If a person buys 1,000 kgs of cauliflower and 2,000 kgs of tomatoes, how many people can he or she feed? This is not a mathematics problem, but a daily calculation that drives mega-kitchens across India and is the basis for the second season of a National Geographic show.
The second season of India’s Megakitchens goes on air at 10pm on August 15. Although celebrity Vikas Khanna has been billed as the “the face of the show”, he appears only in promotional commercials, and the series is actually voiced by Ross Huguet. The focus is on the scale, volume, technology, process and efforts of the people involved in preparing meals for thousands at once. (The first season included the culinary efforts of non-governmental organisation Akshaya Patra, TajSats Air Catering Ltd and the Indian Railways.) We visit Anandpur Sahib in Punjab and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh and are treated to visuals of thousands of kilogrammes of lentils boiling in large cauldrons, men with enviable upper body strengths mixing vegetables in large vessels, and boxes and boxes of golden and scarlet spices.
The episodes of the second season are based on the concept of seva, or public service. In Anandpur Sahib, as in Vrindavan, religious establishments feed anyone and everyone who enters their places of worship. The first episode is set during the Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla, which begins the day after Holi. Lakhs of followers flock to Anandpur Sahib to pay their respects at the Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib gurudwara, one of the five temporal authorities of Sikhism. The camera follows workers in the gurudwara’s kitchen as they prepare to serve langar, or free food, to the visiting devotees. Episode two is similar in spirit. Krishna devotees from all over the world descend upon Vrindavan during October and November to eat prasadam, or the food that is said to bear Krishna’s blessings.
The format follows a predictable template. Huguet rattles off impressive numbers, informing viewers about the large amounts of vegetables, lentils, wheat and ghee being bought to prepare for the events – 2,200 kilos of vegetables is enough to feed a family of four for seven years, or “the amount of wheat used to make one day’s worth of rotis could make millions of cupcakes”. This is followed by an animated blueprint of the kitchen, which gives a rough idea about the scale of operations and the technology employed to help the cooks speed up processes and roll out nutritious meals at minimal costs.
The show excels at blending the cultural and religious significance of these charitable sculleries with information on their logistical feats. Each kitchen works differently even though the task it performs is similar in nature. The ISCKON Yatra kitchen prepares rich but strictly satvik food (without the use of garlic, onions and meat), while the gurudwara’s kitchen, which is operational throughout the year rather than just during festivals, focuses on simple meals.
Besides the amount of food and the number of cooks, the kitchens run smoothly with the help of countless volunteers. It is through the power and dedication of these thousands of helpers that these establishments are able to feed so many people. India's Megakitchens chronicles these stories and more.