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Vikas Khanna: Bridging Cultures With Indian Cuisine

Vikas Khanna talks to BFH about his delicious journey

His journey from the streets of Amritsar to New York as an internationally acclaimed culinary personality testifies to his hard work and dedication. From shadowing around his beloved Biji's kitchen to cooking for renowned world leaders, a journey of resilience stands tall.

Vikas Khanna is the man who presented colorful Indian cuisine on the world’s platter. His extraordinary food fusion artistry made him one of the most renowned chefs across the continents. He is one of the few Indians to receive a Michelin star and is a nominee for the prestigious James Beard Award. The Gazette review also names him on the list of the top ten chefs in the world. With his works in MasterChef India, Mega Kitchens, and Twist of Taste, he is a household name.

Apart from his illustrious culinary career, his passion guided him to be the author of multiple award-winning books, notably Utsav, the culinary epic with a historic launch at Cannes. He is also a celebrated filmmaker, with his debut release, The Last Color, making it to the eligible list of the glorious Oscars. In conversation with BFH, Vikas Khanna talks about the Men-Food bond, his past hustles, upcoming projects, and much more.

On the Journey of Past and Future

How would you brief up your journey from an unknown person to becoming among the top chefs in the country?

The journey was tough. I mean, I remember during my initial days in America, we faced a lot of challenges. We Indians were never allowed to be among the front-enders. We were never pushed forward. We would always be on the backend. This would always break my heart because we were always considered to be the helpers. The journey of coming from such backwardness to the places today I am in was based on just one single word, which is 'resilience'. I strongly believed that my Indian cuisine would only take me forward. I held the hands of my culture with pride. I never let Westernization hamper the authenticity of our cuisine and culture.

Does it still feel like a new day being a star, or are you used to these high recognitions?

Well, somehow, I am not used to any recognition. I am always paranoid, and I still try to maintain that. I am very fortunate to have achieved the feat of people recognizing me. My hard work has paid me off. But I try to surpass all these things to remain paranoid. I take the whole thing of 'recognition' as a small yet important key to getting into people’s lives.

Men and Kitchen don't meet much; well, how did you break this myth?

‘Men and Kitchen don’t meet much’, I love this line. I believe that this is a long-term myth. People have made this stereotype strong over time. But there has been pollination recently. Things have changed, and mindsets have changed. The roles have been redefined. Men were previously only associated with professional kitchens. But now, men have become more independent and have turned their faces to home kitchens, which were earlier just called a woman’s arena. Gender stereotypes have started breaking. I remember recently writing a book where the lead character had the magic of rolling bread. One of the publishers insisted forcefully that I make this lead character a girl. But I wanted the character to be a boy, and you see, this is how you contribute towards educating people to debunk the myths.

What's next on line for Vikas Khanna personally and professionally?

Well, I have my puppy, who is my little-sized yet big-hearted mate and my source of happiness. Coming to the professional foreground, I have my flagship restaurants to launch in New York next year. I have a documentary lined up for the future. Also, I have two books lined up that will be arriving soon. I would also be adding new kinds of stuff to my museum in Manipal. I feel very proud to have such works coming up and look forward to them.

Chef's take on men’s health and nutrition

Who better than a chef to ask? Tell us the importance of a healthy diet in a man's life.

Eating healthy is very important. I have spent half of my life in New York, where many of my colleagues, who were from Western countries, knew how to cook for themselves from childhood. Usually, men are used to being fed their whole lives, so they do not encourage themselves to be self-sufficient in terms of cooking. When men start living their own lives, it becomes difficult for them to come out of this feeding culture. As a result, they begin to compromise on the quality, the nutrients, and the diet, often thinking that they’ll handle it because they are strong. But this surely should not be the case, and men need to start off focusing on their healthy diet, as it is one of the most important aspects of their lifestyle. Men should start becoming more independent. They should start cooking more healthy meals for themselves.

How do you analyze our body and the nutrition system as a man?

The aspects of healthy eating and a regular diet schedule that insists on discipline will be the primary focus. Men should also not neglect their mental health, as it is also very important. You need to train your body as well as have good eating habits, as they help you a lot. Moreover, having meals on time and avoiding toxic diet elements should also be priorities.

You look superbly fit and have been an inspiration for making and maintaining a diet. How do you do that so nicely?

I work out on a daily basis. I would go to the gym, no matter how retarded or busy I am. For me, putting my gym routine on top of my priorities is something that makes me feel energetic and optimistic in life. Many people feel that the gym is the place where you only build your muscles. This is not true. You go to the gym to relax, to stretch, to maintain your shape, to do cardio sessions, to train yourself for more endurance and stamina, and whatnot. Working out acts as a very good rescue from your negativities as well.

Discipline is the key. Moreover, eating healthy and being mentally and physically fit is very important. But to sustain it and to keep an optimistic life cycle is what I believe helps men maintain themselves nicely.

What's the ideal recipe chart for a healthy day?

I think the ideal chart recipe would be a good balance of all the nutrients. Carbs, protein, and vitamins need to be in good amounts and balanced ratios. These nutrients help your body function more efficiently, so a balanced meal would include all of them.

Cheat meals are a great fetish for everyone. What are your preferred cheat meals? Or do you have any?

Ah yes. Cheat meals are a delight, I would say. Everyone wants a day or two off from their strict diet regimen to just follow their hearts and eat whatever they want. My favorite cheat meals are mostly chocolate desserts. I have literally no sugar or very little sugar in my regular meals. I am very strict about it. So whenever I get a chance to get a cheat meal, I prefer sweet dishes, desserts, or something very chocolaty.

How did COVID-19 change your outlook toward health and diet?

COVID came as a nightmare in everyone’s life. Every family has suffered through painful times. The isolation, the health hazards, and the pain were all very scary. I think, through COVID and even after that, I maintained a strange thing regarding my health, which might also turn many people off, namely, that I had almost the same food every single day. Yes, it might sound boring, but I had maintained a diet routine for myself, and I used to follow that, and my intake of nutrients was within that regime. My meals are measured. I stick to the same food plans, and I like them.

Men are more prone to diseases these days, and that too at a very early age. What would you suggest to counter these issues?

Well, I am not 100% sure whether this is true or not. But yes, in a family or a society, a man’s disease is not disclosed. Men have always been taught to portray this strong image and not let anyone know about their weaknesses. This macho image is very harmful to men. I am glad that these days men are coming up with their weaknesses. I also opened up about my physical disabilities. And people started looking up to me. I felt great, and many people encouraged me. This is what modern masculinity should ideally look like.

Tough times and Inspiration

You're always appreciated for your gracious smile. But how do you personally maintain it through your tough times?

It’s actually funny, you see, that wherever I go around the world, people tell me to smile. People like my smile. I can say that there’s a famous song in Bollywood that goes like ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, Kya gham hai jisko chhupa rahe ho’, {You’re smiling so much; what pain are you hiding behind this smile?}. This is the story of every human being; we are all going through a lot in our lives. Our lives are on social media all the time. We’re exposed to extreme reviews and criticism, so I have to deal with a lot of that as well. I try to make myself detached from all these, to be self-aware, and to find my happiness. I am also very grateful that I get to represent my country on big platforms. This makes me extremely proud and happy at times.

I think we should all maintain a healthy smile on our faces and keep the positive vibe alive.

Growing up, what were the top inspirations that drove you through this journey?

My family has been a great source of inspiration for me. My siblings, brother Nishant, and sister Radhika, have always supported and encouraged me through each and every phase of my journey. I’ve also been fascinated by art. All the artistic things, such as painting, sculpting, and cooking, pushed me towards new creativity. Moreover, my biggest source of inspiration has been my mother. She’s a wonderful woman and has played a huge role in my life. I wish her many more birthdays.

Secret tips for men

What are your best 5 diet tips for men?

Please follow a routine. That’s the first and foremost thing. The second piece of advice I would give is to be independent and learn how to cook good food for yourself. Not necessarily should every man become a master chef, but he should know the basics of cooking nicely. Moving ahead, I often feel that men who take care of themselves are seen as self-obsessed, and many times they are addressed with terms like ‘metrosexuals’. This should not be the case; men deserve to treat themselves in a superior manner, and no fear should stop them from doing this. Your body is your biggest asset, and valuing that gift is a great thing to do.

Tip number four would be to learn financial independence. Men must understand that for their ambitions to be fulfilled, they need to have financial independence. The last piece of advice would be not to let people take your mental health for granted. If you have people around you who are toxic, but you still favor them for the sake of saving a relationship, then you need to watch out for them. No one should be eligible enough to take a toll on your mental health. Your positivity and sanity should not be hampered at any cost, so take very good care of your mental health.

Ending up, give us 5 tips that are Vikas Khanna's secret to living a healthy man's life.

Firstly, I feel there is a lot of talk about women’s mental abuse and conditions, but people seldom talk about the mental discomfort and abuse that men go through. So I guess it is important to acknowledge and embrace this. Also, it becomes important to safeguard your mental well-being.

The second tip is to take some time in the day to do something for yourself. Any productive thing that you enjoy doing. It could be dancing, biking, or swimming. For me, the whole idea behind this is to take some time for yourself, take yourself from this illusionary suffering world, and get back to sanity and optimism.

Third, you need to follow a hobby. Men should keep the mission of this adventure and creativity alive; it gives you a sense of purpose and happiness in your life.

The fourth is to try to be financially independent. There are certain opportunities in life where things are not the same as always. You need to prepare yourself financially for all the conditions in life.

And the last tip is to take risks. You never know what life has in store for you. You hardly know what your upcoming time is like. Go out there and explore things. I started making movies at 49, so you see, it's never too late. If you follow your dreams and passion, you ought to take the steps. Follow your passion, listen to your heart and mind, and see what wonders life has for you.

Written By: Puneet Kapani

Edited By: Chirajita Gupta

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