WHO: Vikas Khanna
WHAT: While he’s become a stateside sensation from appearances on shows like ‘‘Hell’s Kitchen’’ and ‘‘Martha Stewart’’ and for his work at New York restaurants Junoon and Salaam Bombay, the chef stays closely connected to his Indian roots. His latest book, ‘‘Flavors First: An Indian Chef’s Culinary Journey,’’ traces his path from his grandmother’s kitchen in India to food celebrity.
Q. What was your goal with this book?
A. I tried to write a diary of my journey starting from a small home in Amritsar, where I was born and raised, to this point in New York City, where I had the opportunity to work with the world’s greatest chefs. We move from our homeland to a new country, and we have to adapt to the new culture. Food represents that change. It’s my idea to represent something so simple and powerful like food and talk about my story of change in that.
Q. Where does the title “Flavors First’’ come from?
A. My grandmother always says that for food it’s always flavors first and it just hit me so much. We talk about all these journeys and expressions of food and love and gratitude, and ultimately, when somebody is consuming it, we talk about flavors first.
Q. What role did your grandmother play in your cooking education?
A. I could never play sports because I was born with a natural defect in my feet. The kitchen was the only place where I found shelter. I thought that I was never judged. My grandmother would quietly cook and I would help her. Those are the most comforting memories for me.
Q. In your 10 years in the United States, have you seen a shift in how Americans view Indian cuisine?
A. I think Indian food has been accepted in the Western world. But I also feel that there is a lot of credit we have to give to all the chefs who work in England, who have created an important stage for us to perform in America.
Q. What would you recommend to beginners who aren’t used to cooking in this style?
A. Try the yellow lentils. It’s one of the simplest and most comfortable foods. You will never go wrong with them. They could be used as a soup or as a side. Just cook rice and eat it with them. Lentils is one thing our nation accepts as the comfort food of the whole country. It’s so easy to make just on the first attempt. It’s nice, comforting, rich food.
Q. There are many vegetarian options in the book. Is Indian cooking a good alternative for those looking to cut meat from their diet?
A. I totally agree with that. A lot of people [in India] are vegetarian. That’s why so many vegetarian choices exist. I did not eat meat until I was 10. And that was not at home. I ate it at somebody’s house.
‘Indian food has been accepted in the Western world. But I also feel that there is a lot of credit we have to give to all the chefs who work in England, who have created an important stage for us.
Q. “Hell’s Kitchen’’ and “Kitchen Nightmares’’ chef Gordon Ramsay wrote the book’s foreword. Did you develop a friendship during your appearances on his shows?
A. Oh, Gordon Ramsay is my very dear mentor and friend. We can laugh for hours and I am proud of that. There is a Gordon Ramsay in the world, which everybody knows as a certain persona, but there is another Gordon Ramsay who is extremely fun-loving, extremely passionate about food, and who is such a simple person.
Q. Speaking of famous connections, our first interview was bumped because you had a meeting scheduled with the Dalai Lama. What was it about?
A. I make a film every year called “Holy Kitchens,’’ which connects God and food. I look at different faiths and research on the depth of food in the culture. And ultimately, the unifying force is food. But all of them express [the connection] very differently. So His Holiness Dalai Lama will be in the part on Buddhism, the Buddhist beliefs and prayers, talking about reverence for food and the creator. It’s beautiful. He gave me so much time, I can’t even tell you. It was a surprise to everyone.Interview edited and condensed. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.