How does one introduce Vikas Khanna – the celebrity chef, who’s achieved so much? The award winning Michelin starred Indian Chef is a restaurateur, cookbook writer, filmmaker and humanitarian. He’s the host of Masterchef India, Junior Masterchef India and Twist of Taste -all of which trade on his boyish features, his kitchen prowess and his relatable personality. He has his own foundation, SAKIV (South Asian Kids Infinite Vision) and he’s been associated with the Smile Foundation in India for over 3 years. In 2011, People magazine named Khanna in the list of “Sexiest Men Alive” and also referred to him as “The Hottest Chef of America”. In a candid chat with SHAILI MADAN he talks about cooking world leaders and his ideology…
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR SHOW ‘COOK FOR A SMILE’ ON FOX. HOW DID YOU THINK OF THE CONCEPT?
“Cook for a Smile” is a one of its kind concepts by Smile Foundation that brings together some amazing food, beautiful people and a good cause, with lots of fun packed in. Corporate honchos, industry leaders and celebrities from diverse fields are brought together to cook, content and raise support for the nutrition of less privileged children across India. Many of these kids have to struggle to get even two square meals a day. The idea is to help them get proper, nutritious food, which would lead to better opportunities in life for them. Because eminent people take up the cause through this show, it also helps create awareness in the society about the importance of nutrition for children, particularly those who are less privileged. The show becomes really interesting as children from Smile Foundation join the personalities on the cooking tables and work as a team with them. So far, we have had four editions of Cook for a Smile, and it has been a great experience to work together, with Smile and with all the participating achievers, towards this wonderful cause.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING APART FROM THE SHOW?
My restaurant Junoon in New York city and Dubai… Promoting Utsav… And most of all working with Smile children. I only work on things that give me immense satisfaction and in these kids smiles lies my true happiness.
YOU PRESENTED YOUR COOKBOOK TO BILL CLINTON… HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?
It was an emotional moment. Leaders around the world understand India’s diversity and the complexity of all our rituals and mythology.
YOU ALSO COOKED A MEAL FOR PM NARENDRA MODI…
He is India’s most popular leader. He has made the country visible on the word map. It was a wonderful and challenging experience.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SETS APART INDIAN CUISINE FROM ANY OTHER CUISINE?
I believe it is the rich heritage and culture that permeates almost every part of our rituals and the intrinsic way in which food is expressive of this is what makes Indian cuisine truly unique. I have travelled extensively across the country over the last few years – whether it is to capture Chapchar Kut in Mizoram, Hornbill in Nagaland to Shigmoutsav in Goa to Losar in Ladakh to Pongal or Onam in South India. The scale and grandeur around a Diwali, Id, Teej, Durga Puja, the history behind the ceremonies and the sacred ingredients that have been used scientifically as well as mythically in our rich heritage makes Indian cuisine truly special.
WHO OR WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE OF INSPIRATION?
It is truly inspiring to be a part of Nutrition for Education campaign with Smile Foundation who are benefiting more than 20500 kids through this initiative – so many of my colleagues at the Smile Foundation have devoted their lives to the betterment of children across the country. And the children of course, the ease with which they overcome challenges and their thirst for learning is amazing. That is what I enjoy most about Cook for A Smile – one of the initiatives under the said cause sensitizes masses and raises resources for these children. Most of all, I have lived in New York for more than 15 years and I have always been in wonder of the beauty and grace with which we Indians carry out all our small customs and rituals. Spirituality is at the core of everything we celebrate. But many of us Indians are unaware of how diverse our spiritual gifts are. I find that truly inspiring.
WHAT IS THE FOCUS/AIM BEHIND COMING OUT WITH THIS BOOK?
The focus of this epic is to inspire people. On my side, I have tried to write the journey of our rich heritage that we all as Indians can be immensely proud of. This is my tribute to my Motherland.