Video: Immigrant Dishwasher to Presidential Chef

Kanika Chadda, an anchor for the cable network Sahara One TV, produced this video portrait of the celebrity chef Vikas Khanna for Voices of NY. The video was shot and edited by Jane Teeling, with additional camera work by Taylor Tepper.

In the video, Khanna also demonstrates a quick and delicious recipe for a tamarind-spiked vegetable stir-fry.

Growing up in a modest family in the Indian city of Amritsar, Punjab, Vikas Khanna‘s clubfoot forced him to wear braces on his legs and to sit it out when the other children played outside. He found refuge in his grandmother’s kitchen.

“That’s where all the magic happened,” the 41-year-old executive chef of the Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Junoon explained. Though the kitchen is traditionally women’s territory in Indian homes, Khanna’s mother and grandmother encouraged his passion for cooking.

Not only did he learn to walk, Khanna made strides as an entrepreneur, and opened his own catering business at age 17. “That was my revenge to all those who made fun of me,” Khanna said. “I just wanted to feed them.”

At age 30, Khanna left for New York with just a few hundred dollars in his pocket. To make ends meet, he took any odd job he could find, from passing out fliers in Central Park to working as a dishwasher at hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurants. He was almost ready to call it quits one cold Christmas morning, he recalls in the video above, when he found his way to the soup kitchen at the New York City Rescue Mission.

“Meeting other lost souls who were in a similar situation as me made me feel that there was some hope for me here,” he said of the experience.

Khanna went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and was awarded the New York Rising Star Chef Award in 2011. That same year, he was invited to be a celebrity judge on the reality series, “MasterChef India.” Last month, Khanna cooked a fund-raising dinner for President Barack Obama.

Through his foundation, sakiv, Khanna has hosted events to raise funds for AIDS awareness and earthquake and tsunami relief. Khanna has also authored six books about food and cooking, and launched a documentary series, “Holy Kitchens,” which focuses on the sacred foods of various religions.