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Here's who's replacing Akshay Kumar on Masterchef India!

Last updated on: September 21, 2011 17:15 IST

Here's who's replacing Akshay Kumar on Masterchef India!

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Rajul Hegde in Mumbai

Chef Vikas Khanna, 39, has replaced actor Akshay Kumar as a judge alongside Chef Ajay Chopra and Chef Kunal Kapoor for the second season of Master Chef India. The show will be replete with celebrity guests and glamorous offsite locations.

Khanna has authored several books, including The Spice Story of India, Modern Indian Cooking and his latest, Flavors First. He is also the creator of The Holy Kitchens, a series of documentary films that explore sharing food in different faiths.
 
New York-based Khanna also runs a popular restaurant called Junoon there and is thrilled about hosting the second season of Master Chef India.

You whipped up some 'spiritual food' at the Hindu American Seva Conference at the US President's home. What was the experience like and what did you cook? 

I was truly honoured by the opportunity to cook at the White House during the HASC event on July 29th. The lunch menu was based on my film series Holy Kitchens. These films are based on my journey to discover the intersection of Food and Faith, for which I travel all over the world. They include lunch food from langars at the Golden Temple, mid-day meal programmes at ISKCON and Ramadan feasts from the Middle East.


Image: Vikas Khanna with his new book
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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'I'm a purist in cooking'

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You have mentioned in your interviews that you learnt cooking from your grandmother. What was the first dish that you learnt from her?

All my cooking, restaurants, books, foundations are dedicated to my grandmother, whom we call Biji. I bow to her every day for teaching me my first dish. Indian homes are like temples of love. The greatest lesson I learnt from my Biji is 'Food is nothing but love'.

This has been the core of my career, that food connects me to the divine and to people, and gives me a chance to serve both. She taught me a simple dal, the staple food of India that has infinite variations.

What kind of food do you love cooking?

I am a purist in cooking. I love to discover new foods from Indian regions and bring them to my diners at the restaurant in the US. Right now I am developing menus on Andhra cuisine.


Image: Vikas Khanna
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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'I was very proud to meet Pankaj Bhadouria'

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Have you made any blunders during experiments while cooking?

All the time. Blunders are a reflection of progress too. Sometimes we get carried away by seasons and flavours and make wrong combinations. I still remember matching scallops with Tellicherry peppercorns and star anise with scallops. It was a very strong flavour and overpowered the scallops. We have to always struggle for balance without losing the identity.

Five key points to be kept in mind while cooking any dish? Which ingredient is a must-have for all kitchens?

My favourite are the three Ts -- temperature, technique and time. Keeping calm always helps when under high pressure. One thing we all should have is a spice grinder -- always grind your spices fresh. They add a total new flavour.

Have you watched Master Chef India? Your take on it?

I loved Master Chef India season 1. I watched it in the US. I was so proud when I met Pankaj Bhadouria (winner of season 1) at my restaurant in the US. I think that as an Indian, emotions are the most important feeling. The show had it and I loved it. This is what makes us different from other cultures.

For us, food is an expression of celebration, love and family. I want my contestants to express all these, because without these aspects, our food means nothing. When you see the show, you will feel the moment of truth in every dish and the level of cooking. It is a new kind of show; we have to give it time to germinate, to become a beautiful tree. You will see it this time.


Image: Vikas Khanna

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'I'm just a small speck of the show'

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Are you under a lot of pressure matching up to Akshay Kumar who is used to entertaining people in front of the camera?

I do what is my strength: food. I was born for feeding and cooking. This is what I do in real life and I will be doing the same on the show. For me this is my life. Akshay Kumar is absolutely a role model for all he has achieved in his life and career. I truly salute his spirit. Who am I to bring the difference on the show?

I am just a small speck of the show. The hero of my show is not me, it’s the contestants who risk everything to be on that stage. It’s all about them, I am the backdrop.

Do you think we have matched international standards of cooking in the first season?

Absolutely yes! I still get goose bumps thinking about the level of cooking for home cooks. India has achieved that level and now with new inspiration and encouragement we will go beyond that level.

What do you think of Master Chef Australia? Why do you think it's such a big hit?

I love that show. There has been a wonderful evolution of cooking competitions in the west for a long time.


Image: Vikas Khanna

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'The best chefs are women who cook everyday'

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Do you think you can be the desi Matt Preston?

I want to be desi Vikas Khanna. That will be a lifetime achievement for me (smiles). My way of approaching food is very different and you will see it on the show.

I was asked this question by President Bill Clinton: How lucky you must be? I said yes, the only luck is that I was born to my mother who is everything to me. That is my biggest reward and she is my hero. It's an honour to be compared to somebody who is successful.

I adore Matt, but I want to be myself and let the audience decide.

Do you think Indians are open to innovations, to cooking non-veg food like octopus and veal that are rarely seen in an Indian kitchen?

Indians have been open to many things, more than the rest of the world. Our cuisines reflect that, starting from the Mughals, Portuguese, French, Zoroastrians...so many cultures have influenced our cooking. There has never been a nation in history that has absorbed so many innovations in cooking.

Why do we have more male chefs in India whereas kitchens at home are predominantly female-dominated?

Professional kitchens are like boot camps when it comes to physical and emotional stress. The time and performance pressure, the politics of hierarchy etc. Men have been doing this for years and have dominated until now. But as an individual I am a true believer of the change that women are MUCH better cooks and in many Indian kitchens they are shining and I am so proud of them.

The best chefs are women who cook every day. They cook with feeling and express love through food. The best food is not exotic delicacies, but simple dal, which most of us enjoy. My dinner always has dal (smiles).


Image: Vikas Khanna

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