At a time when life has been upended for millions of Indian Muslims on their most auspicious festival, Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna working round-the-clock from his New York City apartment pulled off the “world’s largest Eid feast” of 200,000 meals in Mumbai this weekend in the city’s worst-affected areas.
“The food was collected at the Haji Ali Dargah and distributed around Mohammed Ali Road, Dharavi and Mahim Dargah in Mumbai with the help of over 200 volunteers and personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) while adhering to all guidelines of social distancing,” Khanna said in an exclusive phone interview from NYC. “We managed to serve an Eid feast with 100,000-plus kgs of dry rations, fresh fruits, spices, chai, sweets, and juices.”
Overwhelmed with exhaustion and euphoria, the 48-year-old world-renowned chef, author, and filmmaker has caught global attention for his #FeedIndia campaign that has distributed millions of cooked meals and dry ration to the most vulnerable communities all over India.
He is all heart and passion when he speaks about this Herculean effort. “I found it initially challenging to get the ball rolling. Numerous people duped me but my mother firmly believed that I could serve India in this critical hour despite every obstacle.”
He proved his mother right.
In an unprecedented effort by any single individual across the globe, Khanna managed to organize 6 million meals in 131 cities across India in six weeks.
“I have done it with the support of people in India, especially the NDRF, who are my heroes.”
Khanna is no lesser of a hero himself in the world of gourmand global cuisine. From Queen Elizabeth II, PM Narendra Modi to ex-US President Barack Obama, and from the Dalai Lama to Pope Francis, he has been patronized by the most eminent political and religious leaders of the world. Today, he has firmly established himself on par with some of the world’s most influential chefs, including Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges, Alain Ducasse, Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay. Khanna has also hosted Master Chef India, written more than 25 cookbooks, and made an Oscar-eligible movie.
Khanna announced his campaign in early April on social media and people started to pour in to help. He procured an astounding six million dry ration meals and distributed it daily “with grace and dignity” to hundreds and thousands of migrant laborers, daily wage earners, the homeless, orphans and other needy individuals all across the country.
Given the speed, strategy, and success with which Khanna has worked round-the-clock, he has been able to secure the support of some of India’s major food brands, foundations, and companies.
“I have slept 3-4 hours a day for the last two months and I feel that is time wasted as there is so much to do.”
For the last two months, sitting in NYC in his apartment, Khanna has coordinated daily through phone all the logistical requirements, including securing permits to transfer the food ration between states, pickup, and deliveries from wholesale vendors and distribution to concerned centers.
Khanna says last week he came up with the idea of converting Fuel Stations 2 Food Stations on India’s highways. “It broke my heart to see the men, women, and children of my country walking home hungry and hopeless. I wanted to give them food and hope.”
Like everything else, he succeeded here too.
Today, gas stations in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have begun to serve meals to thousands of migrants adrift on its highways. Khanna plans to make this a nationwide initiative.
Khanna is today feeding the neediest people in orphanages, leprosy centers, disability homes, red-light districts all over India.
“I have done this together with my fellow Indians. They send me so many ideas, so much love, and encouragement daily by social media photos and texts. We are a country with a big, big heart.”
He has cracked it open as few can.
“I think I was born to do this work of feeding India at this moment in time.”