Chef Vikas Khanna today enjoys the sort of fame and popularity that gives him the license to skip events or be choosy about the ones he wants to go to — but, but, but, riding on one’s laurels and taking recourse behind ‘busy schedules’ is not Khanna’s style. Instead,the celebrity chef loves being out there, interacting with fans, signing autographs for a queue-long of eager beaver kids and their mothers, and tirelessly giving interviews.
Khanna was in Bangalore last week to launch his 12th book, Young Chefs, and while it most definitely must have been a glad sight for him to see a packed audience, what really had Khanna heaving a sigh of relief was the fact that he could make it for the launch in the city at all. “I didn’t know if I would be able to make it but am glad I could keep my promise to come here,” he says.
A cursory glance at Khanna’s profile on Wikipedia throws up the list of books he’s written, 13 at the last count. For a chef, this one sure loves writing. About when he finds the time to write, Khanna points to his laptop and says, “I write whenever I can find the time, even in the plane,” but to the question of why he writes at all, despite admitting “I don’t care if my English is wrong,” Khanna reasons, “I think I write so much because I am living in America (New York). People over there are crazy about literature and I realised that the only way I could promote food in that country was through books.”
Besides Young Chefs, his latest tome of recipes targeted at kids, the other book Khanna will soon launch at the Jaipur Literature Festival is Return to the Rivers: Recipes and Memories of the Himalayan River Valleys, which has a foreword by the Dalai Lama. “The book, an original way of looking at the food of the Himalayan region— including Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan — was seven years in the making,” reveals Khanna. To be launched in the US eight days after the India launch, what has him trilling with happiness about Return to the Rivers was discovering that, “In almost very book store I visited in New York, particularly Barnes and Noble, the book’s been listed under New Arrivals — that is the biggest endorsement you can get, I’ve never seen such a response before.” There’s another book underway, and this one, Khanna enthusiastically reveals, while showing photos of the same, focuses on the cuisine of North Eastern India. That’s so much for his forthcoming pen-to-paper projects.
Getting back to Young Chefs — his labour of love for his young fan base, Khanna says, “There were crores of people who watched MasterChef Junior, for them the show was more like stories about cooking. And today I have kids sending me emails or instagrams of what they’ve cooked, and I reply to as many of them as I can, applauding them for the work.” And so, the book, Khanna says, while reading out a few lines from the foreword, “is a starting point, a beginning of a long and happy journey of delicious creations, for the future chefs”.
In that last phrase lies Khanna’s underlying passion — besides his books and his restaurant, Junoon, namely, nurturing young talent in the field of culinary arts. “You’ve got to give tools to kids, prepare them for the stage instead of merely complaining about why we are not competing on the world stage. Every generation needs to give back to the following generation and this is what I’ve decided to dedicate my life to,” he passionately states before recalling a time long ago, when as a kid in Amritsar who couldn’t walk, how reading an interview of the world-famous chef Daniel Boulud in a newspaper turned to be a moment of reckoning.
“I remember that article to this day because that was when I realised that food was the only thing that gave me a feeling of connection.” “Can you imagine that kid going on to, many years later, cooking for Presidents and other leaders of the world?” “I am hoping that through the book, and this article, there will be that one child who will read and find his truth, and grow to become a star chef, some day,” concludes Khanna with a far-away look.
Well then, here’s looking at you, kid.