The Indian culinary tradition is rich and diverse. Each region of the country has its definitive cooking style. But what binds all the traditions together, is the use of spices that adds depth to the flavors and also sets this cuisine apart from the rest. Indian cuisine owes its popularity across the globe to chefs like Vikas Khanna who have introduced it to the international audience through their restaurants abroad. He is counted among the top chefs of Indian food and ranked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Marco Pierre White, and other culinary greats who have been able to create extraordinary gastronomical experiences for food connoisseurs.
“He is Creativity manifested through all forms of expression. A gift from a small town of India to the Global Village.”
- His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama
Khanna wears many hats. He is a celebrity Indian American chef, restaurateur, cookbook writer, and filmmaker. He is also the founder of SAKIV, an organization that raises relief funds for victims of global catastrophes. He is based out of New York where he runs Junoon, an Indian fine-dining restaurant.
Childhood & Education
Vikas Khanna was born in Amritsar, the capital of Punjab. As in a typical Punjabi family, he grew up in the midst of a lot of food-loving people, endless family occasions where delectable food-items were served, and a daily fare of the most delicious home-cooked meals. His grandmother had a major influence on him and he spent endless hours with her in the kitchen, learning cooking techniques and mastering her recipes. This was where his informal training began. Cooking was what he loved best and at the age of 17, he started Lawrence Gardens banquet, at the backyard of his grandmother’s home which offered catering service to small kitty parties and family functions.
Another source of his motivation to cook and feed people came from his visits to the Golden Temple of Amritsar where langer or free food is served to the needy. Khanna’s grandmother would take him to work as a volunteer in the community kitchen where the food was cooked. It was there that he witnessed the power of food in sustaining the lives of hungry masses and this experience stayed with him, propelling him later to foray into food philanthropy.
He graduated with a degree in Hotel Management from Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration which is under the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. While in India, Vikas Khanna had worked with reputed hospitality brands like Taj Hotel, Welcom Group, Leela Group of Hotels to hone his skills before he decided to broaden his horizon by moving to the west. He took training at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu institution, in Paris before finally moving to the US.
Michelin Star Restaurateur
Vikas Khanna migrated to the US to pursue higher studies in culinary arts. He studied at Cornell University, and the Culinary Institute of America, New York. On completion of his training, he started to work at various restaurants but a breakthrough moment in his career seemed a long way off.
In an interview, he narrated that he was thinking of going back to India when one day he heard someone mention the requirement of 300 portions of an appetizer at a restaurant. He prepared the Gujrati dish dhokla and arrived at the specified address. The owner was so impressed by him, that he immediately offered Khanna, the post of executive chef at the restaurant, named Salaam Bombay.
Khanna had also worked at The Café at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York before he set up Junoon, with Rajesh Bhardwaj, a hospitality entrepreneur based in the US, in 2009. Junoon which means passion is an upscale Indian restaurant spread across 25,000 sq ft, located in the heart of Manhattan. In its inaugural year, Junoon garnered favorable reviews and ratings from food critics including Sam Sifton of The New York Times and has been awarded a Michelin star by the Michelin Guide for 6 consecutive years since 2011.
Junoon is known for its exceptional dining experience. It offers the finest Indian cuisine and the ambiance in the restaurant is vibrant, full of energy and sophistication. Modern twists on Indian classics are what best defines the dishes at the restaurant which boasts of 3 month-long waitlists and billionaire guests from America and abroad who fly into the city in their private jets for a meal at Junoon. Chef Vikas Khanna believes that the passion and creativity of his team are the reason behind the success of the restaurant. Check out Vikas Khanna's Instagram account to catch glimpses of his life.
In 2019, Vikas Khanna opened Kinara, a stylish signature restaurant in Dubai. It offers Khanna’s creative takes on Indian and South Asian cuisines and has been successfully catering to the food lovers there. Khanna has mentioned that working with great chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay and Jean-Georges Vongerichten has greatly inspired him.
The Celebrity Chef
Chef Vikas Khanna’s signature strokes as a chef didn’t take long to be noticed and appreciated by elite members of his fraternity, like Gordon Ramsay whom he first met in 2007. Khanna’s incredible talent made him the perfect representative of the Indian cuisine, and Ramsay, who had his cookery shows airing on TV, made sure to include the charming Indian chef in them. Khanna appeared in the second episode of Kitchen Nightmares Season One as a mentor chef, and later in Hell's Kitchen Season Six-both TV series run by Ramsay. Ramsay went on to write the foreword for Khanna's book, 'Flavours First'. Their collaboration continued with Khanna partnering Ramsay during the formative months of MasterChef America and Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape.
Chef Vikas Khanna had the rare opportunity to cook for Barack Obama during his presidential tenure at the White House. He has been invited to Michelle Obama’s birthday dinner among other events at the White House. Khanna has also hosted a White House dinner on behalf of the Hindu American Seva Charities Conference. For him, getting involved with President Obama’s interfaith cooperation and community service, by way of serving Indian cuisine to the guests, has been the best way to increase awareness about Indian culture in America.
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Chef Vikas Khanna appeared as a guest judge in the sixth season of MasterChef Australia alongside the regular judges of the popular competitive cooking game show, Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston, and George Calombaris. Contestants were asked to recreate Khanna’s Rose Tea Smoked Chicken Tikka Masala which proved to be a formidable challenge for them, highlighting at the same time, the nuanced techniques that Khanna employs in his cooking. He was also one of the judges of MasterChef India from season 2 to 6.
Writer & Filmmaker
Apart from cooking, he is also invested in researching and writing cookbooks. Khanna is a published author and his book, Utsav, is the most expensive cookbook in the world. He gifted the book to 12 global personalities. Queen Elizabeth II, Indian PM Narendra Modi, ex-US President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are some of the recipients of this book. 'Ayurveda - The Science of Food and Life', 'Mango Mia - Celebrating the Tropical World of Mangoes', 'The Cuisine of Gandhi - Based on the Beliefs of the Legend', 'The Spice Story of India', 'New York Chefs Cooking for Life' are among the 36 books that he has authored.
As a filmmaker too, Khanna has made a mark. His DVD film series, 'The Holy Kitchens' which explores the bond between faith and food, has been showcased in some of the most prestigious universities in the world like Harvard and Oxford. His latest venture, 'The Last Colours' which is also his directorial debut was screened at the 71st Cannes Film Festival in 2020.
Chef Vikas Khanna is a multi-faceted genius. He is a source of inspiration for thousands of aspiring chefs. India's celebrity chef bandwagon that includes Vikas Khanna, Sanjeev Kapoor, Tarla Dalal, Anjum Anand, and others have elevated the Indian cuisine to a different level. Their passion and creativity have made food connoisseurs across the globe, acknowledge Indian cuisine as one of the best in the world.
For international inspiration, read about the best UK celebrity chefs.
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