Vikas Khanna - A journey from Amritsar to America


Shrenya Soni

Psychology Associate

Today we have brought to you the story of a person who chose an extremely unconventional career path. Vikas Khanna is a name that is recognized today across the globe. He is a Michelin Star chef, restaurateur, cookbook writer, filmmaker and a humanitarian. Having gifted his cookbook to world leaders across the globe, his movie being nominated for the Oscars: this man has seen it all but still is grounded to his roots.

He was born on the 14th of November 1971 in Amritsar, Punjab with misaligned legs which made it difficult for him to walk. He wore special shoes to help in correction of his leg alignment, but that made his legs look very clumsy and gave a ‘reason’ to a lot of kids to bully him in school.

To escape the bullies and all the pain, he used to go watch his grandmother cook in the kitchen. He would observe carefully, standing on a stool and learnt the art of cooking. He would curiously ask questions about the spices and the combinations used in the dish and that was the beginning of his journey of obsession with food.

By the time he was 15 years old, his grandmother helped him run without his correction shoes. From then till now, he walks without them but runs every day without fail!

Being at home for a huge chunk of his childhood, he had found his comfort zone in the kitchen, and spent most of his time at home cooking. That is when his mother and he received an order to make sweaters in bulk. He got INR 15,000 on the completion of the order and he put that into buying a ‘tandoor’ for his own catering business named Lawrence Garden Banquets. At that age, all he wanted was to become the owner of the best 'chole bhature ki dukaan'.

But this was just the beginning. He enrolled in Manipal Academy for Higher Education on the insistence of his uncle. The interview was no cakewalk for him as being brought up in Amritsar, he could only speak Hindi and that too with a Punjabi accent. He did not do well in his interview and he felt dissatisfied. He was disheartened and he cried his heart out but then gathered the courage to approach the Dean of the college and explained to him his passion for the culinary arts in Hindi, which eventually convinced the academy to grant him admission on the condition that he will work hard and learn the English Language.

It was there that he learnt everything about food and also interacted with a lot of professionals. He says, ‘College life was an eye-opener for me. I realised that cooking was everything for me and also that life is beautiful.’

Tharakan, Vikas Khanna’s Professor who taught his food and beverage production in his three years at Manipal, recalls how a polite and reticent boy Khanna was and how he kept questioning the methods used to prepare classical Indian dishes. ‘While tasting and evaluating the food made in class, I could always see Vikas doing something different from other students in terms of taste or presentation. This memory comes back to me when I watch him in Twist of Taste (a culinary series on Fox Traveller) in which he recreates traditional recipes with his own touch,’ he says.

After a few years of working in a company and spending time in his hometown to make progress with Lawrence Gardens, he started dreaming big. His brother Nishant introduced him to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull where the protagonist, a bird learning to fly, pushes the boundaries for greater glory. He now saw the dream of going global. He decided to fly to the United States of America.

With a few dollars in hand and broken English, Vikas landed in New York on December 2nd, 2000. Here, he washed dishes, waited tables, took care of pets for a living; faced crude racism and also slept at homeless shelters. He felt discontented and often thought of going back. Just as things were turning hopeless, he got a break. He landed an opportunity to cook for a yacht party where he cooked Dhoklas! This landed him a job at Salaam Bombay, an upscale Indian Restaurant in New York.

Fast forwarding to today, he now owns a Michelin Star Restaurant, Junoon, in Manhattan. From then till now, he has cooked for Barack Obama, Dalai Lama, Gordon Ramsay and the Top CEO’s of the world. He also gifted his 16-kilo cookbook to all the world leaders to spread peace through the language of food around the globe. He has also directed an Oscar-nominated movie “The Last Colour”. He is currently hosting Masterchef India and we can say that he has seen it all.

From being a physically disabled boy in Punjab to being a top-class chef, he has fought to be where he is today and still remains grounded. Vikas Khanna has set us a perfect example to follow, a bird who kept pushing his limits, he followed the path of building himself up and now rules the world of Culinary Arts.

The story of this Icon teaches us to look beyond, beyond the ordinary. He fought his weaknesses, he got his legs right and taught himself to be fluent in English. He built a strong foundation for himself and stands on top of a pyramid.

From him we can learn:

1) to work harder and not be afraid to take risks
2) to never forget our roots
3) to focus on excelling in the career field that we have chosen
4) to be humble and polite
5) to focus on being a good human being
6) to not be afraid of our weaknesses but work on making them our strengths

Vikas Khanna's is the perfect footprint that we should follow to walk on our path to self-development in the face of even the biggest obstacles and not stop till we achieve our goal. We all have the strength to overcome any hardship and create a life that we love.

View more content by Shrenya Soni

Abhinav Sharma
An amazing story of a person reaching for the stars and never giving up 😍😍
Awesome article. All of us need not follow a standard career path. We can choose our destiny!!
Harsha Aray
Aman Prakash
Nilava Saha
Yahoi Konyak
Amazing read!! 💖
Dinal Parmar