Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna’s book Barkat narrates the importance of sharing food
Barkat is the story of one of the world’s largest food drives taken by none other than one of the most beloved chefs from India, Vikas Khanna. Hailing from Amritsar, he is a Michelin star international chef. In his latest book, Barkat: The Inspiration, and the story behind one of the world’s largest food drives Feed India published by Penguin Ebury Press, he narrates how his grandmother infused in him the values of sharing food, while the langars of the Golden Temple showed him that community kitchens are perhaps the only way to ensure no one goes hungry. This deeply personal and heart-touching narrative is a testimony of one man’s vision to showcase Indian culture and the intrinsic value of sharing food with the world. Chef Vikas Khanna is also the host of MasterChef India, Twist of Taste and Mega Kitchens. He has been a guest on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, as well as The Martha Stewart Show, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay and MasterChef Australia. The celebrity chef has hosted events for former US president Barack Obama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many other world leaders and celebrities. Even though he lives in New York, US, he is the goodwill ambassador for the Smile Foundation and supports the cause of malnutrition in India. Indulge chats with chef Vikas Khanna about the inspiration behind writing Barkat, his passion for food and lessons learned during the pandemic.
What inspired you to write the book?
The inspiration is Feed India. When we were running Feed India in 2020 many people kept asking me about the logistics. During that time, I didn’t have any time to interact as I was focused on the mission and the coordination. So, I think I had to share the story and if tomorrow, anybody wants to be inspired to do something greater, they won’t have to look outwards only inwards and not worry about adversities and failures of running big missions. Everything is based on one simple logic — ‘Bhakti se upar kuch nhi hai, bhakti sabra shakti’ (nothing is above bhakti). Feed India was my dedication and bhakti to my country to run this initiative on such a massive scale.
What's the story behind the title Barkat?
The name of the book Barkat comes from a phrase which my grandmother used to say a lot — ‘Barkat niyatadon hondiya’ which means abundance and blessings are reflections of intentions. So I thought of that as an important lesson. ‘Barkat rahe hamesha’ which means may there always be abundance, fulfilment and blessings. There is no such word that can describe the word barkat because it’s such a massive word. When we were doing Feed India there was a lot of barkat in each package so I thought if I ever do research or share the story of the entire initiative, this would be the most appropriate title for the book.
What was your writing process and how much time did it take?
The writing process of the book took about three months and the reason it took us less time was that most of it was documented during the Feed India initiative. The most important part was to understand the logistics of the book and define its chapters. In totality, it took us six months to complete it. The book talks about your passion for food right from your childhood.
Was that the motivation behind the Feed India campaign?
This is the first time in a book where I have expressed myself from my childhood. The initial thoughts, learnings, inspiration and the philosophy of what made me who I am. It’s a very significant project for me as we didn’t just focus on Feed India but also my growing up in Amritsar, the influence of the Golden Temple, scarcity of food and growing up during wars. These led me to take up this initiative. It was not just in isolation that I did this as a food drive but as a total of everything — the way I was raised, the people who raised me and their contribution to my life.
What was the best thing you learned during the Feed India campaign?
One of the greatest things that I have learned from the initiative is not to give up. Falling apart again and again and yet getting up to deliver something so massive in spirit and size can only happen when you decide not to give up.
Any challenges you faced while writing?
The challenge for me to write the book was when it was in a very personal space. It was such an inner conflict for me sitting so far and seeing my country suffer from uncertainty. It brought back all those memories of living in isolation in New York during the pandemic. Sharing stories of my childhood, growing up years and struggles along with the pain of hunger that people were going through was challenging for me to write.
The pandemic has taught us various lessons. What is your takeaway?
There is nothing more powerful than the resilience of an individual human spirit. No government or system can overpower that. We saw the rise of the common person who stood up to prioritise others before themselves. It showed us how the human mind is strong and that we need each other, pain and happiness are shared. It brought us closer to each other.
What sort of writing do you like to read?
I love reading powerful and empowering stories, they mean a lot to me. Apart from food what else interests you? I love cooking and everything associated with it. I also, love doing television and writing. But one of my biggest passions for the last few years has been movie making.
There are some amazing books in the line about cooking, research and flavours and simplifying my cooking in many ways. We also have documentaries coming up on the rise of the human spirit, a feature film that is now in post-production about defining Indian food on the global stage in a very different way. Also, the opening of new restaurants is on the cards.
Barkat: The Inspiration and the story behind one of the world’s largest food drive Feed India by Vikas Khanna, Rs 499, Penguin Ebury Press.