Ghee inspires him to cook. “There is so much of logic in ghee and there’s an interesting concept. You cannot cook in makhan (butter) but you can cook in ghee. Whenever you cook in butter, it will burn so you have to take half portion of butter and half portion of oil. You have to have a clear understanding that food should always be cooked in ghee. Sometimes, you stock ghee in your kitchen cabinet for months, yet it will not get spoilt,” says the Michelin star and award-winning chef Vikas Khanna during the promotion of his upcoming cooking reality show MasterChef India.
Along with other celebrity chefs, Vineet Bhatia and Ranveer Brar, Vikas is judging the show.
India takes centrestage
The sixth season of MasterChef India will be back on air after three years. The show will kick off on Star Plus from December 7. Vikas says this year, the audience will get to see lots and lots of change in cooking. “Every time, we kept distracting towards international cuisine but this season, we are going regional, local and those who have travelled to the nook and corner of the country will be surprised with the cooking on the show,” he says.
The shift towards local cooking and ingredients has happened because more and more chefs and food lovers are moving back to their roots. Says Vikas, “To make space, you, as a chef, may feel that you need to adapt to a lot of things. To make my own space, I was adapting to a lot of Western cooking styles but once you find your own ground, you put your own terms to it. I feel that this is the right time for us, having some voice, to talk about Indian food when we know the market is also listening. People are also writing about it.”
There has been a big shift in the last couple of years with India at the centre stage. “Indian chefs have made an impact in the last few years and now it’s time to talk about Indian food. When we were in college in 1991, they did not teach us about Indian food. It was only European as most of our trainers were chefs with big hotels and most of their clientele was international. There was nobody who could teach Indian food,” he says, adding, “If you go to hotel management colleges today, the first thing they teach is Indian food. That has been happening in the last four-five years and that’s the impact of our regional cuisine. We want students to learn international cuisines and techniques but they also need to know about Indian food because the market has broadened.”
Will it take Vikas and other celebrity chefs, and shows like MasterChef India to reach out to the masses and shift focus towards regional cuisine? “When we started off, there was low interest in food in a way that people had not seen the internet or travelled so much. In 2011, when we started the show, there were people who asked about so many ingredients but do you think they will ask now?” he asks.
Open to learning
What makes the contestants of MasterChef India different from their counterparts in Australia and the USA? Vikas says that these contestants are very raw. “We conduct a lot of master classes and we train them. A lot of these classes happen back of the house. They are trained based on their challenges. Whoever the contestants are or whichever country they are from, they should be open to learning new things,” he points out.
Since the show was launched 10 years ago, it has generated a certain amount of interest. Talking about its popularity, he says, “We never had journalists calling us. It used to happen occasionally and they would rarely understand what we are talking about. Because of the internet and travelling, people know a lot about food nowadays. Everything is suddenly growing together and it’s benefiting us. If we show things which are alienating, they will never have interest in our show or if I start explaining ingredients or methods in a technical way, people will change the channel.”
Who is a great chef?
Vikas is a globally renowned chef but he has managed to stay grounded. Ask this humble man what makes a great chef and he says, “Nowadays, hotel management graduates think they know everything, which is a big problem. You are just fresh out of college and you behave like you have learnt everything. A great chef is one who keeps his/ her mind open and does not say, ‘I know everything and what are you telling me’. The moment you feel like you know everything, you can never grow and that’s the end of your talent. A great chef needs to be curious and discovering constantly.”
Biji still motivates him
In many of his interviews, Vikas has mentioned that his grandmother (biji) had motivated him to cook. After having cooked for so many years, so many people and in so many countries, is it more about professional responsibility now than inner passion?
“As I said, when we started off, there were no promotions or support because this was a very underground market and no one thought this would be mainstream. During those moments, whoever supports you, remains very special. Those moments were sacred for me because as you said, my biji was the one to motivate me and she stood by me.”