BY N. LOTHUNGBENI HUMTSOE
New Delhi– A new six-part series to mark India’s 75 years of Independence by Warner Bros. Discovery, will feature a stellar cast. Each episode of ‘The Journey of India’, hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, will also feature a leading voice to showcase a key theme in India’s development as a nation.
Putting a spotlight on the storytelling that revolutionis ed global filmmaking, actress Kajol transports viewers to Bollywood’s captivating legacy against the backdrop of an actual film set in action. Michelin Star chef Vikas Khanna on paralleling his roots to its impact on global cuisine. Conservationist and Bahubali fame actor Rana Daggubati along with Indian author and wildlife conservationist, Latika Nath, recognise India’s successful initiatives in sustainability and conservation. Renowned Indian author Amish Tripathi pays homage to India’s diversity of religions.
Vikas Khanna speaks to IANSlife on how he explores the palatability of Indian cuisine in the show.
How did the association with Warner Bros. Discovery’s ‘The Journey of India’ come about? And what made it exceptional?
Vikas Khanna: My association with Warner Bros. Discovery’s ‘The Journey of India’ started with a small conversation where we talked about the evolution of Indian cuisine. The changes I brought in as a soft power are because I’ve worked so much in promoting cultural events. It is a subject that is very close to my heart and what made it exceptional for me was that it is the celebration of India at 75. We’re talking about pride and our country — new and ancient, both at the same time. Our country is so modern and yet seeped into rituals and history. For me, food is one of the greatest vehicles of this communication and this is what made this subject so interesting about picking up the simplest foods and telling a big story of India through it
What changes do you think the culinary traditions of India have undergone throughout time?
Vikas Khanna: There are a lot of changes that have happened in Indian cuisine. First, change I say that Pride in Indian cooking is at the forefront of Indian chefs right now. When we were training in colleges, we were only taught Western cooking because they thought that we would be working in big hotels and that’s the cuisine dominantly cooked. I feel over the last few years, having stand-alone restaurants and so much investment going into Indian ingredients, cuisine, and packaged foods amongst other items have become a whole new trend of getting chefs into the mainstream.
I do feel that the metamorphosis of Indian cuisine started from home, but it has blossomed all over the world now I’m speaking in reference to America and I feel that things are happening to Indian chefs being at the forefront which we’d never seen in the last few decades and is great because Indian food is getting a new identity which is beyond the generic menus in which the restaurants served. We see a whole new space which Indian chefs are taking right now.
What do you think about how people’s eating habits have changed over time, with concerns of their health?
Vikas Khanna: People’s eating habits have changed a lot. When we were growing up as a reference, we went out to a restaurant maybe once in two or three months which was when a guest from an outside city or abroad came to Amritsar. Otherwise, it was always street food and there was no experimentation with cooking. Everyone was trying to create generic food, close to their cities or regions, which was like homegrown cooking. There was nothing beyond that. Nobody experimented or wanted to try cuisines, then in the 80s there was a whole new interest in Chinese cooking. Indian Chinese came to the forefront from street food to restaurants.
Now what’s happening, is that regional cuisine has taken over. It is so different compared to when we went out to eat with families. There is big financial independence and travel, which affects restaurants because social diners are now commonplace. People now understand that there is a need for new avenues and things. There is so much dispensable income which is a major change that has allowed chefs space to try different cultural expressions, and self-expression in Indian cuisines.
I also think that the internet’s influence has come to the forefront of our lives. People are now trying to be more mindful of what they eat. In the last few years, we have just been consuming foods that appealed to our taste buds. Now I feel that people are understanding ingredients more. Chefs have become more conscious of what they are using because the diner is asking the right questions. This is a whole new game.
Your favourite old-time food?
Vikas Khanna: My favorite all-time food has to be Khichdi, but I also love sweets from time to time. A simple perfectly made Kada Prasad or something. These are the comfort foods that I grew up with and I feel that they try to ease the pain or struggles and challenges. Just a simple bite of this food takes you back to the time you had less pressure. That time of life when it was less stressful.
Your go-to Indian meal on any given day?
Vikas Khanna: I feel there are a lot of Indian meals for me, it just keeps changing as I work on different spaces. Right now, it is so much about the Northeast because we have some projects with documentaries and books, but I do feel that from time to time it begins to automatically change. One dish leads to the next one and the whole cuisine becomes the forefront of your research and tastings. Everything Indian.
What are the key points from the show you want the viewers to remember?
Vikas Khanna: I want viewers to understand the depth of Indian cuisine through the show. I feel that there is so much more than the eye can meet about India. There is rituality, travel, history, and modernization. There are so much of influences that capture our cuisines. One thing you will see in the show is how in my house, you have all these people who are influencing cuisine every single day. These are the people who are the custodians of Indian culture and cuisine.
I absolutely love their take on Indian food, and you will see a lot of conversations happening. I am very proud that these conversations with his excellency Randhir Jaiswal, who asks questions about the evolution of Indian cuisine and how the government can support these Indian restaurants operations and Indian chefs. From book launches to cuisine to promoting restaurants to launching new products, I feel the new shift in the western world, the proactiveness of the government officials has come the forefront of leading the new way for chefs and cuisine.
The Journey of India premieres globally on the streaming platform discovery+ in India, the U.S., U.K., and the Philippines. It will be showcased in more than 140 countries including India, Japan, Singapore, France, Switzerland, UAE, Egypt, Brazil, Iran, and Kenya among others on Discovery Network channels. (IANS)
BY N. LOTHUNGBENI HUMTSOE