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Renowned Chef Vikas Khanna Feeds Those In Need Across India

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The celebrity chef Vikas Khanna has a Michelin star. He's based in New York. He's cooked for presidents and royals. But this year, he has been feeding the hungry in his home country, India. Here's NPR's Lauren Frayer.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: When India went into coronavirus lockdown last spring, poor laborers got stranded without work. Some starved to death, including a woman on a train platform.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN PLATFORM AMBIENCE)

FRAYER: Someone recorded this video of the woman's toddler trying to wake her up. It went viral, and Vikas Khanna saw it.

VIKAS KHANNA: That crushed me so hard, I can't tell you. If a chef is not broken by hunger, then there's no other reason for us to be in this industry.

FRAYER: In a panel discussion last week, Khanna described how he used his huge Twitter following to organize food giveaways across India. PepsiCo and other big companies pitched in. They partnered with Indian disaster relief forces and thousands of volunteers. Khanna's living room in New York morphed into an international logistics center.

KHANNA: The entire walls were filled up with paper, charts, trying to organize cities.

FRAYER: From thousands of miles away, he set up kiosks at gas stations giving away hot meals...

(SOUNDBITE OF GAS STATION AMBIENCE)

FRAYER: ...And sent pickup trucks to drop bagged lunches for children in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: Khanna says some in the West assume he grew up hungry himself, and that's not the case.

KHANNA: I come from Amritsar, and we have rituals in which we don't let anyone sleep hungry.

FRAYER: Sikh temples there give out free meals. By last month, Khanna had managed to organize more than 50 million free meals in 125 Indian cities. He's become even more of a role model. In Delhi, a little girl won second place at a school costume competition dressed up in a chef's hat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: My idol is chef Vikas Khanna. I want to be like him.

FRAYER: "My idol is chef Vikas Khanna," she says in a clip posted on Twitter by her family, and she's wearing a sash that reads, bake the world a better place.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BOWIE SONG, "SOUND AND VISION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

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