Michelin star acclaimed celebrity Chef Vikas Khanna, spoke to Food Service India about the trends and challenges of the industry
What new trends are you witnessing? Over the past 12 years, do you think India was ready for prime time cooking shows?
Our country has reached a revolution, where chefs are launching books and are travelling all around the world. TV plays a big part in setting trends. As a nation, the biggest influencer in our culture is the television. Dealing with the Western audience is a lot different. In India, when people go out to eat, they order around 4 dishes, which is shared within the group, but in the West, there is a clear system, as people eat from their own plates.
Pre-plating is a tough job, but I do not want to change that. I have a tasting menu, but my tasting menu does only 25 tables in one night. It is not the same every night. This happens only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I have noticed that Indians still live in a very collective society and we have a very nuclear family way of thinking. Bangalore is the most modern city of India, and the rate at which people travel here is the highest compared to any other city in the country, which is why you may witness more new trends here.
What are the challenges of being a chef?
My challenges come from working in the US, where Indian food is not the first choice of cuisine. For instance, if I took my mother to a Japanese restaurant where they served only sushi, she would walk out. So, for the Western audience, it is very similar – they find our food overpowering, and overly spiced and greasy. Indian food was not in the first 10 choice of food initially, but now we are seeing a dramatic change. It is not an acquired taste anymore.
It does get challenging when you have a Western audience who are not looking at how much you charge for a dish. People will not complain about how much I charge for a tasting menu, but you have to give them what you charge. Other restaurants often try to camouflage food with creams and colours, but you have to give people the taste of naked food.
Then again, the best Indian food can never be found in an Indian restaurant. We cannot compare to what food is being cooked at home kitchens. The kind of Indian food people cook at home while living abroad is no doubt much healthier, more vibrant in flavour, and has minimum spice. It is challenging to bring that sensibility of cooking to people who go to a restaurant.
Tell us about your book Young Chefs.
The book is designed for young children to try out easy, step-by-step cooking. The hardest part of the project was where every recipe had to be condensed. There are certain visuals, for example, that explain the usage of cling wraps while cooking. We have never had cling wraps at home. Most middle-class families do not stock these kind of products. There has never been that sort of cuisine cooking in the Indian kitchen, so these visuals had to be shown.
To make cooking Indian food easy, the research was not time-based, rather, it was very focussed. We looked at what products were available in the market right now. There are a lot of recipes in this book that are not usually cooked in Indian homes. I was also very clear about teaching Indian kids as I still find them very un-constructed. It is easy to put all the instructions in words, but there are certain steps in the book that cannot be ignored, because a kid can actually miss that out.
Getting the right pictures for the recipes, and to show how easy it is to cook Indian food was also a challenge. I have highlighted the dangerous parts of cooking, so this tells kids that they have to be careful in a kitchen.
Share some of your ideas, concepts and plans.
I would probably open a restaurant in Paris, though not in India. It is something to think about. The world’s platform is so different, especially when there aren’t many Indian restaurants globally. I don’t plan to launch any chutneys or pickles. I am focussed on the restaurant and focussed on the literature and this is enough gratification for me.
When I stayed in France, Europe and America, I tried many techniques of cooking to make Indian food into a different kind of cuisine without changing it. There are so many techniques through which you can make a chicken much more tender and make a fish flaky. I am not going to serve everything in a sauce,because sauces look similar or almost the same. I cannot do the French style, where I crush the fish and bake it or seer it in a sauce. We always try to stand up to the Western world and to their standards, which has been one of the biggest parameters. I don’t have
to agree with that and I can say that I don’t give a damn, but tell me one person who doesn’t.
I want the younger generation to be proud of what they are doing in the kitchen. That little inspiration can drive them.