Chef Vikas Khanna does not need to be introduced. He set an exemplary standard in the culinary industry and brought Indian cuisine to a global level. The Michelin-starred chef has also made an impact as an author, filmmaker and humanitarian. His journey, from a child with misaligned feet to one of the world’s most influential chefs and cultural ambassador of India, is nothing short of inspiration.
Capturing this incredible life story with an essence of Indian culture, heritage and customs, is the film Buried Seeds – The Life Course of Chef Vikas Khanna which takes viewers on an invigorating ride on Independence Day. It will air on August 15 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic India.
“Buried seeds is very personal to me. It reveals many memories and emotions that have been hidden in me for so long. I hope people will see something for themselves in my story. I hope they will see the possibilities of what they can become, âsaid the chef.
Calling the film a ‘celebration of India,’ director and film producer Andrei Severny said, ‘The name of the film comes from a poem by a Greek poet who said,’ They came to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. For me, Vikas’ life story is the embodiment of that.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, the chef talks about his journey, his struggles, connects with Indian cuisine, confinement and social initiatives, and his message to all young people. He also unveils his special dish for the 75th Independence Day.
Your story is an inspiration to all young chefs. How would you describe your background?
Work in progress. We’re still learning, still trying to go up, fall and then come back up. I think it’s important for any artist. You work hard and there is also a role of destiny. We cannot deny this fact. But, fate also favors people who do not give up. But, when things are going in real life, it hits you very differently.
I am an extremely lazy person who is content with whatever he gets. If people weren’t pushing me so hard I actually wouldn’t do anything (Laughs). I would be happy to run my catering business in Amritsar and earn another 5,000 or 10,000 rupees. It was the people around me who created this ecosystem that made me work harder and improve myself. I don’t like to be under a lot of stress until someone calls me. I think most of us are like that. We take things for granted. We sit on what we have and we don’t run after what we deserve. Sometimes the insults were not limited to me, they were limited to the whole nation. And it changed my whole DNA.
How would you describe your connection to Indian cuisine?
Indian cuisine has given me a voice. It’s not just a kitchen that comes out of the kitchen. It is the nation’s collective contribution to the world. It’s scientific, smart and awesome. It represents our diversity, our true soul and the fabric of our country. I feel very lucky to have represented this. Thanks to this food, I could tell the whole story of this country. I always tell people who want to study India that before you do, go to an Indian restaurant and try to order everything. This is India. We will be surprised to see how a single country is able to produce these authentic flavors. This is not a boss’s version of things. It’s the cultural version of things. I don’t think anyone in our generation or the next generation can master Indian cuisine.
Not limiting yourself to the culinary industry, you also wear the hat of author, filmmaker and humanitarian. What is it that drives you in life?
I feel like when you run a Michelin star restaurant, write bestselling books, or watch TV, you always keep looking for a bigger goal. I wonder, “Why were you chosen from a small town in New York?” I’m just a very hungry person. I understood that we cannot sit on laurels. You have to find a way to use these laurels to bring more people with you. Same Buried seeds concerns a very collective human race. It is not about an individual. At some point in our lives we have all been dominated, suppressed, oppressed, or everything taken from us. It is the cycle of nature. Once you are buried, this is also the time to show your courage and begin to rise above the ground.
You spearheaded several social initiatives during the lockdown in India. Can you elaborate?
Sitting this far you have a totally different connection to India. Many times I am shunned by people who say that you are an NRI, you are not really an Indian. It would always hurt me. We are Indians, we are just scattered Indians. The pain I felt from the lockdown, living in New York City, was something I had never experienced before. I realized as I looked at the world that there are so many uncertainties and food shortages in so many places. Jumping in and doing it wholeheartedly was a calling for me. It’s been over a year and we’re still doing it in small pockets. My mother told me that I had given birth to a warrior and that you had to defend your country. It restarts my moral compass.
What has been the impact of containment on the food industry?
It is painful and hurtful. But we didn’t let any of our employees go. At the same time, restaurants will be the first place that begins to bloom after the lockdown. This is because we are always looking for socializing events and for most people this is a restaurant. Food is going to be the focus of a lot of people. We saw that during confinement when people were in their kitchens. It gave them some growth and a soul.
Tell us about your special Independence Day dish.
I think every dish is an Independence dish. It comes from the history of this country. We took inspiration from the colors and decided to do something about it. We thought of doing something like a shirmal. We imagined a garnish of vegetables in different colors. This is where the idea came from. When it came out it was so amazing, delicious and colorful. It reminded me of the house in a very artistic way.
What is your message to the youth of the country?
Do not abandon. There will be a lot of people in your life who will have a very dark side. Don’t be demoralized. They are there to teach you a lesson and make you stronger. You will find them throughout your trip. You will be surprised how people turn their backs on you when you fail. And how suddenly your extended family from all over the world will come to you when you hit something that’s been successful. So, don’t worry.
Find your seriousness and stick with the people who are really there, just for you and not because of your tags and your successes. This is my advice not only for chefs, but for every artist, because you will have to endure a lot. Those people who are there just for your well-being are going to help you more than people who come and go suddenly.
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