Chef Vikas Khanna awaits showdown with Barack Obama

For three months every year, Amritsar-born and New York-based chef Vikas Khanna is in India, wrapping up shooting schedules (he's a co-host and judge on Masterchef India, currently on air on Star Plus), researching on new projects and books and spending some time at home.

Surprisingly, he's consciously cut down on the last bit. "Ever since beeji went away, my concept of home has changed. Home, for me, was always where she was," said a misty-eyed Khanna, who is clearly not one to shy away from emotions. His relationship with his grandmother, whom he credits for his culinary skills, was special and now common knowledge. In fact, his conversations are almost never complete without him talking of her fondly and paying her respect. "She was the one who told me the power is up here in the mind and not in a rolling pin as I thought as a child," said Khanna, as he addressed underprivileged children on how he learnt to roll rotis at the Golden Temple.

Khanna was in Chandigarh on Wednesday to felicitate the NGO, Youth Technical Training Society, with the "Nayi Soch" award, initiated by Star Plus. The NGO works with underprivileged children in the city.

The current season of Masterchef India has a definite "aam aadmi" flavour with its mix of contestants and their aspirational stories, and Khanna is very proud of that. "The common man will never fail to surprise. I am waiting for the day an Indian gets three Michelin stars," said the chef, who holds a record for getting starred by Michelin soon after he opened his restaurant Junoon in Manhattan a few years ago.

When it comes to inspirational stories, Khanna likes to share his own. "From selling Rs 20 a plate in Amritsar, I managed to sell a meal for Rs 20 lakh last year," said Khanna, who put together a fundraiser for US President Barack Obama. It was post the event that Obama suggested a cook-off between him and Khanna. "The US President is known to rustle up delicious keema curry and dal that he learnt from his roommate at Harvard (University). I told him I was up for the challenge," said the 41-year-old. With Michelle Obama keen on seeing the President in the kitchen, Khanna says the cook-off is on the cards.

Interestingly, the menu for the Obama fundraiser was culled from Khanna's forthcoming book Return to the Rivers that has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself. "I wanted to explore the cuisine of the regions that the rivers originating from the Himalayas touch upon," said the chef, who travelled through Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, northern India, Myanmar, western China, and Pakistan for the book that will hit the shelves later this year.

"It took me three months to research but my most ambitious book yet is the one I have researched for seven years. It's a book that I worked on with my grandmother and I think there's nothing more special for a child than cooking his mother's recipes," said Khanna.

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