I think Chef Vikas Khanna is one of the sweetest people I have ever met! When I first met him – prior to his rise to fame on Master Chef India and all the hottest chef of NYC wins – he had just started cooking at Junoon. I was eating there with a friend and he came out and spoke with us in his, then, quiet and shy manner. What a change success can bring – I met him again this after and was thrilled to see the gracious chef laughing and chatting and not quite so shy anymore. What really touched me most was his love of his family, his roots and his heritage. While he is feeding the who’s who of this world (from presidents to movie stars), his heart and his passion, I feel, lies in feeding everyday folks! He loves to cook and it shows!
I caught up with him for a few brief moments to see if would share some insights on his recent success –
1. Your rise to the top has been nothing sort of magical! Tell us a little about your journey: the little boy from Amritsar to the GQ Chef of the Year 2012 (Indian Edition) and on the cover of Men’s Health in India
I started life more in the hiding in my grandmother’s spice room and learning to roll breads at the Golden Temple. I think it was the most important training I ever had. I continued to live with the same beliefs in the kitchen. Rest is all God’s grace.
2. What do you think are the three things that helped you get where you are? Dedication? Who inspires you the most?
I think patience, training and re-invention. I always want to keep fresh with the trends and at the same time be traditional. I have always been inspired by simple cooking.
3. What is your secret weapon in the kitchen that you turn to when a dish is not behaving right.. a spice? A particular oil? A prayer? 🙂
We all feel that a freshly ground spice blend helps a lot to create a balance.
4. What is next for you?
Working with HH the Dalai Lama on 2 projects. Return to the Rivers- A culinary pilgrimage through the Himalayas and Holy Kitchens documentary “Wheel of Dharma”
Shimla Mirch Curry Jhinga – Bell pepper shrimp curry
Adapted from Flavors First by Vikas Khanna
There are never any leftovers when I serve this creamy shrimp dish. The sweetness of the red peppers blends with red onions, cumin, garlic, and green chiles. Pistachios are ideal, though you can substitute your favorite nuts. It is typical in Indian cooking to use raw nuts rather than toasted as in the West. You can, of course, use toasted nuts, but the flavor will be less authentic.
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup raw shelled pistachios, plus 10 finely chopped pistachios for garnish
2 fresh green chile peppers (such as serrano)
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 pound (20/24 count) headless medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1. In a blender or a food processor blend the bell pepper, onion, pistachios, green chiles, and water into a smooth purée.
2. In a medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the garlic and cook until the edges turn brown, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and a little salt and cook until just opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the same skillet, gently add the red pepper mixture and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce for 5 minutes to cook the onion. Add the shrimp and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chopped mint just before serving to preserve its fresh flavor.
4. Season with salt and serve hot, topped with the remaining chopped pistachios.