As if looks weren’t enough to kill, they’re accompanied by a humble heart, quick wit and the hard-to-miss ‘proud mumma’s-boy’ charm. Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna is everything you’d want a man to be, besides the cooking bit that is. In Amritsar (his hometown) for his birthday (November 14), Vikas talks to HT City about surviving hurricane Sandy in New York City, Barack Obama’s win, the next season of MasterChef India, bridging cultural gap between India and the US and more…
How did you and your staff at Junoon (his upscale Indian restaurant in New York) make it through Sandy?
We shut down for four days. Everyday, I used to visit the restaurant to throw out the food that perished, since there was no electricity. What we did figure out during that storm was that recuperating from loss in that country does not prove to be Waterloo. The day the storm subsided and the restaurant was up and running, insurance companies started calling us up on their own to assess the damage. The Red Cross was very helpful too. Sandy made us believe that together we can survive whatever comes our way. Government bodies were requesting people to go out and spend money, to keep the economy stable. We had a packed house for dinner the day Sandy subsided. We also made litres of soup for shelter homes the day we got back on our feet.
You are known to be a strong supporter of Barack Obama. How did you take his win?
Obama is a people’s person. The fact that he could reach out to a bawarchi like me speaks volumes about him. I supported him fully. The day of the elections, I woke up at 5 am and started yelling at everyone to go and vote. I didn’t take sides; I just wanted them to vote. I was thrilled to know Obama’s here to stay.
So, when does the promised keema curry cook-off with the President happen now?
He’s a busy man, I can’t ask him! When he has time, he will rise up to it himself.
You’ve spoken about your initial years in the US being the lowest phase of your life. Did this include discrimination by the Americans?
The US gives you an opportunity to work—that should be enough. One of my purposes to open a high-end Indian restaurant in New York was to change the way they looked at us. I wanted to tell them we’re not just a country of snake charmers. Every person of a different colour encounters discrimination; its degree varies. My pain was less—my profession kept me going. I’m sure Obama must have gone through the same initially. But, the country is open to immigrants, and helps you live your dream. About 70% of my guests are Americans now, and how I love serving them! To tell them about ‘langar ki daal’ is an unmatched pleasure. You know you’re doing it right when your purpose becomes greater than your existence.
Are the rumours about Junior MasterChef coming to India true?
The team at Star Plus has decided to delay the project a little. As of now, we’re carrying on with MasterChef, Season 3, the shooting for which begins today (Nov 19).
We’ve heard about you not having time for love, but, for the sake of women readers, if you were to date a woman, what would she be like?
Someone who is completely in charge of life. She can be from any background. A woman being completely in control of her work is a big turn-on.
What are you working on presently?
Besides MasterChef, my book, Amritsar — A Tribute to My Golden City, which will be out next year. I’m also launching my book, My Great India (Penguin), on December 7 in Mumbai.