Award-winning chef starts relief to address India’s hunger problem.
Even amid the devastation of the coronavirus, collective solidarity in communities around the world persists. Vikas Khanna, one of the judges of Star Plus series MasterChef India, writer and former renowned executive chef at Junoon, is a prime example. From his home in New York, the chef is running a widespread relief effort that distributes food to India’s hungry.
Khanna, 48, a Michelin-starred chef, has turned his focus to India’s most vulnerable, providing millions of meals to the poorest communities. The chef was born in India and came to New York two decades ago. And, although he was cooked for the Obamas and, several years back he authored The Last Colour, which was made into a major motion picture and debuted at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, he has never forgotten his humble beginnings.
“We’ve totally failed our people,” he said of those who are chronically hungry. “I wanted to show that solidarity still exists.” Khanna added, “My mom lives alone in Amritsar, and I thought: What if she needed help and there was no one to help her?”
The celebrated chef is a Hindu but growing up in Amritsar and was inspired by the large community kitchens of the Sikh Gurdwaras. As a disabled child with a club foot, he said, “I had no friends, only sympathizers.” So, he worked hard to get to where he is today and is taking the opportunity to pay forward the blessings he has been afforded in life.
His first attempt to deliver food to an elder-care home near Bengaluru, but the deliverer disappeared with more than 2,000 pounds of rice and nearly 900 pounds of lentils. Khanna then decided to partner with National Disaster Relief Force. He called the head of the relief force, Satya Narayan Pradhan and asked how he could get involved.
“He said, ‘Can you help me? I live so far away in New York,”’ Pradhan remembered. “I agreed to help with the logistics wherever our battalions had jurisdiction. He has been so brave about it. He’s invested his own funds, even though it must be tough for him. That’s why we want to help him as much as possible.”
Khanna said his initiative has distributed more than seven million packets of dry food and cooked meals over the past month in more than a hundred cities in India. He estimated his relief effort has fed around 275,000 hungry people each day.
While the effort initially began with delivering dry ingredients to orphanages, old-age homes, leprosy centers, and poor neighborhoods, he has since expanded its reach to include migrant workers. Dry food was of no use to them, but cooked meals are, so he partnered with Bharat Petroleum, one of the biggest gas companies in India, to set up soup kitchens at gas stations. Feast kits for more than 200,000 people in Mumbai were delivered and included rice, lentils, flour, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, sugar, pasta, oil, dried fruit and other items.
“I feel like the past thirty years of my training and my twenty-hour workdays have prepared me for this moment,” he said. “This has been the most gratifying two months in my culinary career.”