MUMBAI — Anthony Bourdain developed an affinity for Indian vegetarian food and was curious about recipes, said Indian chef Vikas Khanna, for whom the late American star chef was a hero.
Bourdain was found dead in Paris, France, June 8.
Recounting his memories, Khanna said: “We worked together many times. I’m so heartbroken. Anthony was my hero. I looked up to him and was privileged to have bonded with him. He hated vegetarian food. I told him until he visits India he wouldn’t know the pleasures of vegetarian cuisine.”
Khanna had first met Bourdain while doing a tasting menu with mangoes at his mid-town restaurant, Purnima, in New York.
“I did not get a chance to talk to him then. The second time we met, I cooked for him at the Rubin Museum. I told him that I was researching extensively on Himalayan foods, ‘Utsav,’ and creating ‘Holy Kitchens’ documentaries. He just said one thing, ‘Keep pushing the limits,’” Khanna said. “Later, he was hosting CNN’s ‘Parts Unknown’ in India and he wanted me to travel to Punjab with him to show him my hometown. I could not travel to India at that time. But I was so happy that he started loving Indian vegetarian food and asked me for recipes which were eventually used on the show.”
Khanna reckoned that there are many pressures on a chef’s life that could have killed Bourdain.
“There is a lot of drug usage, time management issues... Small spaces to cook in. Michelin pressure. Fire hazards. Customer service issues. Health and mental hygiene issues. Nepotism. Demanding critics. Labor issues. Emotional distress and breakdowns. Standard consistency. Long hours... Oh, being a chef is not an easy job,” said the Michelin-starred chef.
“People only see the food on the table, not the fire in the kitchen. I have seen individuals of great skill go down in a jiffy. It’s the curse of those who are in the quest of perfection. Sorry if I’ve said too much. I idolized Anthony. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
India-West Staff Reporter adds: Khanna also revealed to his social media followers the reason he fasts for a day during the holy month of Ramadan: to honor a Muslim family that saved his life during the 1992 riots in Mumbai.
However, for the last 26 years, he wasn’t able to locate the Mumbai-based family.
On June 11, the New York-based chef tweeted that he has finally found the family and would break his fast with them.
“This is one of the happiest day of my life. @AnupamPKher ji had interviewed me last year for @republic & I shared the story of Muslim family that saved my life during riots,” Khanna tweeted. “WE FOUND THEM & today I shall break the fast with them.”
On July 12, Khanna wrote: “Heartwarming evening. All Heart. Tears. Pain. Pride. Courage. Humanity. Gratitude. This will be the most significant and important EID of my life. Thank you everyone to connect me with my souls.”
In a previous post, Khanna had explained that he was training in the kitchen of SeaRock Sheraton in Mumbai, in December 1992 “when riots broke out and the whole city was under fire.”
“We were stuck in the hotel for days. Iqbal Khan and Wasim Bhai (trainee chef and a waiter, whom I lost touch with forever) and their families sheltered me and nurtured me during this time,” he wrote. “Since that year, I fast for 1 day during the Holy Month to thank them and keep them in my prayers.”
In a 2017 interview with actor Anupam Kher for Republic TV, Khanna recalled that during the riots, no staff members were allowed to leave or enter the hotel. But when someone informed him that some buildings in Ghatkopar – where his brother lived – had been set on fire, he left the hotel to look for him. But since he was new to Mumbai, he spent hours wandering the streets of the city. During that time, a Muslim family, Khanna said, took him in to save him from a mob close by. When the rioters asked his identity, Khanna said the father said he was his son, and they left.
He spent close to two days with them and they also helped him in finding his brother.
Watch the interview here: