took him 12 years of research to compile. At Rs 8 lakh, the 1,200 pages book whose cover design uses gold, is pegged to be the most expensive cookbook in the world. This year, at the 69th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, Khanna rolled out another surprise —his debut documentary film.
While he’s steered cookery shows and travelogues for some time now, this 15-minute documentary film, Kitchens of Gratitude, is closest to his heart, says Khanna. “I have always believed that there is more to food than just fine dining. In all these years of travelling around the world, I have seen the oneness of communities created through food. Food has always been the thread that brings people together and it transcends barriers of caste, creed, faith and encourages people to share,” said Khanna, during a telephonic interview from Cannes.
For those who have been following Khanna’s career will recall how his love affair with cooking started with The Golden Temple in Amritsar. Accompanying his beeji (grandmother), a young Khanna would roll out chapattis for the community langar. Years later, while researching on how food was cooked in the Harappan civilisation, Khanna discovered that daily cooking was a communal activity. “Not a single reference to the use of small cooking pots was found. The fact that everyone used to get together for cooking and eating shows that the unifying power of food was stronger even before religion came into being,” he says.
Kitchens of Gratitude showcases how food has always been an uniting factor. The documentary takes the viewer to community kitchens across the world and across religions. From daily cooking at The Golden Temple and Buddhist monasteries to community cooking during Ramadan and in Jewish soup kitchens, it also features personalities like Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Mata Amritanandmayi and Pastor Craig Mayes of the New York Mission talking about food, its social relevance and charity kitchens. The documentary examines how shared food experiences help break the walls that divide people. “I firmly believe that our children must know that every faith welcomes everyone. No faith ever promotes discrimination. It is food that binds us together, and it must continue that way,” says Khanna, who is now working to screen the film in India and at film festivals across the world and in Ivy League colleges in the US.
Khanna is already working on his next project — a book that traces the journey and life of spices. “From the seed to flower to the final product on the shelves, I am researching on how a spice grows and finally reaches us,” said Khanna.
For someone who is constantly challenging himself to think out of the box — he wrote two books for children last year — Khanna is also working on a book of poems. “The poems are about the simple pleasures of life,” says Khanna, whose cookbooks often contain his verses. The collection of poems will be launched on Valentine’s Day next year.