"Everyone reacts to purity"
Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna breaks bread with The Guide on the thrills, chills and spills of charting India's diverse culinary adventures and its bottomless pot of produce and uncharted terrain. Excerpts
Most celebrity chefs seem to be compiling a set of recipes inspired from every corner of India; how different was yours going to be?
I have tried to focus on the unsung heroes of Indian culinary traditions. It is supremely important to keep referring to these foods that make our food history richer. I have written extensive head notes and created images and recipes that are globally relate-able.
You've taken great pains to provide a foreword to every recipe; this book comes across as extremely personalised. Were you happy with the end result?I was mostly happy to see the food notes. Many times I had felt very strong emotions that were very difficult to write, mostly felt and tasted. May be, with years of experience I can capture the moments even better.
What were some of the learnings that stayed with you from your travels into India's diverse kitchens?
I am very moved by the union of spirituality and food in India. The belief of feeding and sharing food is very important to this culture. We are lucky to be born with this culture. The reverence of ingredients is so important to our home cooks. It moved me tremendously, especially as I live in New York and sometimes, am disconnected to the sources of nature.
Which Indian state/region’s culinary richness, according to you, is a hidden treasure trove that needs more attention? And why?
I still feel the need to return to Ladakh, the North East, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Pondicherry, Chettinad in Tamil Nadu — the list is endless. India has layers of history everywhere. I can’t name a few regions to reach and search it’s beauty, truth and treasures.
The world eats out of your hands; what are the challenges you face each time you introduce Indian food to a new audience?
I keep my food honest and make sure to keep the thread of memories intact. Everyone reacts to purity and we should focus on the pure essence.
Favourite ingredient: Salt
Favourite spice: Saffron-turmeric
Spiciest recipe: Bhut Jolokia Lamb Curry
Sweet tooth indulgence: Rasmalai
International chef you admire the most: Gordon Ramsay