NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna hopes his latest book and television show will inspire home chefs and children in his native India to express their culinary talents .
The 39-year-old, who was born and raised in the northern city of Amritsar, now lives and works in New York City where he opened his restaurant Junoon.
Known for his global spin on modern Indian cuisine, Khanna took over as host and judge of “MasterChef India,” which is beginning its second season this month.
Khanna spoke to Reuters about growing up in India, his new cookbook “Flavors First” and fasting during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
Q: Are there dishes in your new book that reflect the food you grew up eating?
A: “Most of the dishes in the beginning are from my grandmother. I feel the regions are not as important as the seasons. That is one thing I learned so much when I was in France. I used my grandmother’s tastes and concepts and took them to another level after I was taught by these chefs in the Western world.”
Q: What are your early food memories?
A: “One good thing about growing up with an extended family and not a very wealthy one was that there was very little privilege of going out to eat. It would have to be a very big occasion for us to be going out. But over here, it’s a way of life. Eating at home here is a big deal.”
Q: What is your idea of comfort food?
A: “I eat almost the same food every night. For me, it’s a bowl of lentils. Lentil is my meal of home, comfort, safety. It’s everything. It’s the common man’s food in India. I eat late, but I love eating that bowl of lentil sitting on the counter. It takes me an hour to finish eating it. Also I taste so much food all day long, but by the end when I’m finished with my shift, eating a bowl of lentils makes me so happy.”
Q: You hold meditation classes at your restaurant for your employees. Why?
A: “We all sit together in one room, all in the one posture, all in one mode, all in the same breathing mode. A lot of mediation is based on breathing — that is the greatest form of union. This is what connects us to each other. That’s what connects us to the divine. We can control our mind. We can control our anger just by breathing properly.”
Q: Why did you decide to become the host of the television show “Master Chef India”?
A: “The reason to do the show is to tell another child like me who grows up in a simple home that everything is possible. Remain positive. Remain focus. You work hard. There is no magic to it. Ultimately, it’s all energy. When you give good energy, you are going to attract certain energy, and I have been a total advocate of that.”
Q: You just finished filming a documentary about food and Islam. What did you learn?
A: “The concept of fasting. Why has it become an institution? Why is it revered in the culture? What is the meaning of it? During this month I fasted myself. I fasted from morning to night because I wanted to be part of that union, even though I don’t belong to that faith.
“I just want to see what it feels like. It was so hard. You have to control yourself. It shows you the meaning tolerance. It shows you there are so many hungry people in the world. This is their regular life. When you eat food, it is so much more precious. I loved it. You had to wait for such a long time. Imagine a whole country breaking the fast together. It’s real union, real unity.”
Pear and Tamarind Chutney (Nashpati-Imli Chutney)
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
4 firm-ripe pears, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup tamarind paste
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium heavy-bottom pan with a lid. Add the mustard seeds and stir for one minute. Add the pears and cook until well coated with the seeds. Add the cinnamon, tamarind paste, sugar, salt, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the pears are cooked through and the liquid is syrupy, about 20 minutes. Add additional water if required.
2. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, uncovered. Adjust salt to taste. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney