The most fascinating thing about this Michelin-starred chef is not that he was invited to a dinner party hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama or that he’s served the Dalai Lama, but that most of his cookbooks have been shot using a Lumia 1020.
As host of the television show “MasterChef India” and owner of Junoon in New York City, Vikas Khanna promises viewers and diners a gastronomical delight. But equally tantalizing are the photos of the dishes he clicks for his books.
With 16 cookbooks, four documentary films and counting, we caught up with Vikas during a recent visit to Amritsar, his hometown, during the launch of his latest book “Amritsar- Flavors of the Golden City.”
What is so special about ‘Amritsar- Flavors of the Golden City’?
I am reminded of an incident few years back where someone told me that no matter where you are today, you always have to go back. That line was etched in mind and that is how the idea to pen this book came about. This is special for me; I actually took two steps back and came home to my city.
Did you revisit your memories by traveling to all the places mentioned in the book?
Every photo you see in the book was taken on the location and everything written has been scribbled by me. Everything had an emotional connect for me.
There was a story everywhere, be it the culture, the people, the city or the food. It is very important that that story should never get lost.
You mentioned that you clicked photos and recorded interviews with your Lumia. Have the photos been reproduced in the book?
I always keep the Lumia 1020 with me wherever I go. You don’t need tripods or multiple-lighting equipment to get a shot; you just need to have a vision and an eye for detail. In fact, majority of photos for my forthcoming book (450 pages!) have been shot extensively with the 1020.
Is there a team to help you to set up a frame?
I work on my own for the simple reason that when I see a frame, for example a car that is moving, I feel the need to capture it instantly.
The best part of working with a Lumia 1020 is that it lets you capture the moment there and then. It is best suited for people like me who prefer to click the photo in that instant and live that moment.
Sometimes I feel that people who are being photographed don’t understand how powerful this phone is and thus they never pose and the process of taking a candid moment is never lost.
Compare the same situation with a big, bulky camera and we find people start posing for the photos. This is where 1020 comes to my rescue. I get much better quality with rich colors.
What is the order in which you work? Do you eat, interview, click photos, which comes first?
I strongly feel that when you love something, you can’t have an order. Anything with an order is institutionalized. Thus I have gone with the flow and done things on the spot.
All these photos you see have been clicked the way you see food, there is no styling involved, nothing has been fabricated. There is no staging.
What about the photos taken of the street food?
Everything has been shot there, right in the middle of the street; the idea was to show the city.
Share with us your must-do’s for photographing food.
Food has to be clicked the moment it is brought out. There is a saying we have in India, ‘Eat the food; it is hot and freshly made.’
Number one: You have to take two photos of the dish, first from a top angle and then from eye-level as you need to give perspective of the dish. You need to show the spread as well.
Number two: The perfect time to click any dish is the moment it comes to your table.
How do you feel when people Instagram your dishes before they even eat their meals?
I personally feel that by not allowing the patrons to click photos, you are disturbing their food experience. The person has earned that dish and you need to give him full honor and let him take that photo. In fact, I have been told by many that I should be on Instagram and post my photos.
Some Michelin chefs don’t allow pictures in their restaurants as they are concerned about the lighting. They don’t want their food to be misrepresented. The lighting in a restaurant is low and dramatic but I feel smartphones like Lumias are not sensitive to light and we get food photos even then.
We see a number of selfies with your fans posted on social accounts. Are you hinting at your next phone, the Lumia 730?
I have been hearing all about it. As soon as I get the phone, I will click a selfie of the book and the Golden Temple. The grandeur of the temple can only be captured with this phone.