The celebrity chef was honoured with the Asia Game Changer award for feeding millions in India amid Covid-19. Vikas Khanna is the only Indian among the recipients of this US-based award.
15 September was auspicious and august for New York-based Chef Vikas Khanna and the National Disaster Relief Fund as his initiative #FeedIndia completed 4,000 hours and crossed 35 million meals distributed across India.
For his extraordinary efforts, Chef Vikas Khanna was honoured with the Asia Game Changer award for feeding millions in India amid Covid crisis. Khanna is the only Indian among the recipients of this US-based award that also include tennis champion Naomi Osaka, producer of Oscar-winning film Parasite Miky Lee, etc. Vikas was lauded for dropping everything to concentrate on feeding India.
His soup aka khichdi kitchen is one of the world’s largest food drives that galvanised an army of people to help those stricken by the pandemic and migrant labourers since it started in April. Chef Vikas Khanna is sleep deprived as we speak as he remotely monitors this large effort, one minute on call with the police, the next with the hospitality team. Now, #FeedIndia is also providing basics supplies like slippers (500,000), sanitary pads (3.5 million) and masks (2 million) to help the needy. The relentless efforts of Michelin-starred Chef Khanna, the NDRF and a large team of people have come together to provide food and basics. The author of 37 books, who has a double PhD, Khanna started the initiative when he inadvertently clicked on a random relief site to donate to helpless Indians, and realised that there were many such fake appeals going viral. Thus, was born the initiative that has logistics support from the National Disaster Relief Force Helping Hand with Satya Narayan Pradhan and his large team tasked with the gargantuan endeavour.
Coordinating all this from 7,000 miles away is quite a feat. Vikas, who is quarantined at his New York apartment says, “We crossed 30 million, a big milestone, and will celebrate this with a big event in Mumbai. We had earlier started with orphanages and old age homes that we have now abandoned, and now are reaching communities in ashrams, quarantined zones, and parts of India where the villages have been Covid zones, etc.”
In different pandals in Mumbai and cities across India, one can spot food trucks at iconic locations where meals are distributed with social distancing as the enterprising and hard-working NDRF lend a helping hand. About the food, Khanna says, “It’s always mixed — whenever we have access to cooking facilities, we offer cooked meals but when we have to distribute at people’s homes, we cannot give cooked meals, so we offer dry rations of dal, chawal, atta, chini, gur (jaggery) and chai patti. We are also adding prasadam, coconuts, and every place where food is being served, we distribute free sanitary pads too.”
With 60 to 100 deliveries a day, there are many issues that arise, that keep Khanna, the NDRF and the team of cooks and deliverers on their toes. Having a good and wholesome team is key to such a mammoth initiative, Khanna feels. #FEEDINDIA operates through satellite kitchen spread across roads and highways across India. What started as an initiative to feed helpless and hungry Indians heading back home or left stranded during the lockdown is now feeding the many without jobs or daily wages given the economic downturn.
“Another reason it has become so successful is due to the transparency – we have zero-dollar administrative cost. We do not have any transactions – this has made people gravitate towards #FeedIndia kyun ki the trail is clean, unlike jab people felt 30 percent NGO le leta hai. I felt it was very necessary to show what is in the bag, have accountability for every grain of rice being distributed,” explains Khanna who is thankful for the volley of sponsors.
What Khanna says, started as a stroke of destiny has taken a life of its own. “I hope people keep giving. Half million chappals — so how can you contribute? I think people should take this as an inspiration to do their own giving. People who have cars and backpacks, when they go shopping can buy an extra pair of chappals or pads, etc and distribute them. We are much more powerful together,” says the chef who recently opened his restaurant Ellora in Dubai that is seeing packed houses.
Between the mammoth organising, Vikas has just finished two major cookbooks. “One is based on extensive research, and has chapters divided by different spices. The other is a regular cookbook that has 100 Indian dishes. I am also working on a novel,” says the Michelin starred chef whose most recent tweet when going to print was, “By September 23rd, we complete 175 Days of #FeedIndia and also cross 40 Million+ Meals (cooked and dry ration). Working 24/7, best to our abilities to ensure that kitchens are running in our homeland.”
Now that the khichdi kitchen has catapulted on the world stage bringing basics and food to the needy, Vikas is busy working on a book on the #FeedIndia initiative that will document the rise of humanity in this hour of need.