Back in the January of 2010 I got a call out of nowhere, from an America based Indian Chef, asking me to come meet him right away as he had a project he wanted to work on. Me being the super planned me and hating last minute changes in my schedule, I almost declined! It was too much effort to organise baby sitting and make the trek all the way to Mahim to meet some arbid Amreeka returned Chef who would probably be all full of himself and derisive of India. How wrong I was! The businesswoman in me kicked me into gear and I went. A Perfect Bite - the consultancy was just starting out and it was not the time to walk away from possible projects. Thank God I did, because if I hadn't, I would very easily have missed out on meeting a truly beautiful person!
Vikas Khanna (born November 14, 1971) is a highly acclaimed Indian chef, restaurateur, food writer, filmmaker and humanitarian based in New York City. At 40 years, Vikas has achieved a staggering amount; owner and consultant in several restaurants and food organizations including "The Café" at the Rubin Museum of Art, founder of Cooking for Life and SAKIV Organizations that host gastronomic events around the world in support of different relief efforts and awareness issues and is also the honorary member of many foundations including the World Peace Society. He has been the recipient of numerous National and International Awards including the prestigious "Access to Freedom Award" in 2005 from SATH, previously awarded to George W. Bush and HRH Prince Charles. He has also authored many books.
I worked on Vikas's project and we then got on with our respective lives, keeping tabs on each other in our own way. I learned with time that in spite of all the success, the real Vikas has stayed rooted; to his family, his origins and his country. He may have hobnobbed with the world’s most powerful people who have dined at his restaurant and showered praise for his food, but Vikas remains himself. A good person from a strong family background, that is ever caring of others. A little old world chivalry and tradition stirred up with worldwise professionalism. But ever so often that oh-so-proper celebrity chef facade will happily slide away just a bit (usually when the subject is his family, India or Mumbai streetfood) and a naughty glint will twinkle in his eye or he will break into some musical theth punjabi to crack a joke. Those are the moments that give us a glimpse of himself, the Vikas that is his Bijis grandson and mother's son.
And then I got ANOTHER call from him earlier this year. And just like that he popped back in my life, sharing that he is in town and his book is about to release in the USA. That called for a celebration so I got together some local food media and bloggers and got the fine folk at the Momo Cafe at the Courtyard by Marriott to recreate the recipes from his book. Like many cookbooks before it by Chefs of Indian origin, Flavors First: An Indian Chef's Culinary Journey (Lake Isle Press) presents a collection of Indian inspired recipes for the home cook. What makes this one stand out however are the vibrant flavours and colours in the book. As I browsed through, I could not wait to cook some of them - the Chicken in Pistachios with Peppers and the Lamb in Vinegar with beets have been on my mind ever since. The recipes are a celebration of flavour and colour, never over the top and always respectful of the parametres of the cuisine and the ingredients. But what makes this book truly special are the humbly put forth personal stories that pepper the pages. They take you straight to the heart of Vikas, where he comes from and the mission he has made his own in life.To spread the word on the universality and humanity of food.
I admired Vikas when I first met him for being successful and incredibly good at marketing himself. But my respect for Vikas has grown manifold in the time I have known him. As a Chef he embodies everything I admire, but as a person I have just come to adore the person he is. Go get his book, you won't regret it! Its a beautiful book by a beautiful person.