Nourishing on a grand scale: One chef’s effort to feed India

FAN Editor

In a makeshift kitchen on the terrace of a New York City apartment, chef Vikas Khanna’s attention to detail is on full display, as is his trademark drive to get things right. 

No one can argue with his approach, combining the tastes of his grandmother’s Indian kitchen with classical French training to develop his own distinctive South Asian cuisine, and open some of the hottest restaurants going in New York and Dubai, and soon in Beijing and Singapore.

“I like to combine, use Indian flavors, and incorporate them in almost a creative way,” Khanna told correspondent Jim Axelrod. “That is what the purpose of cooking is now. You know, you should be, cross the borders.”

These days, crossing borders is all that Khanna thinks about, getting help to as many of the nearly 400 million people in India forced into poverty by COVID as he can. 

Michelin star-winning restaurateur, cookbook author and TV host Vikas Khanna. CBS News

“That is the true meaning why you became the chef,” he said. “That is the reason that you were given all this training, to be that one to understand hunger so deeper.”

“And then to do something about it?”

“Find a solution,” he said. “There is always a solution.”

Leveraging his fame back home as a Michelin-starred chef, author, film director and entrepreneur, Khanna started #FeedIndia. 

Axelrod asked, “Did you have any idea the size of the undertaking when you got started?”

“Do you think, Jim, anyone could envision the magnitude of this pandemic in the beginning?” Khanna replied. 

He’s assembled a coalition of food producers, distributors, even bureaucrats. “So, they came on board. There was no financial transaction,” said Khanna. “‘Okay, what do you want?’ ‘We want 100,000 cases of rice.’ ‘Okay, sir. It’s coming here.'”

Vikas Khanna (with correspondent Jim Axelrod). The chef mobilized an army half a world away to battle hunger with his #FeedIndia initiative, all coordinated from his NYC apartment. CBS News

And from half a world away, Khanna mobilized an army. “I put satellite kitchens together in six hours. And we had the food on the trucks in eight hours.”

Feed India has provided 50 million meals so far. They are served in shelters, orphanages, and from gas stations on roads where people are walking to work. 

Axelrod said, “You are 7,000 miles from where you grew up. It’s nine-and-a-half hours time difference. How can you manage the logistics when you’re so far away?”

“This is my mission,” Khanna said. “And I am not moving my eyes off anything.”

Vikas Khanna’s #FeedIndia initiative has served 50 million meals so far.  CBS News

For now, he has put all the other parts of his cooking empire on hold, with the voice of his mother always in his ear:  “‘Everything you ever sold, or got your awards, everything belongs to every single person in this country. You just took it and you served it to the world. So, don’t give me this excuse that this is not your problem.'”

Axelrod asked, “So, your mom was reminding you, you have an obligation to do this?”

“Duty,” Khanna replied. “She said, ‘This is your duty to feed India.’ That is the word where Feed India comes from.”

He is seeking to nourish on a grander scale, filling the stomachs of millions in India, as well as his own soul in New York. 

Axelrod said, “You have written dozens of books. You’ve cooked for presidents. You’ve produced a movie. Where does this effort rank for you in terms of satisfaction?”

Khanna replied, “Number one. Number one.”

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Story produced by Sharaf Mowjood. Editor: Steven Tyler.

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