Vikas Khanna on his journey from Amritsar to America
A successful restaurateur in New York, whose restaurant is a Michelin star award winner, started his own catering business at age of 17. Chef Vikas talks CS about his struggle and his journey so far:
I was born with clubbed feet and hence couldn’t walk properly. I would hide from everyone in the family because of my disability. While other kids in the family were busy playing, I would hide in the kitchen and watch my grandmother cook. It was while hiding there that I discovered that this was my temple.
My first venture in catering business was a small banquet hall in my backyard. It was a small party place for the women in the vicinity to come and have their get-togethers. But that didn’t work out. Then I tried a lot of other ventures. One thing I knew is that everything in our life is planned by the cosmos and one has to wait. Nothing comes easily.
My mommy strongest
My success wouldn’t be with me if not for my family, especially my mother. She has always stood by my side. I remember one banquet hall party, when it suddenly started raining. I switched the generator on, which was on my terrace. But it would stop working again and again. After a while, it was all fine. When I went up to check, I saw my mother holding the switch for me in the pouring rain without an umbrella. And all she said was I cannot let my son fail. Be humble and nothing will go wrong is the lesson she gave me. And since then I haven’t failed.
Humility is what I add to whatever I cook. I believe in being true to my roots. When I interview people for jobs, all I ask them to make is a perfect ‘phulka’. It is a perfect combination of three Ts – timing, technique, and temperature. It is simple for Indian women but difficult for most chefs to master.
I have an open kitchen at Junoon in New York. I have had a lot of customers who come here for what I serve – simplicity. But a memorable incident that really makes me proud is the experience I had with an 80 year old lady. Her grandsons brought her to my restaurant on her 80th birthday. All she ordered was aloo wadi. After a while, she was in tears. All she did was cry and ask for me. I went upto her table to apologise. That’s when the old woman raised her hands to bless me. All she said was that the aloo wadi reminded her of her grandmother’s aloo wadi. That was the best award ever — to bring a 80-year-old memory to life.