New Delhi, May 8: US-based celebrity writer-chef Vikas Khanna, whose signature Indian dish ‘Tree of Life’ – a variation of gobi ka pakoda – is soon to be served to US President Barack Obama, is also a strong votary of the philosophy of ‘no secrets in the kitchen’.
Food has to be shared as it represents sharing of cultures which is the way civilisations move forward, says Khanna, whose new cookbook, ‘Flavors First’ has just hit the stands.
‘There should be no walls, no secrets in the kitchen. Recipes cannot be secret. If my grandmother had kept them as a secret from me, I would not have been a chef. A journey that begins with secrets ends in secrets. People copy me. I have shared my recipes with honesty in my book,’ Khanna told IANS at the launch of his book. The book was released by food columnist and journalist Vir Sanghvi.
Khanna, one of the three Michelin-starred chefs of Indian origin in New York, is busy connecting to readers in India to promote his cookbook and rehearsing for a fundraising dinner for Obama, where he will treat the president to his signature Indian dish, ‘Tree of Life’, a cauliflower-based dish, the writer-chef said.
‘It is a variation of the Indian gobi ka pakoda (cauliflower munchies) fried in a batter of rice flower to make it crispy. It is served with a roasted tomato sauce garnished with spices,’ the chef said.
The dish – embellished on a white China platter with pomegrenate seeds and mint leaves – is known as ‘The Tree of Life’ as a whole cauliflower is cut from its base to resemble a tree with leaves spread out like a flower, said the chef, demonstrating the dish in the capital.
The ‘Tree of Life’ is also the theme around which Khanna’s restaurant in New York, Junoon, is designed.
A dedicated writer, Khanna has been working on ‘Flavors First’ (Om Books International) for the last three years.
Khanna said the book was a diary of his journey from India to America and how it reflected on the cuisine.
‘Your food starts absorbing more influences. I agree in shifting but I don’t believe in de-rooting myself. I thrive physically in America, but India is my spiritual home,’ Khanna said.
He said the dishes he chose for ‘Flavors First’ reflects a new kind of understanding about Indian food in the West and the ‘Indian women in kitchens from where the food comes’. It also includes collaborative recipes that Khanna has learnt through his interactions with cooks from across the world.
‘The Indian woman has giving hands – they are always outstretched,’ Khanna said.
The book, which has a foreword by Gordon Ramsey, is divided into segments devoted to an introduction to the Indian kitchen, condiments, starters, rice, breads, legumes, soups and salads, vegetables, poultry, meats, seafood, dessert and drinks.
‘It has been written in collaboration with Andrew Blackmore Dobbyn, my good friend and colleague. English is, by my reckoning, my fourth language and I still have difficulties with the intricacies of grammar. Andrew has helped me with the organisation of language and recipes,’ Khanna said.
The book, though Indian in essence, targets a Western audience, unfamiliar with Indian cuisine. Some of the dishes, as a result, have a fusion sensitivity to them.
‘I wanted to convey the universal theme of food. Cinnamon for example occurs in three varieties – American, Indian and Indonesian,’ Khanna said citing an instance.
The chef has completed work on his new book, ‘Holy Kitchens’ – a book on Himalayan cuisine. ‘I am trying to bring back the meaning of sharing food, breaking bread together and how people bond over food,’ he said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)