I have always admired people who’ve had a humble beginning but have managed to achieve great heights in life through sheer grit and hard work. So when I had a chance to meet the Michelin starred chef Vikas Khanna, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He was to visit the university where I work (near Chandigarh) to unveil his upcoming book ‘Hymns from the Soil’ and I made sure I was part of the audience.
Dressed in a simple black shirt and blue denims, and accompanied by his mother, his entire persona exuded simplicity and humility. But one thing that no one could miss was the bond that only a mother and her child can share. Each time the host mentioned Vikas’s achievement, he glanced at his mother with pride and gratitude.
Vikas narrated a story which he confessed still gave him goose bumps every time he recited it, even though the incident happened years ago when he was just beginning his culinary journey. Once when he was working with a famous chain of hotels, he was given the task of preparing rotis in a tandoor. Since he was tired, he was not able to concentrate on the task. Suddenly the person in charge came, grabbed him from his collar and shoved his face into the blazing tandoor saying, “Who is going to eat these?” And with that, he threw the roti he had made on to the floor.
It was then that he realised that some of the rotis were slightly burnt. The head scolded him and asked him to leave. Just as he was turning away, Vikas grabbed him, pointed to the roti on the floor and said, “Who is going to pick that up?”
That was the one of the early instances where he learnt that he had to defend his love and respect for his true passion, something as simple, yet deeply complicated, as food. It was surreal meeting a man who has cooked for the President of the US, won numerous awards (including the Michelin Star thrice) and has accomplished so much in life, yet has tears in his eyes when he thanks his mother for all that he has and all that he is.
But one thing that I have taken from that wonderful afternoon (apart from an autograph and photo) and would always remember is that you have to love your dream and work without ever looking at your watch. There is no substitute for perseverance and diligence. And if you love and respect what you do, no matter how simple it might seem to others, there is no stopping you from attaining the unattainable. After all, poverty of dreams is worse than poverty of money.