Chef Vikas Khanna: Inspiring India Through MasterChef
Image Credit: Chef Vikas Khanna

"To teach is great, but to inspire is divine. Impossible is just an opinion, nothing else." A well-known Indian chef with a Michelin star holds this to be true. Known for his exceptional culinary skills and captivating personality, chef Vikas Khanna is not just an Indian chef but a restaurateur, filmmaker, author, and humanitarian. Khanna’s extraordinary journey started in his biji’s kitchen in Amritsar. Right from learning to cook from his grandmother to working with some of the world's most renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay, it wasn’t easy for him, but he came, he stood, and he conquered.

                           Image: Chef Vikas Khanna with Karthyayani Amma 

Chef Khanna has 13 years of experience doing shows. Chef Vikas Khanna has hosted five seasons of MasterChef India, based on the British version of the same concept. MasterChef has received a lot of love from the audience over the years. Currently, chefs Vikas Khanna, Garima Arora, and Ranveer Brar are judging the seventh season of MasterChef. Chef Khanna spoke exclusively with Slurrp about his MasterChef journey and experiences.

As a MasterChef judge, what keeps you hooked on this cooking-based reality show?

I think being a judge on MasterChef India has given me an amazing platform to uplift Indian cooking, Indian chefs, Indian narratives, and Indian culture through the show. So, when I come to India to host the show, it also gives me opportunities to learn so much, which I can later use in my books, my restaurant, and my movies. So, for me, it's not just a show; it's what we call a cultural asset to the country where we can see a graph of how eating habits change.

What, according to you, is the most special thing about aspiring chefs?

I think when we see that there's a passion to be someone and we feel they are very inclined towards choosing a profession in cooking, there's no other platform bigger than MasterChef for aspiring chefs in the world. And I think what we look for is curiosity in their eyes because the curious ones will keep learning till the end, and it's a very important part of the character of a chef. If you look at who has come over here, you can see that everyone has come with a desire to cook; they have filled out the forms, watched the show for years, and come for auditions, interviews, and cooking shows. You can see their passion, but curiosity is also very important. This is a show where you can give your passion a major identity, and that's why we call it "passion se pehchan."

MasterChef which is a reality show, what does it bring to the table?

I have 13 years of experience doing shows, and many times it would happen that you would not get ingredients in the market. So, when we show any special ingredients in the show, a whole trade starts, and it affects the production line. The product line is where the restaurant has it, roadside vendors have it, and stores have it, as we show how different things are used. MasterChef as a show has the ability to introduce new ingredients to the market and create demand for them. As a result, these components are becoming more widely available. The most important thing is that this show works like a coordinator between different parts of India. It allows for an accurate representation of different cuisines and food traditions, connecting the East, West, South, and North regions through the show as our home cooks come from different parts of India.

Which is the most special dish that you have come across during the MasterChef season?

There was one dish that came, but that person did not make it on the shortlist. It was a chutney made out of jute flowers, and I loved it. We usually ignore jute because it is a plant component. Another one was a "Mor Kali," by another participant, which is something in between idli and dhokla. I went crazy after eating so many dishes. But it also gives me so much inspiration to make so much more for my restaurants.

There have been too many personality, relationship, dance, and music-related reality shows. But now, cooking shows have also started getting a lot of attention. How come? 

Cooking shows are getting a lot of attention now because they are perceived as an extension of the kitchen, a sacred space in every home. People relate to cooking shows as they see their own family members cooking, and they consider it a familiar environment. It's different from other reality shows like dance and music as it is not just about entertainment but also about learning, meeting new chefs, and overcoming challenges in the kitchen. I wish that the atmosphere of the show would always be this way.

      Image: Cauliflower +Collard Greens Soup with Tingmo/Chef Vikas Khanna (facebook)

So, what is special about Indian cooking compared to other global cuisines?

Every cuisine has its own character, and it's very difficult to compare them, but as a subcontinent, India is greatly gifted with a variety of ingredients. Our soil is so fertile that whatever seed you sow reaps beautifully, and everything tastes different. Indian-style cooking has introduced the world to a completely new approach to vegetarian cooking, seasoning, and spices. Diversity is the king of Indian cooking. While a dish is prepared in a certain way, there may be three other different methods to cook the same dish, which can never be documented. There are so many different methods to make and preserve a dish. From fermentation to drying or pickling, India is a master in all these aspects. India is a very ancient culture that is yet so modern and is constantly absorbing new flavours.

How have you bonded with the other judges on the show?

My relationship with the other judges is that Ranveer is like my little brother, but I am grateful every morning to be standing next to Garima Arora. I genuinely feel honoured. She is a role model for changing the culinary landscape and earning a Michelin star as a single woman. I've spent so many years bonding with Ranveer. We go back so many years that even when we are not on the show, we are still on the phone talking, chatting, or constantly connected, and I love both of them very dearly.

     Image: Chef Vikas Khanna with Chef Garima Arora and Chef Ranveer Brar

What do you expect from the contestants participating in the MasterChef competition?

If we talk about expectations, we want them to improve, rise, and shine. But what I truly expect is for them to become better people and better chefs. It is very important to observe things. The one thing that I have noticed the most is that the greatest chefs—Michelin-starred chefs—that I have worked with have always observed everything so deeply. That's what I like about them.

What is your message for aspiring chefs or for those willing to participate in MasterChef?

I would say, don't stop dreaming and constantly keep learning. Whatever you learn and bring to MasterChef, every ingredient, every technique, and every experience will be useful over here. You guys watch and learn because you are very fortunate to have the internet for reference; when we were growing up and learning how to cook, we had no references; we had to go to Lucknow, Kolkata, and Srinagar to learn their cooking because there were not even many books at that time. So, I believe that people who are proud should use this time to learn more, remain curious, and remain in love with this profession because it is the most beautiful art form that humans have created.

Last but not least, how would you define Vikas Khanna as a brand?

I'm just a son of Amritsar, and that's how I define myself in India or America: as just a son of Amritsar who's working every morning and every night just to make his mom proud.

                    Image: Chef Vikas Khanna with his mother/Facebook