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Chefs Gaggan Anand, Vikas Khanna and Ritu Dalmia Dish Out the Dirt at the HT Leadership Summit

Chefs Gaggan Anand and Vikas Khanna shared a slice of their lives with the audience in a session moderated by chef Ritu Dalmia at the ongoing Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

Shantanu David |

Updated:November 30, 2017, 3:39 PM IST
Chefs Gaggan Anand, Vikas Khanna and Ritu Dalmia Dish Out the Dirt at the HT Leadership Summit
The chefs in conversation (Image courtesy: YouTube stream of Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017)
Heard this one before? The chef-owner of one of the world’s best restaurants, a Michelin-starred chef and author of 29 books, and the doyenne of Italian cuisine in India as well as abroad walk into a summit. At the ongoing Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, chefs Gaggan Anand and Vikas Khanna shared a slice of their lives with the audience in a session moderated by chef Ritu Dalmia.

While Anand runs the eponymous Gaggan in Bangkok, which has been voted Asia’s Best Restaurant three years in a row now, Khanna’s Junoon, located in New York, is one of the few Michelin-starred Indian restaurants in the world. Dalmia is, of course, revered for her Diva brand of restaurants, which dish up the best Italian cuisine in Delhi, if not the whole of India. The three culinary heavyweights spoke on a smorgasbord of topics covering their pursuits both in and out of the kitchen, the state of Indian culinary affairs at home as well as abroad, the dishes they love and the ones they hate, and a whole lot more.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the session was a ‘rapid fire round’ wherein Dalmia asked both her peers a series of questions about their likes and dislikes and other more intimate details like what one would find in their fridge.

During the round, Anand revealed that he and his Thai wife eat instant noodles at home and that his favorite holiday destination in the world is India. Continuing on that theme, Anand also said that he’d like to spend his last week on earth in his childhood home of Kolkata and revisit his favorite street food joints. Anand’s love for rock music is well documented so perhaps it was no surprise that the one person he’d love to have been able to cook for is Kurt Cobain, who was Nirvana’s front-man when alive. The chef’s most hated ingredient is caviar, by the way.

During his round, Khanna said if he hadn’t gone to the US he’d still be cooking in his hometown of Amritsar and that his favorite ingredient is Mulethi (licorice). The author of 29 books, Khanna said that the last book he read was his own recently published A Tree Named Ganga and that his favorite song is Roja’s title track by AR Rahman, in the original Tamil. If you open the chef’s fridge you’d find eggs and soy yogurt.

The one common question that both the chefs were asked was to name a dish that described them best. Khanna said a Duck Tellicherry from Kerala is what he’d like to be described as. This is because his home in Punjab has a Kadipatta (curry leaf) tree and no one would pick the leaves because Punjabis had no idea what to do with the ingredient whereas in Kerala, it’s essential to almost every dish. As this showed the incredible diversity in the cuisines of India, he’d like to be associated with it. Anand had a far earthier reply, saying that he was just like Charcoal (a dish from his tasting menu that actually resembles a piece of coal) because “it’s black, ugly and tastes good.”

The two chefs also answered questions from the audience which were read out by Dalmia. Among the questions were why Indian food in premium restaurants outside the country can’t be more affordable and whether the government of India helped in promoting the country’s food abroad. Addressing the first, Anand replied by first showing a three-minute video that captured the complex intricacies in preparing dishes from his menu, after which he explained that at his restaurant he has a 97% food cost and that he makes more money from the sale of a bottle of water than from the food prepared by him and a team of 38 chefs.

While speaking on the India government’s role in the promotion of our food globally, the chefs had slightly different takes. “India’s food is an integral part of our country’s soft power, along with yoga and our music. The government has realized this and has now become tremendously supportive of showcasing our culinary heritage outside the country,” said Khanna. Anand countered this by noting, “France recently asked the United Nations to grant a protected status to its traditional cuisine so as to preserve it, whereas Indian ingredients and dishes are not protected or even as widely available around the world as compared to foods from other countries. And in a country where so many people starve every day even as there is so much food wastage, clearly the government needs to work harder on these issues.” Given the presence of several high-ranking members of the government present at the event, including the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, one can only hope they took note.

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