Khanna’s Feed India program, “Barkat” as he calls it, was launched when India first went into lockdown as a response to the pandemic. Since April, aid has reached over 50 million Indians.
As the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, began spreading in the United States, Khanna started losing relatives and friends to the virus and took a huge financial hit to his catering business. “Everything had to be canceled,” he recalled. “It was heartbreaking.”
But images of struggling families back home in India struck him to the core.
India went into lockdown on March 25. On April 1, Khanna asked his 2.3 million Twitter followers to check on their neighborhood orphanages, elderly care homes, and leprosy centers so that he could shortlist the places in greatest need. Over 1,000 people responded, and Feed India took form.
In mid-April, Khanna enlisted the help of India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). “I told him we could be your hands, legs, and ears in India,” said NDRF Chief S.N. Pradhan, describing Feed India as “deeply, deeply humanitarian.”
With the NDRF, Khanna was able to reach even more marginalized communities. With corporate sponsorship from brands including Pepsi, India Gate, Quaker Oats, and Hyatt Regency, Feed India workers added other essentials such as masks, sanitary pads, and footwear to the aid packages.
Khanna traversed a difficult childhood to get to where he is today. He was born in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, with clubbed feet, and wore cumbersome leg braces and wooden shoes before finally learning to walk and run unaided at the age of 11.
As a boy, he was drawn to his grandmother’s kitchen to escape bullies, but there he discovered a passion for cooking. He moved to the United States in the year 2000 and made New York City his home.
Since then, Khanna has run a cooking school from his apartment, appeared on chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” lost almost everything in the 2008 recession, and rebuilt his empire by opening Junoon, an Indian restaurant that earned a Michelin star within just 10 months of its inception.
Khanna has also written 35 books, directed a film, and hosted “MasterChef India.”
As the pandemic wages on, so does Feed India. At the time of writing, Khanna is multitasking; the talented chef, businessman, and philanthropist has opened a new restaurant in Dubai and is working on a second movie.
He is also planning to write a book about the Feed India movement.