Vikas Khanna: Good Diwali Eats, Where to Get Mithai, and the Best Ingredient You Probably Don't Know
Yesterday, we brought you part one of a Q&A with chef Vikas Khanna, chatting about the dishes he'll offer at his new restaurant, Junoon, and what foods he misses from his childhood in the Punjab. Khanna juggles many projects, including a catering company, cookbooks, and making a documentary about Sikhism, but when Junoon opens in the first week of November, he'll be cooking there full-time.
Chef Vikas Khanna
Today, in the second half of the interview, Khanna tells us his eating plans for the upcoming Diwali holiday, his recommendation on where to get the best South Asian sweets--which are eaten even more than usual during Diwali--his dream vacation destination and his favorite underrated ingredient.
With so many projects, do you worry about spreading yourself too thin? Will you be in the kitchen at Junoon most nights?
All of my other projects, including the Holy Kitchens film series and four books, are near completion and the few remaining will be delegated to members of my team for completion. We have been preparing for this moment for the past four years in order for me to smoothly transition into being at Junoon every night.
Please name an ingredient that is unknown or underrated that you like to cook with and why.
Kokum: It gives a warm and tangy flavor to curries and chutney. It's used mainly in regional cooking of South India and parts of Western India. I would like to see it used more in North India, Punjabi cooking.
Are there any Indian restaurants in New York that you particularly like?
Oh, my. I have too many friends cooking in different restaurants to pick one over the others. I love the restaurants on East 6th Street. Even today, they remind me of my first winters in New York when they were my comfort food.
Do you have a recommendation for a mithai--South Asian sweets--shop?
Rajbhog Sweets in Jackson Heights. [Ed note: We agree!]
How do you see Indian/South Asian restaurants in New York right now, and how do you think the scene will evolve in the next several years?
I am extremely proud of our new generations of chefs, by their imagination and creativity. We are honored to be a part of this transition towards a global vision of Indian cuisine.
Tabla is closing, but places like Junoon and Tulsi are opening, and Tamarind Tribeca has gotten great reviews. Do you think we are about to see widespread acceptance of high-end Indian cuisine, or do you still often hear that prejudicial phrase, "too expensive for Indian food?"
We have thousands of years of fantastic hospitality that is not seen in more casual restaurants. As long as we avoid the clichés of the places that have 90 dishes on their menus and give people some things that they haven't seen before, they will see the value of what we are doing.