‘I Write So That Americans Cook More Indian Food’

Vikas Khanna
Vikas Khanna, 40, Chef , Photo: Soumik Mukherjee

What is the Indian palate?
There is a French theory that says, the programming of the palate begins from the first time you eat something. It also develops based on smells. Your palate evolves according to your home. Americans have trouble smelling heeng, yet we grew up with it. But there cannot be one Indian palate. There are 1.2 billion Indians, all with different tastes. In a family, do all brothers and sisters like the same food? I love karela, but my brother will kill someone if they put karela in his food.
How do you reinvent a samosa?
I wrote my book for Americans. I thought, what do I do to make them cook more Indian food? To reinvent the samosa I bought puff pastry, put stuffing, put leftovers inside, wrapped it up and baked it, rather than frying it.
What compromises do you make for customers?
I don’t serve beef, pork, or any endangered species in my restaurant, even if the customers want it. I don’t want my mother to think that I’ve sold out. Who am I to disrespect a whole culture? There are other meats, like cuts of lamb and so many interesting fish. I’d rather work with those.
How much of your grandmother’s Punjabi cooking do you go by today?
I don’t cook a lot of Punjabi food. It is very common in America. But the basic understanding and appreciation of food comes from my grandmother. She taught me that food had the power to heal, and that it brought people together. Indian grandmothers, grandparents in fact, teach us more about our culture than our parents. That is what I bring across for my American customers every time I cook.
Strangest dish you’ve ever had?
I had a special carrot cake in Singapore, that tastes nothing like carrot cake. It’s all squishy and jelly like. It was good but definitely weird.
What goes into the making of a chef?
A great chef is one who understands the three Ts: temperature, technique and timing.
Aradhna Wal