In the past few months I have received two books related to Vikas Khanna, an award winning Michelin starred Indian chef. One is a picture book, The Magic Rolling Pin, and the second is Shaken & Stirred — a collection of 101 non-alcoholic blend recipes. In India he has also acquired a fantastic fan following among children ever since he was a judge on MasterChef Junior, India. He comes across as an affable and a pleasant presenter, whose warmth radiates from the television screen or in still photographs circulating on the Internet.
Shaken & Stirred is a collection of 101 recipes of cooling drinks. The book’s release has been timed well with the onset of summer in North India. Reading some of the recipes such as “Sassy Peach Karat”, “God’s Own Drink” made with lemongrass stalk and coconut milk, “Orange Pepper Samba”, “Rose Sunrise Refresher” and “Kokum Granita” makes you want to sip them immediately. The food photographs accompanying the recipes are outstanding. ( Indian publishing has come a long way from producing insipid pictures in recipe books. Instead the pictures in this particular DK book have a razzmatazz that is magical. Most of the photo credits go to Vikas Khanna.) But I have my reservations about many of these recipes. They seem exotic and many of the ingredients seem impossible to get locally or available at an exorbitant price. It is interesting that for a man hailing from Punjab, who learned his cooking from his grandmother, there is not a single recipe with mango given. At a time when chefs like Jamie Oliver make cooking seem so easy and are not averse to being influenced by flavours worldwide, I cannot help but feel that Vikas Khanna’s recipes are much like what the Indian authors of the diaspora are doing with literary fiction — their memories of their time spent in India are sharp but are being recreated with a panache using words, acceptable to an international palate. Vikas Khanna is doing something similar with cuisine.
Speaking of his grandmother, The Magic Rolling Pin, is a hagiographical picture book recounting Vikas Khanna’s childhood. The images are computer created showing a happy young boy intrigued by the kitchen, his Biji bustling about cooking and later their involvement in the langars organised at the Golden Temple, Amritsar. But it is a complicated picture book since the reason for its publication does not seem to be the target audience, instead it is capitalising on the success of Vikas Khanna. As an idea it is worth considering, only if the book had been produced with care, focusing on the quality of illustrations, providing accurate information ( a reference to “golden clothes for Baisakhi” is accompanied by an illustration of the boy wearing red clothes) and being technically sound in laying of text involving repetition of words and using phonetics. There is far too much emphasis on the young boy in the illustrations making the text unidimensional, with little detail in the page layouts making it difficult for a child to get involved with the story, since a young reader clamours with comments like, “Show, show”; “Look, look” and “Did you not notice the detail before? I did!”. A good example of picture books that are technically sound and use bland computer illustrations are the Ladybird “Read it Yourself” series. Maybe these could have been emulated in the production and design of The Magic Rolling Pin, otherwise it is an excellent opportunity lost of introducing children to reading via an idol they admire.
Having said that, both books will remain with me for a long time since they are a good insight into Vikas Khanna, the chef, the humanitarian and restauranteur.
Vikas Khanna The Magic Rolling Pin Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2014. Hb. pp.40 Rs 299
Vikas Khanna Shaken & Stirred: 101 non-alcoholic blends to lift your spirits DK, Penguin Random House, New Delhi, India. Hb. pp. 250 Rs 899
11 May 2015