With delicate, traditional flavours, Michelin star chef-restaurateur Vikas Khanna pays homage to India with Ellora, his new restaurant in Dubai
If there's one person in the F&B space who has been keeping himself busy despite the hurdles of an endless pandemic, it's got to be Michelin-star chef, author, filmmaker and humanitarian Vikas Khanna.
For the past five months, Khanna has not only managed to lead one of India's largest voluntary food drives, Feed India, which crosses 30 million meals this weekend, but he has also launched an all-new seasonal culinary experience in Dubai's largest experience resort. Ellora by Vikas Khanna at JA The Resort is a product of the pandemic. Inspired by traditional, homegrown flavours of India, Ellora, which translates to caves in Sanskrit, represents "a ray of light and positivity that defies the darkness of these unprecedented times," Khanna tells us over a telephonic chat from the US.
Kele ki bhajji
It brings to the table and people's palates authentic regional dishes reimagined with a modern twist. The amalgamation has resulted into mouth-watering offerings like tandoori pineapple, delectable pan-seared pista macchi, tandoori lemon prawn, rainbow carrot and watermelon curry, slow-cooked achari lamb with caramelised onions and lots more.
"The menu brings you the comfort of home-cooked meals without compromising on our fine-dining presentation. From deconstructing a modak-shaped thandai panna cotta to recreating Karnataka's much-loved menaskai [pineapple curry], we want to break the stereotype that a casual dining experience cannot be classy. When they devour a meal, we want people to look at the presentation and marvel in the beauty of traditional Indian food," says Khanna.
The restaurant that kicked off its operations on the day that India celebrated its 73rd year of Independence has been raking in diners, with houseful bookings, shares Khanna. To ensure the safety of diners, the staff have been following government-necessitated safety precautions and protocols.
Sharing some top-secret recipes he is cooking up, he adds that Ellora will also be paying a tribute to real on-ground hunger heroes from India by naming exclusive dishes after them. Some of these include Sharda named after Sharda Chouragade, a dosa vendor in Nagpur who sells four dosas for `10 so that kids in lesser-privileged families don't go hungry. Another such hero to be honoured is Combaitore's 85-year-old Kamalathal amma who sells idlis for `1, and Maharashtra's 81-year-old Baba Karnail Singh Khaira, who set up Guru Ka Langar to feed over 2 million people near Karanji along NH-7 in the pandemic. "These are heroes who inspire me. Anybody can cook, but what matters is to have a heart in the right place," he says.
When asked what drives him, he is candid. "To keep moving forward in a Western world, you don't have to be a blind patriot; you have to be a real patriot. When you have a large responsibility in two of the biggest countries, everything you do is scrutinised or admired. And so my mother always grounds me. She says she doesn't care about million-dollar restaurants or book deals. She is happy for my success. She always tells me, 'All I care about is how many people you feed.' And that's the promise that I want to live up to."
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