Among the rising stars of the Indian culinary world, Vikas Khanna stands tall. And by star, we mean Michelin Star, of course (awarded for his New York restaurant Junoon in 2011). But it’s not just Khanna’s inspired cooking that sets him apart – the Amritsar born Chef was recently featured on People Magazine India’s Sexiest Men Alive list, and is currently moonlighting as a celebrity judge on Masterchef India 2 (so it’s no surprise the rumour mill was recently abuzz about his potential ties with fellow gourmand and bombshell Padma Lakshmi.)
MM: You’ve achieved great success at a fairly young age – what do you think makes your cooking stand out from the crowd?
VK: I was a total failure for several years. I was catering for 2 – 3 kitty parties in a week in Amritsar and most of it went wrong. We would sit and wait for days for a customer to walk in. It taught me the lesson to value every little success and most importantly, taught me patience.
What was your first big break as a chef?
When I got my admission at WGSHA in Manipal, I was so nervous to be going for formal training and that too in English.
Do you think great cooking is something you are born with, or can anyone work hard and become a Michelin starred Chef?
Training, Practice, Discipline and most importantly Passion.
What is the first step to becoming a great chef?
Vision. You have to love to feed people and give yourself to it. Vision to represent a culture with food is an important foundation.
What is one mistake most aspiring chefs make?
Never stop looking beyond the obvious. Food is an expression of ones’ self. Follow it. If it’s true to who you are, guests will respond to it. Cook to express yourself.
What are some of your favorite cuisines and dishes? What are some of your least favorite?
I am a Buddhist in that sense. The reverence of food is very high to acknowledge any favorites. I love it and live it all.
Which single dish of yours are you most proud of and why?
I’m proud of every dish my kitchen has created. But, I love doing a rendered duck with Tellicherry peppercorns. It’s my take on a Malabar duck stew.
If you didn’t have to worry about the commercial side, what would your dream restaurant be like?
A place where you come and are fed just like we are in most Indian homes. One of my favorite restaurants in Surat “Sasu Ma” and it was life changing to be fed there with the hospitality of an Indian home.
If you weren’t a Chef, what would you want to be?
Which Chefs do you most admire?
I have always admired Kamlabai Ogle so much. She was really ahead of her time to create a parallel cuisine and in documenting Maharashtrian foods.
Are you a fan of Bollywood? Who is your favorite actor? And actress?
Yes, I LOVE Bollywood. My favorite actor is Dilip Kumar ji and my favorite actress is Nandita Das.
Which one celebrity would you most want to cook for?
Philippe Petit. He is my role model of creating infinite vision of the obvious.
How does it feel to be named one of the “Sexiest Men Alive” by People Magazine?
I think it was about food….”food is sexy”.
You are also well known for your charitable work. How do you pick which issues you get involved with?
We generally get a lot of requests and we try to accommodate as much as we can. The issues we normally focus on are Hunger, Education and Emergency Issues.
Is there any initiative that you are most proud of?
I’m very proud of my film series “Holy Kitchens”. They are a celebration of food and faith. It brings us all on one world table and enables more inter faith relationships.
Can you tell us a bit more about cooking for President Obama? What was your biggest surprise from the night?
Cooking for the leader of a nation is very important for any chef. I’m glad to say that it was super successful. The biggest surprise is always the security. Whenever the President enters the event all the glassware is removed and replaced with paper cups.
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