One of the more unusual films screened in the Cannes Film Market this year, celebrity chef and cookbook writer Vikas Khanna’s Kitchens of Gratitude explores the healing power of shared food in the context of various religious faiths.
“My whole life has been about food. It has been my reason to cross the borders and travel the world,” says Khanna, explaining the rationale behind the film.
“I am not a professional filmmaker but I simply had to put on the screen the concept that selfless sharing of food is the common denominator in every religion of the world,” he adds.
Kitchens of Gratitude, brought to the ongoing 69th Cannes Film Festival by Delhi-based film promoter Jitendra Mishra, covers everything “from the community kitchens of Sikh gurdwaras to the warm hearty meals of Amma Amritanandamayi’s ashram.”
Amritsar-born Khanna, 44, picked up the ropes of cooking from his grandmother, who frequently took him to the Golden Temple langar where he rolled rotis as a boy.
He has since taken his profession beyond not just the boundaries of his own culture but also food as a means of mere physical sustenance.
The New York-based chef is in the process of setting up a comprehensive museum of utensils at the Manipal College of Hotel Administration. “I studied there and this is my guru dakshina to my alma mater,” he says.
“An amazingly vast array of utensils used in Indian kitchens will be on display in the museum.
Food connects the world and gives us hope. It may seem that we live in very difficult times today, but food has a way of binding people and promoting peace. And that is what Kitchens of Gratitude seeks to underscore,” he says.
Khanna, who relocated to New York in December 2000, has committed a sum of USD 1 million to help street children across India. “Working with the NGO Smile Foundation for four years now, we have taken over 20,000 children off the street,” the Michelin starred chef says.
“We tend to give up on causes on the specious argument that nothing can be done,” he says. As part of the nutrition programme, Khanna will, on June 3, release a cookbook titled Utsav. It is devoted to traditional festival cuisines from around the country.
“There will initially be only 12 copies of the book, each of which weighs 15 kg. It is the largest cookbook in the world,” he says. “The book is not for sale. It will be auctioned to fund the USD 1 million programme.”