His restaurant in New York is named Junoon. The word junoon means obsession, and that defines everything the man takes up in life. Michelin starred chef, entrepreneur and author Vikas Khanna wears many hats. With his directorial debut The Last Colour, which was announced at Cannes this year, he never ceases to surprise.
Vikas Khanna’s journey has not only been about innovation when it comes to food, but also preserving, restoring and documenting things -- be it celebrating India’s culture through his books, or looking at food and ingredients and tracing their origin, to his latest venture, his one-of-its-kind culinary museum in India.
The culinary museum, a testimony to his years of hard work and perseverance, opened to the public this April. It is attached to the School of Culinary Arts, WelcomeGroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration at Manipal University in Manipal, and its facade is shaped like a cooking pot, dating back to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Spread over three floors, the museum has around 2,000 items on display. From multiple spice holders to tumblers to hundreds of spoons dating back to different centuries, it also houses graters and scrapers to old ancient steamers and platters. Anything and everything that was used to prepare, store, serve, and cook food can be found in the museum.
With artefacts from different centuries, the museum houses most of Vikas’s collection, utensils which he keeps calling in its true Indian sense bartan, thorough our conversation. He tells us that his apartment in New York was overflowing with his collection and the best solution was to showcase them in a museum.
As the MasterChef turns the pages of the book titled Patra that was published to document and present to the readers some of the exhibits at the museum, Vikas shares why the museum is so important to him.
“Today’s generation hasn’t seen or heard about these vessels. As cooking styles and techniques have changed, so have the utensils that we use. I wanted to showcase and document India’s rich food and family heritage through this museum. I want people to come and look at the collection and even if one item resonates with them, it will be a big achievement for me.”
Ask him where he acquired all these things and how long he has been collecting heirlooms and pat comes the response, “It has been an obsession of mine. I have been collecting for decades now, but I finally got the opportunity to share it with the world.” From the things he found during his travels across India and the globe, Vikas has been collecting kitchen utensils and other kitchenware for years.
Vikas narrates that when he left home for the US in 2000, he carried his grandmother’s iron kadhai with him, and his collection of utensils is something that he says he values more that the Mauviel painting hanging on the walls of his house.
“With restoration and nurturing, all these utensils are getting a second chance,” he says. Kitchenware that had been put away because it was no longer useful, but was once used with love by a family, is what he says now, “getting a second chance.”
The museum is free and will be maintained by ITC. Vikas says he is thankful to ITC for the support for this initiative.
The museum will also loan utensils to other global museums, and hence pieces will be carried across the globe. “The enquiries have already started coming in, so this is going to be a travelling museum,” he says.
Next year more will be added to the collection. Vikas has already lined up items and added them to the collection. “However, I don’t want to open the lid on it so you need to wait to find out what they are,” he adds.
As he writes in Patra, “Every home has its own tradition and the perfect vessel to carry it forward, but I will keep adding to the collection.”
Next time you think something from the past doesn’t belong in your kitchen anymore, you may want to share it with the Culinary Museum because it may just get a “second chance”, and isn’t life just about that?