The award-winning chef has been working throughout continents and time zones since April to prepare what has develop into one of many world’s largest meals drives.
To this point, his “Feed India” initiative has fed round 50 million Indians who’ve struggled to supply for his or her households in the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
India has the second-highest variety of instances worldwide, behind the US. As of October 12, greater than seven million Indians had been contaminated with the virus and greater than 108,000 had died.
Khanna could have lived within the US for 20 years, however he nonetheless has robust ties to his homeland, the place his beloved mom lives in Amritsar, within the northern state of Punjab.
Khanna grew up in the identical metropolis and defied a tough childhood to develop into one of many first Indian cooks to be awarded a Michelin star in America. He has written 35 books celebrating Indian meals, directed a movie, cooked for the Obamas, and hosted “MasterChef India.”
However he says “Feed India” is his best achievement thus far.
“My mind stated ‘do not do it, you may get distracted’. However my coronary heart stated that ‘your mom did not elevate you to be on Instagram and placing movies of your selfies,'” Khanna stated.
So, he set about making a community of volunteers to ship meals to India’s most marginalized individuals — a near-impossible job throughout a nationwide lockdown that ordered public transport to cease and other people to remain indoors.
Answering the decision
Khanna did not plan to start out an assist program — it nearly occurred accidentally when an electronic mail encouraging non-resident Indians to donate to the nation’s poor dropped into his inbox in late March.
“Within the electronic mail that they had used an image of aged individuals holding empty meals plates. A day after I donated to the trigger, whereas talking with my group in India, I inspired them to contribute to the group,” stated Khanna.
He quickly realized it was a rip-off.
“A group member who had seen the picture earlier stated the image had been copied from a authorities web site,” stated Khanna. His cash was gone, however the picture of India’s destitute stayed with him.
On April 1, Khanna tweeted a call-out for the names of aged care houses, orphanages or leprosy facilities that wanted assist. Greater than 1,000 individuals replied.
On the time, India was one week right into a nationwide lockdown, greater than 1,800 Indians had been contaminated with coronavirus and 41 had died, in accordance with the nation’s Well being Ministry.
“These have been darkish days,” stated Khanna. “I misplaced kinfolk and pals to the pandemic. The prayer conferences via digital calls have been so painful,” he stated.
Khanna’s flourishing catering enterprise was impacted.
“Every little thing needed to be canceled. We needed to return advances. It was heartbreaking. I used to be signing a lease for a brand new restaurant in New York on March 31,” says Khanna. The restaurant deal fell via due to the pandemic.
That is when he determined to focus his consideration on “Feed India.”
His small group began shortlisting cities the place meals was wanted. They reached out to dry meals wholesalers inside the metropolis and located volunteers to pack meals kits and ship them to these in want. The primary deliveries have been made on April 3 in two cities at reverse ends of the nation — Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Mangalore in Karnataka.
“We have been going through logistical points each single day,” Khanna stated. “On April 10, anyone siphoned off a truck stuffed with meals and facilities. The particular person I used to be coping with knew I used to be operating operations all the way in which from New York,” he stated, by means of rationalization.
It was an enormous setback. “I used to be extraordinarily upset. I referred to as my mom and instructed her I am unable to proceed operating the operation,” Khanna added.
His aged mom, Bindu Khanna, provided acquainted phrases of encouragement.
“I instructed Vikas to not lose coronary heart. I instructed him it is time to pay your nation again by serving to the poor and ravenous,” Bindu Khanna instructed CNN in a video name.
Khanna realized he wanted a reliable group to assist fillip his initiative in India.
In mid-April, he despatched a message to SN Pradhan, the Chief of India’s Nationwide Catastrophe Response Pressure (NDRF), who was already main aid efforts in the course of the pandemic.
“Although it was a one-man present from there, I instructed him we might be your palms, legs and ears in India. His endeavor has been a fantastic audacity. It has labored as a result of it’s deeply, deeply humanitarian,” says Pradhan.
With the NDRF, Khanna has helped hundreds of thousands of migrant staff, transgender women and men, intercourse staff, HIV/AIDS sufferers, orphans, seniors and victims of the floods that swept via the jap states of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam earlier this 12 months.
What began as a small initiative along with his financial savings from the home and terrace of his Manhattan condominium now has the backing of a number of Indian company homes, together with Pepsi, India Gate, Quaker Oats, Hyatt Regency and International Funds for Widows.
And it has prolonged past meals to masks, sanitary pads and slippers. “Individuals are really forcing individuals to put on slippers,” he stated. “They’re like, this man in New York is upset that nobody ought to stroll barefoot and injure their ft.”
A tough begin
Born with membership ft, Khanna initially wore leg braces after which picket sneakers. Docs predicted he would by no means stroll. He was 11 years previous earlier than he might run with out help.
“I do have reminiscences of my strolling, particularly the sound of the sneakers made… they have been like thunderstorms. And, and also you could not assist it as a result of sneakers are made out of wooden,” he stated.
Khanna says he was bullied in class and that is what drew him to the kitchen, the place his doting grandmother taught him concerning the flavors of India.
As a baby, Khanna spent hours on the group kitchen on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, feeding lots of of devotees. “I felt that on the Golden Temple, no one judged me,” he stated.
When he completed college, he did a lodge administration course, then labored in prime accommodations in India earlier than shifting to America within the 12 months 2000. “After touchdown in New York, I made a decision to make it my house,” Khanna stated.
For a couple of 12 months, Khanna sustained himself by working odd jobs, as a dog-walker, cat-sitter, supply boy, dishwasher — something to pay the payments.
In 2001, Khanna began working for Sunil and Ramesh Shah on the couple’s Salaam Bombay restaurant. He was opening the restaurant on September 11 when planes hit the Twin Towers, simply over a mile away. Khanna says restaurant’s enterprise by no means actually recovered after 9/11, and it closed down in June this 12 months.
It was in 2004 that Khanna obtained his large break.
Impressed along with his culinary expertise, a restaurant consumer put him in contact with an worker at James Beard Home, a non-profit group that nurtures and honors cooks. Khanna says he obtained a standing ovation for his cooking: “For the primary time I understood the potential of the Indian delicacies.”
On the age of 34, he opened a cooking college in his New York condominium and took over a small kitchen for his catering enterprise. But it surely was whereas operating a “small gap within the wall” restaurant referred to as Spice Route in 2006 that Khanna shot to fame. He was invited to make a visitor look on “Kitchen Nightmares,” a actuality present fronted by famend Michelin-star chef Gordon Ramsay.
Two years later, Khanna misplaced nearly all the pieces to the 2008 recession. “In Buddhism they are saying, it’s important to destroy the mandala to create a brand new one,” he stated.
After a little bit of “soul looking and touring,” Khanna determined to work below a well-known chef at a Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. Khanna says he was made to scrub utensils, clear and inventory the cabinets. Someday, Khanna determined to whip up a South Indian dish for the chef. The response floored him.
“He instructed the sous chef, ‘inform this brown shit I will by no means eat from his palms,'” Khanna remembered. “That’s once I assume one thing triggered in my thoughts. I stated, ‘I am going again to New York. And I will come again to France as soon as I’ve a Michelin star.'”
In December 2010, he opened Junoon, an Indian restaurant in New York, and earned a Michelin star simply 10 months later. “It was such an emotional second,” Khanna stated.
He remembers ready to cellphone his then 93-year-old grandmother, to inform her firsthand that he’d lastly achieved the final word honor in his area. She died quickly after, simply three weeks into his position on “MasterChef”.
If feeding India throughout a pandemic wasn’t sufficient, the chef has simply opened Ellora, a brand new restaurant in Dubai, and is engaged on his second film venture in addition to writing a ebook concerning the “Feed India” initiative.
Khanna cannot say when “Feed India” will finish — so many individuals need assistance throughout a pandemic that reveals few indicators of easing — however he is assured he is on the precise path.
“If my grandmother was alive, she would say, ‘you were not born for the Michelin star, you have been born to do that’,” he provides.