Vikas Khanna’s #FoodIndia drive has delivered over 17 million meals to Indians on the brink of starvation. Coordinating efforts from his New York home, the chef says he’s just getting started.
Vikas Khanna (Photo: Yasir Iqbal)
Q. This pandemic has made many of us put ourselves first. What made you want to feed the hungry?
I did it for my mother. She told me this is the time to feed my country. When I told her I can’t do it from New York, she asked, “What do all your PhDs and training amount to? Taking a selfie at home?” That hurt a little, but as a result, our operations are delivering food in 125 Indian cities today.
Q. When you read reports of distress coming out of India, do you fear your efforts may not be enough?
We fail every day and at a very large scale at that, but every day we reboot. It is not like running a restaurant, because restaurants don’t have to face the problem of godowns being locked in red zones.
Q. During a recent BBC interview, you clarified your experience of hunger comes from New York, not India. You have lived in the West. You won a Michelin star. Have you always had to fight stereotyping?
Of course! In 2008, I sold everything in the US to go study in France. In Paris they said, “When this brown sh*t cooks, we cannot eat it.” I couldn’t touch a pan because of my skin colour. Chefs would spit in my coffee. In the end, though, I am perhaps the only civilian ever to refuse to stand in a queue to meet the Queen. She came to my table. They called it arrogance, but I call it pride.
Q. The plight of widows in Varanasi is well-known. Your first film, The Last Color (2019), is about one such woman. Do you think Varanasi and the nation have both let these widows down?
I wanted to pull problems out from under the carpet in the hope we might find a solution. The film will be releasing on a platform soon. You’ll see the pain of these widows but also their small pleasures.