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Vikas Khanna on climate change and spices

The chef’s next book is part of his doctoral research on climate change, pollination and spices

Vikas Khanna at Kinara in Dubai.
Vikas Khanna at Kinara in Dubai.

Learning to cook from YouTube videos has become the norm but have you tried recipes from children’s cookbooks? In 2013, Vikas Khanna released a cookbook titled Young Chefs. It featured children whipping up hummus, cakes and smoothies. The pages are filled with colourful illustrations, photographs of kitchen tools and cooking methods so simple and fun anyone can follow.

The Michelin-starred chef needed about two years to complete the book; the publisher rejected it 20 times. “It’s the most difficult book I have done,” says Khanna, who has written over 40 books exploring food through ingredients, ecology, even poetry. Earlier this month, he tweeted about working on his next book. In a video call with Lounge from his restaurant in Dubai, Khanna says the book explores spices in the context of climate change.

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Six years ago, he started work on a project to document and study the seasonality and pollination of spices. It led to the pursuit of a doctorate degree on how climate change affects pollination, natural cycles and spices. “While working on my PhD, it struck me, how do you promote something which is very relevant right now? It resulted in this book, which is about pollination of spices. I am really looking forward to its release.”

Titled Ceremony Of Aromas, the book—whose release was delayed by the pandemic—will be published by Bloomsbury Worldwide in mid-August. It is not an academic thesis but a cookbook with more than 100 recipes featuring spices from around the world—mustard from Punjab, saffron from Kashmir, star anise from Vietnam and lavender from Notre-Dame de Sénanque, France. It combines cooking with horticulture, the origin of spices and climate change. “I know it could be a subject which does not interest a lot of people. But it struck me climate change impacts spices too. It is a relevant topic which talks about spices in a whole different way,” says Khanna.

He says the book will be launched in Dubai. “We feel there’s a deep interest in Indian food in that city. My novel, The Last Colour, sold in Dubai more than it sold in India. It surprised me and my publisher.” That novel has now been turned into a movie, produced and directed by the multi-talented Khanna, with Neena Gupta in the lead. Dubai, believes Khanna, is a pollinator between East and West. He runs two restaurants in the city—Kinara and Ellora. Both specialise in contemporary Indian food, with Khanna’s signature touch of adding layers through flavours and textures.

He will also be launching two new restaurants—one in Colombo and the other in New York—opening them to guests as the world begins opening up. Khanna predicts that post-pandemic restaurants will look at food as comfort.

Indian chefs, he believes, should revisit their culinary heritage through the lens of healing. “In India, food is comfort. It is also integral to our well-being—emotionally, mentally and physically. Our diet is based on the principle of Ayurveda, which means you are consuming food as medicine. I hope we can push agendas like these for our chefs and Indian cuisine.”

Also read | How a Kolkata food business expanded during the pandemic

This week, Khanna tweeted about working on another book—a novel. His tweet read: “During the darkest year 2020, I wrote one of my most powerful works.”

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