Vikas Khanna: “Indian Harvest: Classic and Contemporary Vegetarian Dishes” | Talks at Google

Vikas Khanna: “Indian Harvest: Classic and Contemporary Vegetarian Dishes” | Talks at Google


AMAR JOSHI: Please
welcome Vikas Khanna. [APPLAUSE] VIKAS KHANNA: Hi. AMAR JOSHI: Nice to
have you at Google. Thank you for coming again. VIKAS KHANNA: My pleasure. Hi everyone. AMAR JOSHI: So
thanks for coming in. You are Google New
York’s favorite chef, one of the favorite chefs up here. VIKAS KHANNA:
[NON ENGLISH SPEECH] AMAR JOSHI: I bet, yeah, right? VIKAS KHANNA: I’m
so proud to be here. This is my third
time here I guess. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. VIKAS KHANNA: Two times I was
just cooking food for everyone. And both the times, it
happened to be Diwali, which is the big Indian festival. So I’m proud to bring a
piece of homeland to America. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. So we also have food
today from your book. It’s in Hemispheres at
2pm, so go eat that. So you’ve been in New
York for how many years? Like more than few– VIKAS KHANNA: I came here
in 2000, December 2nd, don’t count years. AMAR JOSHI: Well– VIKAS KHANNA: I’m not
the best with that. But it’s almost 16
years, 15 years? AMAR JOSHI: Do you call
yourself a New Yorker? Like do you look at New
York as home or is it– VIKAS KHANNA: I was reading
this British, some philosopher, who said that, you’re
born out of darkness. And you come to the world. Same thing happened to me when
I got off number 7 train, which came out of the tunnel. So I felt exactly the same. Everyone remembers
coming to New York City. The first stop, the moment that
came up, the first side walk, the first building they saw,
it’s so real, it’s like– AMAR JOSHI: It’s like
you’re here finally. VIKAS KHANNA: You made it. AMAR JOSHI: Nice, yeah. So your new book, “Classic and
Contemporary Indian Dishes, Indian Harvest,” tell
us something about why you have a vegetarian book. It’s all vegetarian
dishes, right? VIKAS KHANNA: These are
all vegetarian dishes. It’s a book by
Bloomsbury USA, and I’m very proud for this association. I think even the name
is very beautiful. It’s about harvest. The most essentials of our life. It’s something of
gratitude, it’s something about, something about
humanity in that word, harvest. I think something very powerful. And many of the tribal to
urban to suburban festivals are always based on harvest. So we suggested that we
should call it harvest, as a word gratitude. So it’s vegetarian because
I thought that there’s such a large market now. There’s so much of awareness
of vegetarian food. I wouldn’t say that it’s a fad. It’s here to stay. And it’s great. That I, being an Indian
and being an Indian chef, that vegetarian is not like some
which you are like, you know. I remember when we had eggs
for the first time in the home, we didn’t eat it. Our grandmother
wouldn’t let us eat. She said, think about the hens. And I’m like, really, why? You stole somebody’s babies. I remember it’s
like 1980 something. It’s like so true in a way. But we never had, until I
was 17, I went to college. And I had, started
enjoying, and understanding seafood and everything. Because where I come from,
it’s only fried fish sometimes, if you’re rich, and
you’ve saved money on the first Sunday
of the month. But this is a
fantastic opportunity to talk about the
culture through food. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah,
there’s certainly– VIKAS KHANNA:
That’s what this is. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, I think
this perception of vegetarian being like a substitute,
like especially in some Western culture,
that’s like think– looks like yours go a long
way in correcting that. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s
good that we can talk about something different. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s like not
just giving the market what they want to consume. It is also giving
something which matters, something which is essential,
and something you believe in. And there’s a dedication
page– it says it all. I’m not a vegetarian at all. I eat everything. There’s a page here that says
dedicated to all my gurus, who taught me how to
cook and roll breads. And most important, they
were all vegetarian. They truly showed me the
power of food and love. So this first page itself,
is like it’s for me, this is not just a book. It’s a dedication to all those
wrinkled hands, what I say. Who stood by me and kept no
secret from me in the kitchen. And without even
knowing that eventually you’ll be running
Junoon in New York. They did not. It’s a big leap from
where I come from. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, so
speaking of Junoon, right, congratulations on winning your
fifth Michelin star, right? Did I get that right? VIKAS KHANNA: Yeah. [APPLAUSE] AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, it’s great
to be in that category, right? VIKAS KHANNA: There are
too many great restaurants, and too many great Indian
chefs in the world. I’m proud to be part
of the fraternity. AMAR JOSHI: Nice, so what does
it take to earn a Michelin star and keep it for five
years, and hopefully more? VIKAS KHANNA: It’s
like– it’s something which is very strange that you
know– In 1990, when I joined college, my principal or the
people who gave me admission, said we will give you
admission on a condition that you’re going to learn
English, which I actually failed in the first semester. And I think they forgot
about that condition, and they let me
go in the college. But I read this magazine which
talked about Michelin stars. This is the first time I’ve
heard of a Michelin star. I had no idea about the
Michelin star also then. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. VIKAS KHANNA: But
and the last line said that this is the glorified
kitchens of the world. Earn a Michelin
star and everything. And said unfortunately,
India, even with such large
population, love for food, a chef would not
be able to get it. And I think that was a
very powerful last line about someone telling a
child who’s starting off in the industry saying that you
will be exempt from the glory. And it was like, for me
it was like a very big– that line was trapped
with me forever. I said once in my
lifetime I want to get it. And they call you. They call you in the afternoon. It’s very difficult. I will not be able to
explain properly in English. If you’re talking Punjabi,
I can explain right and left what I was feeling that time. So they call you around 1
o’clock in the afternoon. And I pick up the phone
and they said yes. I’m going from the
Michelin guide, we just want to– And
I’m like, I was so numb. I didn’t understand. Did I win it or
did I not win in? First time. So everybody’s asking me
standing there, chef, what? I said, I didn’t understand
what she was saying. I was like, did
you get it or not? But this is when the [INAUDIBLE]
was not, like you know now, you can see the list right away. But we got it. It was– I think no one should
be exempt from experimenting with their life. AMAR JOSHI: It’s nice that you
take on the challenge and– VIKAS KHANNA: That movie’s
really inspired me. It’s funny to talk about
a rat at this stage. But Ratatouille
really inspired me. And that line about that a great
artist can come from anywhere. AMAR JOSHI: That’s true. VIKAS KHANNA: It can
come from anywhere. But I also feel that coming
from humble background, it’s an amazing hunger
and you have 24 hours. And you don’t take
a day for granted. Because you don’t know
that this must be something which is greater than you. AMAR JOSHI: That’s inspiring. Thank you. So the menu at Junoon,
right, how is that, is that like completely,
did you think about making creating a
completely Indian menu or is this like sort of get
with the Western palate and– VIKAS KHANNA: It’s as pure. I think it’s almost nine years–
nine or 10 years ago, when I first met Mr. Rajesh Bhardwaj. He’s the, I want to say
that he is the main brain. And I happen to
be on the journey. And it’s fantastic when you
first talk about Indian food. And he kept telling one
thing, which was so, it was a very
powerful message what he wanted to give the world. If you want to have a–
a fine dining restaurant which serves Indian food, not
just an Indian restaurant. We want to give an experience
that the moment you walk into a restaurant,
that you feel that this is like the gravity of
Indian culture cuisine flavors. So you have to be
pure in your flavors. But you should also be evolving. It should always be evolving. There should always be something
new in your plate every time you come in. There should always be
something new to be offered. Because that is what
New York is about. If you have to
survive here, you’ve got to be re-inventive
all the time. So it’s cuisine which is
totally Indian on the soul. But you might feel that it has
been presented in absolutely new norms and new faces. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. Have you considered doing
some like, something like Punjabi dhaba, upscale
restaurant you know? VIKAS KHANNA: [SPEAKING PUNJABI]
Dhaba means a small kiosk. I’ve been running
it since I was 17. It’s really interesting
that my father used to say don’t call it a business. Call it a charity. Because if somebody will
come to eat our food, we’ll be so happy, we’ll
give them for free. And if somebody would
complain, we won’t charge it. My dad would always be
like, when are you going to learn how to make money? It’s like, I said you know, as
long as– my grandmother would always stand by me and
she said, as long as he’s happy in what he
does, it does not make any difference otherwise. And I love that. It stuck with me. My first job was, of course, as
an apprentice in the kitchen. But it was also, my first
business was running a dhaba. In the backside of my house,
in a very narrow lane, where only one car can come. But we did the best,
what we could do, in our ability of making
three, four dishes which I knew how to cook. That’s what. And charging 22 rupees. And whatever people can really
eat, it was all you can eat. So it was always like– AMAR JOSHI: 20
rupees is 10 cent– VIKAS KHANNA: 20 rupees
is like how much? AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, it– 40 cents. VIKAS KHANNA: 30
cents or 40 cents. So it was like
amazing that you’ll have people who will
say, oh, you know what, I didn’t enjoy the food so much. I couldn’t eat much. And can you just
pack the rest for me? It’s like, OK. But it was a great
training ground. People discount the
fact that starting small is something that–
I’m telling you, even the next glorified
Indian chef, or anyone who’ll get the Michelin star, will come
from a very similar background and belief, that it was
the little things you learned while you were
doing the smallest of jobs. I still don’t forget
my first [INAUDIBLE]. He bought 24 plates,
white plates. We got 23 chairs. It was crazy, when we had more
than 24 people to cook for, we’ll have to go back and wash
the plate, and bring it back. So I’m just waiting for
somebody to finish fast, man. So that is the most
important training ground. Most important training
ground is to start. AMAR JOSHI: Invaluable
lessons there. VIKAS KHANNA: Well, how
much you learn from there. And the kitchen was not covered. We didn’t have resources
to cover the kitchen. So every time it would
rain, it says like we– AMAR JOSHI: Oh, by cover,
you mean a physical cover. VIKAS KHANNA:
There was no shade. OK, but want do you call? Roof. There was no roof
on the kitchen. So everytime it would
rain, people find it very– how can you have a kitchen? Yeah, the kitchen
was never covered for the first few years. And the worst was
when you had to make the breads in the tandoor
and it begin to rain. It’s very clear visual. In the book, I write
about some stories. My mother or grandmother
would stand with an umbrella near the tandoor. And they would protect me
from making the breads. And so many times you feel the
initiative to– my grandmother would also say, save your face. Save your face. It’s like, OK, I need
to go inside the tandoor to get the bread out. No, take it out from far. Save your face. She was always
worried about that. That keeps you going. That keeps you going. That’s the real you. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. So at Junoon, right, there’s
a speciality spice room. VIKAS KHANNA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. AMAR JOSHI: That’s, for
me, that’s the thing that stood out in memory
from when we went there. It’s– VIKAS KHANNA: It’s a spice
room, and you go down in the restaurant,
there’s a spice lounge, and there’s a spice room. You’ll see so many spices. But now I’ve become a
little bit more normal. I’ve become more empathetic. I learned that. I’ve become more empathetic
to people’s reaction towards telling them I
have a thousand spices. You freak people out. So now we have little, we
have more on display this but a lot of spices we buy
from all over the world. And my latest research,
which is going to come a few years
from now, will be about how the spices actually
grow from the flower stage to the stage in
which we consume. So the spice room,
it’s the essential. It is the soul of Indian food. And to have a masala room. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. VIKAS KHANNA: And I
feel that sometimes you have so many people who
just come for the– just to see the spice room. And you should them
how you grind spices. And it’s like life cannot be
just black pepper and salt. Shit. AMAR JOSHI: There’s
definitely more to that. VIKAS KHANNA: But it’s also
so very interesting when you have a lot of Americans
who come to your restaurant, and they’ll say, can you
pack the stuff for us? And I’ll say, go
home and experiment. They had the
greatest things which happened by nature to food. It’s fantastic. AMAR JOSHI: Right, it’s
like if you look back at the explorers
who came to India, they originally came in
for the spices, right? It’s like that was
the trade commodity. VIKAS KHANNA: And Indians are
no problem, it is on the street. Pick up the black pepper. It’s like really? It’s like black gold. It’s more expensive– and in
India, it grows everywhere. I think it’s also, in the
book I do mention that, about the fertility of soil, the
placement of the country. Imagine a country which
wears the crown of Himalayas. Himalayas, that one was right. Hima– Himalayas. So imagine a country
which has a crown of the mountains,
the grandeur of them, just to protect
the soil literally. So I was reading this article
by this American person who was researching on Indian soil. It said that it’s amazing
that how much it’s covered with water on all
the sides, and on top, it has these grand mountains. It has every possible
climate in the world, which makes the soil so fertile. So when you look at
Junoon, the only colors which you’ll see
in the restaurant are the pallet of
soils from India. It’s so, so amazing
that I collect soils from different regions
of the country. And they all look different. They became different. They grow different spices. But a lot of people they
control, they mistake, no. A lot of people mistake–
that’s a big problem. Sometimes I have to remember
this tenses so that they always right in grammar. Many people do not
understand this. Every time I repeat it,
it’s going to be the same. And remember this
well– every time you look at Indian– I’m going
to say it in my own language. Every time you
look at India, it’s not just the soil
which grows the spices. There are too many more factors. It’s the sun. It’s the rain. It’s the waters. It’s the climate. It’s the season. It’s the nurturing. It’s also the manpower. But water is the most
essential after sun. And then it’s– the soil
is continuously changing. And a lot of spices, like black
pepper, why it could not grow? Why it was so prized? Because I write in this
book about, I show it. Black pepper has this
amazing, natural phenomenon, nature’s precision of
being water pollinated. It’s like, OK, what’s
the big deal, right? We would say. What pollinated means that the
first time the flower opens, it has the pollen, the
water or the raindrop has to fall right on
that point to take that pollen to the next flower. Imagine the precision of nature. Did I say it? Did I explain it, book English? AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, that’s great. VIKAS KHANNA: So and
if it rains too much, you look at the leaves. They look like umbrellas
or what of black pepper. It’s crazy. And if it’s windy,
it does not work. You would not have the
pollen at the exact spot. If it rains too hard, the
water would not reach there. And the worst thing is, if
it does not rain exactly at the same time,
you will not have the pollination of back pepper. AMAR JOSHI: Wow, you can’t
do that with irrigation. VIKAS KHANNA: No, I
should be less passionate when I talk like this. Looks like it’s a possible
risk for my whole life. If the water drop, man! It’s like, what’s
the big deal, man? Get over it. It’s like no, it’s so– it’s
so– OK, I’ll be normal now. AMAR JOSHI: It’s amazing how
much nature works to get– VIKAS KHANNA: And how much
research goes into this. It’s like you’re
talking about yeah, man. It’s like, some of chefs,
you just can’t get over it. And I’ve been to research star
anise in Vietnam last year. And it’s crazy the
spices, which star anise also grows at our
[INAUDIBLE] that’s a Northeastern part of India. It is phenomenal how
this turns into the star anise, the beautiful piece
of architecture by nature. That how much processes
it goes through. And again it’s not
water pollinating. OK, I will not talk
about it again now. AMAR JOSHI: I think
everyone’s here to see your passion about
food, and it’s great. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s crazy that
how nature has applied itself. It’s so, and this is one of
the books in which I say, you have to read
the last page first. So some people would know that I
host “Master Chef India,” which is like the biggest
cooking show in India. So we shoot at RK Studios. It’s in Mumbai, a little
bit outside the main city. So I have told the main guards
that if somebody comes to meet me, you have to call me. So I go out, and I see
this woman sitting outside. She’s of course
begging on the street. But I see her trying
to feed her daughter a small piece of bread. And she’s telling her
a story, and making a little helicopter out of it. And it was so heavy for me too. And people are like, what’s
the big deal about that. So I got so inspired, I wrote
a poem in my native language. AMAR JOSHI: Which is Punjabi? VIKAS KHANNA: And
then the editors are banging their head,
like what is that? But I have some good
people I work with. So we did– I wrote
a whole poetry about the cycle of
nature, that how that little piece of bread
which is swinging in the air, and with those imaginary
stories and sparrows, while she’s telling the story. Can I read that? AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. Yes please. VIKAS KHANNA: You’re
going to say this is like, this is not my glasses. They’re Rajesh’s glasses though. I most of dropped them
somewhere in the kitchen. So this is how I want
the book to be read. “It takes a million
hands to feed a child. From the strong
hands that ploughs, to the precise hands that sew. From the loving hand
that waters, and waits for the sprout to grow. From the nimble hand that cleans
to the rough hand the grinds. From the experienced hand that
backs to the vendor’s hand that binds. From the story hand that
kneads, to the practiced hand that rolls. From the careful
hand that begins to poke and notice our souls. And finally, to the
loving wrinkle hand, which gently breaks away a
little piece of bread and blows cold air to make
it cool every day, and begin to tell the
folklore of imaginary sparrows that flew afar, to the immortal
heroes, angels and fairies, that live on a distant star. The mythical men who attain
magical strength when they eat. She ran after the
little princess everywhere, still
holding the plate. Then a little mind that
travels a distant journey and suddenly stops. A little morsel is
eaten completing the journey of divine crops. Even the God’s mother
also ran after them for the sacred chase. A new sun brings a
new cycle of love, full of gratitude and grace. It takes a million
hands to feed a child.” AMAR JOSHI: Wow. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s
brilliant, right? At my college, people said
if you don’t pass in English, we are not going to
get you admission. AMAR JOSHI: This shows them. VIKAS KHANNA: I’m
writing poetry. I think that begin
the source, it becomes a very humble source
for you to write literature. It becomes a source of not
making it look too large, not making it too glorified,
not making it too glamorous, but to make it real and humble. To make it like the roots of a
cuisine of such an old culture like India, belongs to those
little imaginary sparrows. I think it was like–
I mean, sometimes you read this to your–
I read this to my mother. I wish I had a
camera to tape it. My mother was like, you
remember those stories? I was like, no, mom, I don’t
remember those stories. But that is how a culture
is in continuation. That is how the stories
pass on from one to another. AMAR JOSHI: Right, it
becomes a part of you. VIKAS KHANNA: And when
you’re doing what we do here in America, we can’t
disconnect ourselves from the real truth,
the real truths of the cuisine and the culture. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. Yeah. So that’s where you get your
inspiration for all the books? VIKAS KHANNA: Simplicity. AMAR JOSHI: So it’s not just
your publisher pushing you to write two books every year? He’s looking at the publisher. VIKAS KHANNA: No, I
write what I feel. I can’t be scripted. I have a very big problem. See? I was scripted that line to
talk about, even sometimes the restaurant, I’ve been
scripted what to say, I can’t say it. It becomes very hard for me
to explain something which is organic and which is internal. It is not scripted. It can’t be. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. So in the process of coming up
with the book or a new dish, right, how do you weigh
innovation versus tradition as in you know
this formula, dish, and then how do you make
it more presentable? VIKAS KHANNA: Amar, you
think I believe in formulas? AMAR JOSHI: Well, exactly. No, not formulas. But what’s your
creative process like? VIKAS KHANNA: Creative
process is extremely simple. People try to make a
very big deal out of it. It is not. It is not. It’s just food. And you know, I said something
which was like little bit off– should be off
the records actually. It’s like when
people having dinner, and said this is one of
the best meals of my life, people tell you at Junoon. So I always interrupt and
say that food doesn’t matter. Food doesn’t matter. It’s the people you’re
having dinner with. AMAR JOSHI: That’s true. VIKAS KHANNA: Well,
it was off the record. But it’s like really, like
how much work goes into it? We adjust the backdrop. We adjust the furniture. And I’m not talking
about the chair. I’m talking about you. The food is the backdrop. It’s the people. It’s that energy. It’s that moment. Restaurants will come,
and restaurants will go. It’s such a transient world. There was something
before Junoon. There’s something after Junoon. That’s the true. I’m a big follow the Dalai Lama. That’s why I say that. But it’s that moment that you
spend there in that restaurant and said, do you
remember my 21st birthday when the chef actually
got the cake out? Do you remember that moment
when we had that dinner? You remember? Oh my god, I miss
my grandmother. You remember the last
meal we had with her? It was at Junoon. My publisher, because of
whom this book is there. Mr.– talk or something. AMAR JOSHI: All right. So you mentioned the
Dalai Lama, right? You wrote a book about
him on his 80th birthday. VIKAS KHANNA: Yeah. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah. What was it called? “Timeless Legacy.” VIKAS KHANNA: Oh my god! It was such an
amazing experience. I made a cake for him. I’m not going to
get too excited. I want to say it normally. I made a cake for him
from his native breads from his hometown. I lived in Tibet. So I can make like almost
16 different breads of Tibetan culture. Totally different. So I made this bread,
I made it very thin. And I made like layers of cake. So I wanted to get 80
layers in that one cake. So 80 years. I couldn’t do that because it
was becoming like this big. I’m wondering how
he’s going cut it now. So I made only like,
almost like 14 layers. So and I take it to him. You’d be surprising
when you hear this. So I put 80 candles on him
and I said his holiness, it’s your 80th birthday,
and I want you to cut that. So I’m sitting there and I’m
waiting like him, that he’s going to blow the candles. So I said, and you don’t
instruct people of that status, that blow the candles! Make a wish. So and he’s there. And it’s one of the
very powerful moments. So candles are burning, and
he starts taking the candles, and starts putting
them on the side. So I’m like, I
just looked at him. I said, did you make a wish? He’s saying, in my culture,
you don’t cut somebody’s life off to wish for a longer life. I can’t cut the
life of this candle so that I can wish
for my long life. I thought– [SPEAKING PUNJABI] Sorry, how did he
think about this? I would have never even
would’ve cared that you just cut the life of that candle. It was amazing. And what was the greatest
part was on social media, I post a lot of stuff every day. Wrong English. I put something. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah,
just a plug in. You should all follow
him on social media. He’s great. [SPEAKING PUNJABI] VIKAS KHANNA: I’m
not promoting it. But then I’ll have
somebody, JR or somebody is like you should consult
with us or when you write, it’s totally wrong English. And then say, OK,
people liked it. For what? So I put it on
social media that I’m meeting his holiness
on his 80th birthday, and I want you to ask
any questions to him. So there’s going
to be 80 questions. You would be amazed by the
amount of questions we got. And my favorite question
was, do you ever wear jeans? A little kid asked from school. And American kids can be so–
they can think so openly. It’s amazing. And he asked do you
ever wear jeans? So I asked his holiness,
the first question was do you have a driver’s license? And he says no. I says me too. I didn’t know how react to that. And then I asked him,
do you ever wear jeans? He says that, and
he just kept quiet. I said is the yes or is that no,
because I’m writing it kind of. I was behaving like an
Oprah moment for my life. And he said that I
would pants one time. And he had to leave Tibet. They had to– he
had to disguise. And he said that when I
reached the Indian borders, he said there was a Sikh
guy who was standing there. And I was getting a pant. That’s all I remember. And I left my country. I’m like, oh my god,
this man is brilliant. And I love him, not because
he say about religion. He talks about something,
that you don’t need religion if you educate them. And I love that. He’s such– and he
loves scientists. More than anything else,
he says I love scientists because they give you facts. They don’t misguide you. They’re trying to
find the research of the true cycle of nature. And I’m like, I’m your big fan. Can I tell you that? But I was really star
struck talking to him. And he didn’t
understand my English. Neither did I
understand his English. So it was OK. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, some say
he’s like an eight-year-old in an 80-year-old body. VIKAS KHANNA: He is beautiful. And there was once
intense, I asked him about, was that, about mother. And it is like, and
the photographer, I told him don’t click picture at
this time, because both of us were almost on the
verge of crying. And he’s saying that’s
from where the child gets the compassion from. That’s as sacred as the soil. And here it is. AMAR JOSHI: That’s beautiful. So your mother,
your grandmother, you’ve mentioned that they are
big influences in your life, right? Did you learn cooking
from your grandmother? How was it, like
growing up in India? Did you have a
garden or a house? VIKAS KHANNA: We
had a small piece of– back of the house,
a small strip of soil, in which I would try
to think that I’m going to be a farmer when I grow up. So I’ll try to grow
everything there. And we had a small
container, a brass container. A lot of Indians of my
generation will relate to that. You people are three, four
generations younger than me. But it was a small
container of cardamom. And I loved cardamom. But cardamom will
not be used in food. I know that’s a
very strong comment. Because it was very expensive. So only when the son-in-law
will be coming home, the rice pudding will be
made with one cardamom. And somehow it just
lands up on his bowl. Right on top of his bowl. And I’m like waiting for him. I said, and didn’t
care about cardamom. And I’m the one
who’s watching it. So I’ll try to steal it
after they’re finished. And I’ll try to go
and sew in the soil, in the back of my garden,
expecting that one day, I’m going to have
a cardamom tree. See, we were born in
non-google, again Google office, we were born in
non-google world. So we didn’t know how
cardamom plant looked like. Now you can ask Google anything. Back then I didn’t
know how cardamom grew, and how it happened. So I write a story
here in this book. It says will cardamom grow? And it is the honest
truth about nature. Is that it says that
will cardamom grow? And I write about
that it never grew. I would come, back
running from school, searching that I would
have a cardamom plant. It never grew. So my garden was
as failure as me. Nothing grew there. AMAR JOSHI: I bet a lot
of people would disagree. VIKAS KHANNA: But
I would pretend. We had a tomatoes one time. I’ll never forget. We had a tomato, and we got
so excited, me and my sister, we kept touching it
and it fell down. So it actually never grew. AMAR JOSHI: Your excitement. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s like the
homemade ice cream, you know? Homemade ice cream
never freezes. Because every child wants
to go in the freezer and check if it’s ready. So eventually you
get to drink that. It’s like same thing
when people like us when you try to farming. And we have one crop coming out. We all touching that crop
all the time that it dies. It’s like, guys, leave me alone. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. So tell us something
about how you started off as– before Junoon, your
career as a restauranter. Things that worked out,
things that did not, I find those things
very inspiring. You have a great story. VIKAS KHANNA: I’m
still work in progress. I think it’s OK. This country was
based on resilience. This country teaches
you something which is called not giving up. And failing is OK. Not a big deal. I’ve been a failure all my life. So It’s like it didn’t
even affect me when we used to close a restaurant. It’s like OK. But one thing would
always hurt you, that little thing back
when somebody told you that you can’t do it. You somehow felt that
you lost yourself. That’s a big defeat. And one day, we kept working. I was working in this restaurant
called Spice Root at the Loot Palace on Fulton Street. I get a call from the
producer, Gordon Ramsay. And they said we
want you on the show. And I go there. And it was an
amazing experience. Everything I spoke in English
was translated in English. It’s like, great, what
language were you talking? I said, I was also
trying to speak English. So I said, we are in
the middle of Manhattan. And we can do it here. And it was written, V are
in the middle of Manhattan. V can do it here. So I’m like, oh god,
this is amazing. I told my dad I did a
show with Gordon Ramsey. And he says, he speaks Punjabi? And I was like, no, I
did the show in English. He said, you can speak English? I was like, kind of. I’m working very hard to learn. But later you realize that
communication, failure, everything is not important. It’s a matter of heart. I’m starting a very good museum
in India, about Indian dishes and utensils and how you know? Because India has everything,
from the Portuguese, to Dutch, to French, to Mongols,
to native Indian, intertribal. There’s so many dishes. So much of India is infinity. So last week, there was a
big shipment of my plates. I’m obsessed. Junoon is the right name. AMAR JOSHI: You
got to have that. VIKAS KHANNA: It’s like
so many plates which been to the college where
we are doing this museum, they all broke. All these plates. Hundreds of years old plates. Everything crushed. So I called Rajesh in the middle
of the night, freaking out, all the plates. And he’s like, well, did you
take insurance on the delivery? I said, no, I didn’t
ask for that thing. So later I realize, and
hung up the phone with him, I totally was in a
fit for some time. It was like I give a piece
of my life to something and it just crashed. And nobody would witness that
piece of history, what I had. Had painted work
and amazing, one of the first plates
which must be literally created in India by some of
the immigrants and everything. The Jewish plates. And we had a plate, a
Passover plate I had, which is one of the
oldest Passover plate. India has the
oldest living Jews. They were one of the
first immigrants to India. Their plates, everybody who
trusted me with their heritage and gave it to me, I broke. Later I wrote a message
to my principal, saying that they
were just plates. Life is actually
the matter of heart, as long as the
heart doesn’t break. So even if you feel, it’s OK, as
long your heart doesn’t break. Breaking of the
heart is a big deal. I’m not saying it as a chef,
or an emotional Indian, I’m seeing it as
an honest person who says that sometimes it’s
that unbroken heart which makes you go on and on. And you don’t see night. You don’t see 24 hours. My watch doesn’t work. A lot of people know that. To work with me,
it’s always 12:15. It’s always 12:15. That’s the time I
landed in New York. It’s a matter of heart. AMAR JOSHI: Wow, thank you. Very inspiring. VIKAS KHANNA: Feeling is good. Poverty teaches you a lot. There’s nothing more which
you are taught in colleges and everything than poverty. Poverty turned me
into a photographer. I took most of the
pictures myself. Because it was so expensive
to get photographers on board, and to be cooking at their pace. And they’re like, man,
we are getting late. Eight hours are
going to get over. The food is not ready. And you could rush the
food and the food burnt, so you learned how
to take pictures. But that extended forward. You couldn’t afford editors. You started writing yourself. And then you met somebody so
fantastic like [INAUDIBLE] from Lake [INAUDIBLE] that
everybody can write English. But not everybody
can tell a story. So it’s all good, as long
as the heart doesn’t break. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. All right, next question. I don’t know how to
follow up on that. VIKAS KHANNA: See, I
have remembered answers. Of whatever question
you ask, doesn’t matter. I’m going to give the
answer what I remember. What I’ve memorized. AMAR JOSHI: You worked
with Gordon Ramsey. You’ve been on Martha
Stewart, Bobby Flay, and now you’re a judge on
“Master Chef India,” right? VIKAS KHANNA: I
was many shows ago. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah, so
and also one more– VIKAS KHANNA: “Twist of Taste.” AMAR JOSHI: “Twist of Taste.” So how does that TV
experience, the glamour life? VIKAS KHANNA: Oh,
TV’s very funny. TV’s really funny. TV doesn’t– TV
has its own brain. Camera has its own brain. So when I go for the first time
for audition of “Master Chef India,” they were like, is he
really coming from America? He doesn’t have an accent. We thought he’d be. And my Hindi’s also
not real Hindi. It’s Punjabi. And I think I’m speaking Hindi. And this happens to
everybody in my family. So and it was funny that you had
to really work very hard, very hard to make sure
what you’re trying to explain within that duration
of time, that you explained. So many times I’ll get excited,
I wouldn’t be able to explain. And my director will,
OK we take a retake. It’s OK. Don’t get too excited. So TV is fantastic, because
TV gives you retakes. Sometimes life doesn’t
give you retakes. TV gives you retakes. And one thing which
I hate about time is that sometimes doing
big projects it’s very sad. TV for me, “Master Chef”
for me, is not just a show. It’s something which is
very much bigger than that. People, I can’t even explain it. It’s like for me home coming. Homecoming is big. It could be for birds or
animals or humans or anyone. I lived in America for
almost eight years, and I get this opportunity
to step back to my country. And not that I was
doing well there. I couldn’t deliver what they
wanted, and I left the show. And I told my mom, I called
her around 11:30 in the night. I said, mom, I’m
going back to America. This is never going
to look for me. She says, you know, this is the
first time your homeland has asked you for something. There are a lot of kids who
are waiting to hear your story. Don’t give up. I said, OK, that’s
all I wanted to hear. I told the driver,
get back to the hotel. So I go back to the hotel. I practice a lot,
what I have to do. Whatever I have to speak to
be clear in small sentences. That’s a problem from
where I come from. My sentences are too long. And there’s no
comments and stuff. AMAR JOSHI: Right. VIKAS KHANNA: So TV’s amazing. TVs a culture. TVs like a religion. TV has an impact. TV can inspire you. TV can do a lot of stuff
to your next generation, to that next generation
of Michelin star chefs, who are getting ready in small
villages and small towns, small kitchens, smart homes,
without any resources, TV gives them hope. AMAR JOSHI: I see. They can see your story. VIKAS KHANNA: TV. They’re all getting ready
to hold the next flag. AMAR JOSHI: Cool. So we have mics around the
room for audience questions, if you want tips on
cooking or something. Ask away. AUDIENCE: Hello. VIKAS KHANNA: Hi, how are you? AUDIENCE: Good. Good, thank you so
much for being here. VIKAS KHANNA: Pleasure. AUDIENCE: So I
have a friend who’s trying to teach me how to
cook various Indian dishes because her daughter isn’t
interested in learning how to cook. So I’m like her surrogate
daughter for that. And I’m having a really
hard time because she doesn’t measure anything. She’s just like, you just
know when it’s right. When it’s right, it’s right. So what tips would
you give someone? VIKAS KHANNA: My grandmother
would say that if you measure, [SPEAKING PUNJABI] what
is barker in English? Anybody knows Hindi? AUDIENCE: Prosperity. VIKAS KHANNA: Prosperity. If you measure, it reduces
the prosperity of that dish. So she would not measure. She would think it’s infinity. What? Infinity salt, can I
put that in a book? You need to have infinity oil. OK, that’s a very big
problem, I know that. But the problem is that their
cooking is always consistent. And we are always measuring
and still not consistent. AUDIENCE: Mine just, it
doesn’t come out like hers. VIKAS KHANNA: You got
to remember two things. Whole spices first. AUDIENCE: OK. VIKAS KHANNA:
Ground spices later. AUDIENCE: OK. VIKAS KHANNA: A lot
of Americans whom I teach Indian food,
when you’re heating oil, you’ve got to put
the whole spices. That is how the base
of the cuisine are. You’re actually what you’re
doing, scientifically, you are, again this
has been memorized. You’re heating the oil, when
you add the whole spices, you’re infusing the
oil with those flavors of the spices, which have
the all-natural oils. I can say that 100 times. It will be the same line. But that is one mistake
which people take. When you add powders
in the beginning of the cooking
process, you might think that that might work. But when powders burn, they
become extremely bitter. AUDIENCE: That would
explain a lot actually. VIKAS KHANNA: That
will explain a lot? AUDIENCE: Thank you very much. VIKAS KHANNA: My pleasure. AUDIENCE: I have
a quick question. Sometimes we try to cook,
as like 9-5 working people, but when we go to home to cook
dinner, and it’s like 8 PM, there isn’t much
we can cook from. And we cannot– I
can steam broccoli, but I cannot cook like
a full Indian turka, aloo gobi or like
rajma or something, because it takes time to
first put the whole spices into the oil, first put the
oil, warm it up, whole spices, onions, then bring the turka
in, then put the veggie– vegetables, the whole process
kind of takes about how one hour. So is there like something? I tried buy premade
spices, premade gravies, and then put them,
that into the oil. But it doesn’t
smell that well as the fresh spices, whole
spices, into the oil smell. So is there a trick– how do,
I’m always amazed, at how do– VIKAS KHANNA: I’m telling
you the biggest problem is a lot of Indian women. They have attained such great
standards of Indian food, that sometimes it’s hard
for us to beat that. I’m talking about–
I’m being honest. They make the simplest
potatoes taste like heaven. And they seem to be
so without any effort. The food is ready. It is sitting on the table. And the bread magically
comes fully puffed up. OK. They have raised the
standard of Indian cooking so high that they
have destroyed us. they’re not helping us
anymore, in a very good way. You’re so right in some ways. When we go back
home, I don’t want to think about making
all this infusions. I don’t want to do that stuff. I agree on that. But if you read this book– AMAR JOSHI: Plug-in
for the book. VIKAS KHANNA: –you’d be
surprised at how easy it is. You steam the broccoli, right? How much time you stem it for? Three to four minutes? AUDIENCE: Yeah. VIKAS KHANNA:
Maximum five minutes, thinking of how hard it is,
or how fresh it is, right? I can do that broccoli for you
in less than three minutes. OK, you need to heat
the oil, add some cumin, add whatever spices you want
to add to it, be creative. You just toss in the broccoli. You just toss it. It has to be crunchy. It takes lesser time. One of my editors,
she was vegetarian, she got really inspired. And she would only
eat boiled vegetables. And later she told me,
she said, you know, I’m not feeling too
good about this. Because you know why, because
when you don’t add spices to it, you need the
heat from metabolism, so that comes from
those little spices, which are actually part of such
a medicinal chain of ayurveda. It just would not
take so much time. We make a very big
deal out of it. [SPEAKING PUNJABI] AUDIENCE: All
right, sounds good. VIKAS KHANNA: Is it posed
as really an answer? it is not so hard. You need to keep that spice box,
which is in every Indian home. You fill it up. It comes out magically
on the table. You heat the oil. Through anything you want. Food is the odd expression. And whatever
vegetables you have. In America it’s so– I think
it’s much easier to cook here because of the convenience
of you can get everything pre-cut, pre-set, pre-prepared,
so much is– it’s so easy. There’s no reason not
to have great food here. Or anywhere in the world. AMAR JOSHI: I don’t know
if it’s that simple. Now like, I’ve had experiences
where, sorry, well, you make it sound so simple. VIKAS KHANNA: You’re
supposed to be on my side. AMAR JOSHI: There’ve
been cases where I’m on video call
with my mom, and I’m like, how do you make this dish? VIKAS KHANNA: That is amazing. That’s amazing. See, it is not about that dish. That you can learn
from a YouTube video. It is about that face time. AMAR JOSHI: Yeah that’s what– VIKAS KHANNA: People
don’t understand. It’s about that face time. And she feeling so fantastic
that somehow she feels that she is nurturing you. It is amazing for her. She is thousands of miles away. At that time, she’s going
to call all her relatives, and all of the
mothers are the same, I’m not stereo-typing them. She’ll go oh today, I
taught him how to make that. You know, he must
be missing home. That is what. I give him all the tips. She’s called 40
people after that. That’s amazing. Do that, even if you
know how to make a dish. Just call home and say, I miss
those little, what you used to make, those kidney beans. 80% of the things you will not
understand because she doesn’t know how to tell a recipe. And somehow it’ll start with the
conversation about this recipe. Oh, you know that aunt
came over that day? She’s not looking
too good, not it. But she kept asking
that, well, when are you guys going to get married. But you know. I said, mom, that thing
we were talking about. But it’s fantastic. It’s therapeutic. And you’d be surprised at how
food keeps a whole culture of going to psychiatrists away. I’m not against psychiatrists. I go to psychiatrist to
see, I’m obsessed passion. I don’t. But they keep you
so– it’s so fantastic that you have that link. It’s amazing. And the day that link goes
away, you don’t care for food. You don’t care for anything. You can buy everything. You guys are doing so fantastic. But you can’t buy time. So give them that time. Call them for unnecessary tips. So mom, how do you
boil the water? She’ll be very happy telling
you a half an hour story on how to boil the water. It’s not the food. Hi AUDIENCE: Hi. So one of the issues that I
personally have in the kitchen is that I find myself
sort of settling into a very comfortable
routine of the 15 dishes, 10 to 15 dishes that I make. VIKAS KHANNA:
Everyone is like that. AUDIENCE: Yeah, but
also I think I’ve gotten my husband very used to those. So it becomes hard to
justify experimenting almost. So I wanted to ask
you, how you get into this culture of trying,
experimenting Indian cuisine, and putting new dishes together,
combining American dishes and Indian dishes? How do you start
moving that direction? VIKAS KHANNA: I’ll just
step back for one minute. It is cooking– when you talk
about very divided cooking by cultures, you will
be surprised to notice that there’s not
much difference. It’s the techniques. Once you’ve figured out, that
I figure out that technique works perfectly. If you know that I can make
this lamb absolutely succulent, absolutely perfect, and I
figured out a technique, now you have the full control. You can add chilies and
lot of cilantro to it. You can make it Mexican style. You could make it Indian style. You can make it European style. It is that little technique
of getting that chickens right to that temperature. It is that simple. It is that simple. And I’m not plugging
in the book on this. I’m just telling you. It is that simple. It is just understanding
that yes, I figured out– Day before yesterday
I was hosting a class, and they asked one question. How do you make
perfect basmati rice? I said, if you have a recorder
on your phone, record me. And I’ll give you
exactly in 60 seconds, how to make perfect
basmati rice every time. You soak the rice
for 20 minutes. You heat the oil. Add any spices you
want in it, right? You drain the water, rinse
the rice and put it into it. You’ve got to put
double the water and cook it exactly
for 10 minutes. You will see that all the
water has been absorbed almost. You take a kitchen towel. You wet it. You put it right on the rice. Put the lid over it. Reduce it to minimum heat. And cook it exactly
for five minutes. And then I’ll be pretending
that I’m mother Jeffrey. I’m a big fan of hers. You take a fork. And you lightly fluff the rice. See? It is that simple. Now, how do I make the rice
into something different of different cultures? You have the technique
in your hand. You knew exactly how
to control that rice, to that perfect
grain to grain rice. You add the flavors you want. You want to add
chipotle chilies to it? Fantastic. You want to add spinach to it? Amazing. You can now do
all the variations because you’ve got
hold of the technique. Don’t get ahold of the dish. Get hold of the technique. Sorry. AMAR JOSHI: That’s awesome. VIKAS KHANNA: It
was long answer. AMAR JOSHI: So a
question for you. You’ve cooked for heads
of state, president Obama, you did a fundraiser for him. When prime minister,
Narendra Modi, he was here, you cooked food for him as well. So how do like– do
they just call you? And like, hey, Vikas can you– VIKAS KHANNA: It’s
a long planning. There’s a lot of trail work. There’s a lot of planning
that goes into it. No pressure, you’re just
cooking for Mr. Modi. It’s like oh yeah? And this was funny, that
I’m cooking for this, and somebody’s asking, chef
it’s a trillion drama club. It’s a $4 trillion people. You know how many
zeros are there? And I was putting the
amuse-bouche together. So I said six, seven. And she kept
looking Interesting. You know a trillion dollars? I said, yeah. And I’m like
pretending five, four, I don’t know how many
zeros are in there. AMAR JOSHI: It’s
too big a number. VIKAS KHANNA: The food
would have more power than all of them. They could be trillion, in
the trillion dollar club, they still need that
comfort of food. AMAR JOSHI: Nice. So is there someone from
the Secret Service standing, making sure– VIKAS KHANNA: [SPEAKING PUNJABI] AMAR JOSHI: What you
put in– supervision. VIKAS KHANNA: No supervision. They taste every
dish which goes out. So I was not doing it. I was not dealing with them. Because I was a high mode. So I pushed, Rajesh
was doing that. Secret Service, he was–
I was not dealing with it. I was telling him
to deal with them, because it was like
too much of no, that sauce you didn’t make us taste. It’s like, well yeah,
that’s a little garnish which goes inside. They’re are three different
sauces of the garnish. And they’re like,
balls on the side? Well, we didn’t taste
those little balls. It’s like, OK, bring
the plate back. So I was not dealing with that. But it happens. It’s fantastic. These are the people who
are inspiring the world, who are the world leaders. So much of world economies
are based on them. So and to get the
opportunity to cook for them, and this is the only
thing you know and you represent your whole nation
with that few dishes. And you’ve got to
full justice to it. It’s world transient. AMAR JOSHI: Comes
back to that theme. VIKAS KHANNA: It holds standard. Yeah, but you know, da Vinci,
he never completed “Mona Lisa.” Did you know that? You can google it. You can google it. “Mona Lisa” was never completed. It was always an
incomplete painting. And so is Junoon. And when we were
about to open it, I did everything in my power to
get my grandmother there once to complete the restaurant. But maybe that’s why
it was a masterpiece, because it was never complete. I begged ever year. She was 94. I begged everyone. I figured out, they
said she’s too fragile. I just wanted her to
step into the restaurant once, once, to make it complete. But that’s a Mona Lisa. It’s as beautiful as
the world sees it. But only da Vinci knew
that it is incomplete. AMAR JOSHI: Wow. Next question. AUDIENCE: We are so
glad to have you here, because I’m personally
a big fan of you. I watch all the
Master Chef shows, and I’ve been following
that show a lot. Thank you for coming here
and being so candid, so open, and being yourself. We’re enduring your talk. The question I want to ask
is with your life always being on the road
with the food, I’m sure you’re always busy
with the events of the food. How do you get time
to cook for yourself? Or is there someone
else who cooks for you? And one more
question before I end is in spite of being surrounded
by food all the time, we see you in the best
shape all the time. So how do you marry food
and fitness together? VIKAS KHANNA: There were a lot
of hidden questions in that. I just eat a bowl of
daal every single night. I sit on the same
steps of Junoon. I eat the same daal
every single night. While you’re in the service,
you tend to taste too much. And yes, I’m extremely
disciplined when it comes to work. Some people who
work with me, they are surprised at how come
I can around the clock. I think it’s an opportunity. I take it from where
I was 20 years ago. Sitting here. It’s really– I begin to believe
in miracles after I’m here. But I think one thing that
you said is about discipline. Discipline is
extremely essential. People can’t see it. But people who work
with you can tell that yes, you’re always being
there when it is required. You always, you’re always
writing literature. My next work has taken me
12 years to write, 12 years. It’s also by Bloomsbury. It’s took me 12, do you
know how much is 12 years? It’s crazy. I shot the whole book,
maybe like four times. I was never happy. And today’s a big day. It’s [INAUDIBLE]. It’s we worship the
power of Mother. And it’s fantastic that
you got this opportunity. And I still remember one thing. When first time I met
Rajesh, he said me one thing which is stuck in my mind. He is saying, whatever you
do, it has to be the best. So whenever we are
writing about anything, which is about discipline,
what serve as something that you’d be remembered
for far after you’re gone? To the next generation,
to the next generation. Every Indian festival, ceremony,
ritual, traditions, custom, are food from tribal to urban
to adopted to immigrants to Rosh Hashanah to Diwali to Hannukah. Everything is in that book. I try to bring that book. And you know, I gave it to
President Clinton last week. And it’s just such a heavy book. And he hold it like this. I said, I want people
to hold this book as they’re holding their
daughter for the first time. And it’s like, when
you hold your daughter for the first time, I don’t
know, holding my niece, it was like hard for me to
believe that my extension. And first thing you do is you
put it close to your heart. I want people to hold
[INAUDIBLE] like that. And he replied to me saying,
India’s not just a daughter. She’s also the mother. She’s taught us so many things
about philosophy of life. Of course it’s a forever
work in progress. But that motivates you. That motivates you. AUDIENCE: Beautiful. Can we get the recipe for that
daal which you eat every day? [SPEAKING PUNJABI] VIKAS KHANNA: It’s the
simplest food in the night. Night you eat for yourself. That’s a moment you eat for
yourself We have to close up. AMAR JOSHI: Yes, we are. So we can take one
quick question. AUDIENCE: I was wondering, what
other cuisines do you enjoy? And do you get inspiration
from other cuisines for your cooking? VIKAS KHANNA: Oh absolutely. I’m not going to think about
the cuisines which you already know. But I’m going to
think about some of the greatest cuisine which
I discovered in my lifetime, was from Bhutan. Bhutan is a landlocked
country, which was not open to the
world A few years ago. It is the mo– please google it. It is the most beautiful
country you will ever find on this planet. And the cuisine has
really, really inspired me. Just a few ingredients. That is how the great food
should be, just put together. It’s so much of
integrity and love. AMAR JOSHI: They say Bhutan
is like the happiest place on earth, like people
there are very– VIKAS KHANNA: I had failed so
badly that I want to run away. So I found Bhutan
as a great place. I’d lost almost everything. So I go to Bhutan, and I really
felt that I was literally born again. It’s an amazing country. Even travelling in Tibet, not
just Lhasa but around Tibet. It is so beautiful. There are many worlds in this
world, and beautiful ones. But yeah, besides
that, a real answer would be I’m inspired by French,
Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese cuisine we all love. A lot of people
don’t know in America that Chinese cuisine is
the favorite Indian cause. Because you made Chinese
cuisine also art. You put– everything has spices. [LAUGHTER] AMAR JOSHI: Nice. Yeah, we’re out of time. VIKAS KHANNA: Thank
you very much. AMAR JOSHI: Thank you
for coming in, Vikas. VIKAS KHANNA: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]