Indian chef shines in New York


Vikas Khanna

As a boy in the by-lanes of Amritsar, he dreamt of having his own chana bhatura stall. But making dhoklas abroad changed life for Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna. Khanna is now the proud owner of a New York restaurant, Junoon, runs a catering business and is one of the judges of "Masterchef India 2". He went to New York in the year 2000, without any job or money. But he is glad his struggle and hard work have paid off. "I always tell people that there are three things that connect me to God - breath, mother and food. The way I get closer to people, the way I express my love for what I do, is all through food," Khanna said in an interview. "I was born with a certain kind of disability. I had misaligned legs and feet and the only way I could find a place where I was not judged was cooking," he added.

Khanna with Clinton

When the 40-year-old was young, he wanted to run a chana bhatura stall, but he went on to open a small banquet hall by the name of Lawrence Garden in his hometown Amritsar. It specially catered to ladies' kitty parties and he offered only six food items - fried paneer, paneer pakora, chana bhatura, kulcha, aloo and spring rolls. He survived on the business for five years. "I was running the business in net loss at that time. My father said the business will close," he said.

That's when he took a chance. "I went to America without a job and without money. I didn't know anyone. I went to a restaurant to ask if they need any help. They said we need a dishwasher. I agreed", he said. However, his fortunes changed, thanks to some dhoklas. "I was living in a shelter home in New York when somebody asked me if I cooked and I said yes. That person told me we have a party of 200 people and you have to make one appetizer and I made dhokla. From that party somebody suggested I go to a restaurant called Salaam Bombay. So I went there and that was my first proper job," he added.

There was no looking back. He is now happy running his own restaurant- Junoon. "Although it's a high-end restaurant, I have always tried to keep simple food in it which is very accessible. I tried not to change myself. So the restaurant serves family style food, just like in India. If this would have been for money I would not have been in this profession. It is sheer love and joy for me." he said.

Khanna, who considers US business magnate and hospitality expert Martha Stewart his mentor, earlier featured as a consultant chef on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's TV shows “Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen".

He also appeared as a guest chef in the episode "The India Show" on "The Martha Stewart Show" in March this year. After being in the cookery field for 25 years, Khanna has plans to open his next restaurant in India in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. He wants to offer Himalayan food there. "I want to enter that (Himalayan food) territory. As Indians, we have started to look out too much to the western world and have stopped looking inside our history and culture," he said. In the meantime, he is excited to judge "Masterchef India 2" in place of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. He has joined Ajay Chopra and Kunal Kapoor - celebrity chef judges from the past season on the Star Plus show which is already on air.


November 2011

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