VIKAS KHANNA- MASTER CHEF & CULTURAL ICON
DOB: November 14, 1971
Birthplace: Amritsar, India
Occupation: Chef, Author & Television Host
Residence: New York and India
If one were to look at Vikas Khanna’s early life, it wouldn’t be illogical to presume that he would never have achieved super stardom status in a cut-throat competitive world. The odds were stacked against him. He was born with misaligned legs, a condition which necessitated surgery in his childhood years. He was also born in a nation strife with poverty and a culture that did not support his wildest dreams.
In his home region of northern India, Khanna fell in love with food and cooking from an early age, a fact not encouraged by most Asian cultures at that time. When he began his first food business at age 16, relatives and family friends were appalled and unclear as to what the boy’s intentions were. With his grandmother’s culinary talents in his blood, his mother’s support and his father’s fortifying lessons on how best to deal with the trials and tribulations of life, Khanna forged onwards towards his dreams.
He went on to receive education in the culinary and hospitality fields, working his way up for the next twenty five years in various kitchens around the world under numerous top chefs. His present day status as a global ambassador of Indian cuisine and culture, as philanthropist, Master Chef, television host and owner/chef of Michelin rated Junoon Restaurant has catapulted him into a household name in India and solidified celebrity in the West.
Soft-spoken, the intelligent and affable Khanna stands for everything positive that can come out of one of my favorite countries in the world- India. In an era when the culturally rich India is plagued with tragic issues ranging from children’s malnutrition (of which Khanna works to remedy) to women’s rape, Khanna is a beacon of hope for billions– a glittering jewel that proves that the combination of hard work, dedication, kindness and humility can and do win, big time.
AF Girl: What is one of your favorite memories with your grandmother?
Khanna: Working in the community kitchen where everybody was cooking for free. I was rolling bread with my grandmother at 7 years old. I fell in love with food even then.
AF Girl: What do you love most about your mother?
Khanna: She is so, so supportive. She went with me recently for the photo shoot of my new book cover. She’s a lot like the Nike motto; she kept saying “Just do it.”
AF Girl: What is your favorite dish that your mother cooks?
Khanna: Kidney beans in tomato sauce is the dish she does best but I cook for her more often.
AF Girl: What are some of the most important values you learned from your parents that have helped you in your path towards success?
Khanna: I learned patience from my mother and how to deal with failure from my father. Success comes only every few times in life but for the most part, we are constantly dealing with frustrations and my father prepared me to deal with failure whereas most parents push their kids to reach success. Knowing how to deal with failure and frustration is really important.
AF Girl: What’s in your kitchen at home?
Khanna: Lots of lentils, spices, fruits, eggs, potatoes. Even though I entertain at home, I always get the food from Junoon (Chef’s Michelin starred restaurant in NY). Still, when guests come to your house, at least you have to be able to do something simple with eggs and potatoes.
AF Girl: Was being a world famous chef your intended path in life since childhood?
Khanna: I used to sell fried bread and chickpeas at 16 when I started my first business but relatives and family friends would come to ask my parents if they feel embarrassed that their son is doing “that kind of work.” I loved what I was doing even then.
AF Girl: What was one of the most difficult moments in your career?
Khanna: Coming to the US, facing how different it is from India. People come to the US because it’s the promise of opportunity but opportunity is not just waiting for you. You have to really work hard and have a humble attitude.
AF Girl: What advice can you give to young children today who idolize you and hope to follow in your footsteps?
Khanna: You might never get fame. I’ve been in the kitchen for 25 years and even if I were not famous, I’d still be doing what I’m doing. Be honest, stop getting into the politics of everything and focus on serving the people. Focus on giving your heart and spirit to the people.
Vikas Khanna was raised in Amritsar, India. It was alongside his grandmother that he began his lifelong apprenticeship to learn the intricacies of Indian cuisine. Khanna has studied at the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Culinary Institute of America, and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He is the Corporate Chef of the highly acclaimed Junoon Restaurant in New York.He has authored several books, including Flavors First which won Benjamin Franklin Award and upcoming book “Return to the Rivers- A culinary pilgrimage through the Himalayas” to be released in 2013. Khanna is also the creator of The Holy Kitchens, a series of documentary films that explore sharing food in different faiths. He is also the host of MasterChef India and appeared on several TV Shows with Gordon Ramsay, Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay. Vikas has hosted events for President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, HH the Dalai Lama among other dignitaries. His most recent books include My Great India, Savor Mumbai and Khanna Sutra.Khanna is the founder of Cooking for Life and SAKIV Foundations which raise funds for emergencies and World hunger. He was honored with Rising Star Award by StarChefs and the prestigious Access to Freedom Award in 2005 from SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality), and he has received a proclamation from the Council of the City of New York for his outstanding contribution to the city.
Khanna will be featured as one of the 25 most influential leaders in Dina Yuen’s upcoming book, Iconic Asian Americans.