Jet-setting from far west to the Middle East, chef Vikas Khanna brings to table the tales from desert nations and its local cuisine
It was his grandmother’s traditional home cooked recipes that got chef Vikas Khanna curious about Indian cuisine and her kitchen, back home in Amritsar—where large family feast were the norm—became part of his foundation.
He recalls his grandmother telling him “cooking is not always about the recipes, but also about the stories, memories, experiments and explorations from the local tradition”. This lesson, picked up early on in life, has been a source of inspiration for much of his food expeditions, his recent book Utsav and also his new assignment for the TV show, Twist of Taste – The Persian Trail.
The all-new season of the culinary saga has Khanna exploring the Middle Eastern countries—Dubai, Oman, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi and Bursa—in a quest to unearth authentic cooking and uncovering what inspired its creation by laying emphasis on the history and culture of the city. “I truly enjoyed my time in Oman. I never thought the locals were so influenced by Bollywood movies that everywhere I went, I found people who spoke in fluent Hindi. This includes our guide whose favourite hero is still Govinda,” Khanna reveals.
In the show, the celebrity chef takes cues from the local dishes and it’s core ingredients and returns to his kitchen to give the dish his twist. “But many a times, there are chefs who don’t share the recipes and just evade the question by saying, ‘it’s a family secret.’ This is kind of a put-off,” he says.
But while traveling in Tehran, Khanna chanced upon a small eatery that made excellent bread. “It was made on small pebbles by a little guy sitting in one corner and the doug of the bread was like water. It was a long three-foot bread and it was really awesome. When I tried making it, I couldn’t get it the first time. It was only after several attempts that it turned out the way it should.”
In the UAE, he discovered a dish called fooga (referred to as machboos in the local language) that was like an overlap of an Indian dish. “It is made similarly like an Indian dish. It has boiled rice, cardamom, turmeric and other common spices.”The entire experience, Khanna says, “was like being born again with so many new techniques to learn.”
But when it comes to his own preferences, this Manhattan celeb is a creature of habit and has a rough and ready ‘son of Punjab’ manner with his desi food preferences. The dishy chef has been eating a bowl of plain dal for dinner, with a little bit of turmeric and salt in it, for years now. Leftover chocolate tarts and burnt roti crumbs are his guilty pleasures. “You end up tasting so much food in the kitchen that you want to eat some something sattvic at the end of your day,” says the chef who has recently launched his second book for children, The Milk Moustache (available online for Rs 299).
Twist of Tales – The Persian Trail, every Wednesday-Thursday at 9 pm, on FOX Life.
— Nandini Kumar