Here is a story of a boy who dreamt big and is living it now. A journey that started at the tender age of 14 years, continues even now. Vishnu Manohar, the name that has reached every household in the last 14 years as a celebrity chef, is also an author, an actor and most importantly, a source of inspiration.
Vishnu Manohar is not new to making world records. He has various records like making the world’s largest paratha andthe world’s largest kebab, to name a few. Two months ago, on 23rd April, Vishnu Manohar set another world record by cooking continuously for a whooping span of 54 hours. During his mammoth cooking spree, he cooked an unbelievable 750 dishes! “It was an amazing experience”, shares Vishnu Manohar. Ask him how did he come up with this idea and he explains, “It was Prasad Pradhan, the CEO of CitiBank who suggested that I should try making a world record of cooking for the longest time. I always took that lightly. When I went to the United States for delivering a lecture on Indian breads, I learnt about Benjamin Perry, the record holder for longest period of non-stop cooking. It was then that I decided to go ahead with the feat.”
It was a tall task to cook for more than 40 hours at a stretch. So, Vishnu Manohar requested the producers to put up a more rigorous schedule for him. He went to the airport canteen and worked there for about 40 hours. Later, he went to the most tiresome canteen of all – the railway canteen and worked there for 40 hours. There were many people involved in this affair including 120 helpers, jury members and some who had come to cheer him on the D day. The atmosphere was eccentric. “If you ask me how I feel now, all I remember is starting at 8am and finishing it off at 4pm two days later,” shares Vishnu Manohar.
The Government of India acknowledged the feat of Vishnu by taking him on board in one of the most crucial departments of the Centre; Food Safety.
Vishnu’s journey of being ‘The Vishnu Manohar’ started when he was in ninth standard. He began working for a caterer and was quite happy with his job. However, for some trivial reasons, the owner had a fight with Vishnu Manohar and they parted ways. After this incident, Vishnu Manohar’s desire to make a career in food was stronger than ever.Soon he started taking catering orders. His creative inclination gave him an edge over others and his creative dishes and ornate decorations were famed across the city. “Till then, the catering business was dry with a pre-set menu and was kept simple. We tried to decorate the dining venue along with giving scrumptious food. In those times, the cost of per plate was not more than Rs 6 or 7. Thus, when we started offering our services at Rs 16 per plate, people started wondering of what exactly we give them,” recalls Vishnu Manohar.
He also started doing live shows. After establishing himself as a caterer, he started his own cookery show on local channels from which he learnt a lot. He produced and did a show called “Cookery show with Vishnu Manohar” on Doordarshan without any sponsors. This helped him register himself as a chef. He had also started writing books.
In the meantime, his producer-friend Deepak Shinde used to produce serials for Doordarshan, purely from the business point of view. He started doing small roles in it. One day, while the show was being edited in a studio, some people from ETvsaw his work. They were in need of a chef for Mejwani show. “The lady who saw my work enquired about me and was glad to know that I was a chef too. They wanted someone just like me. They called me to Hyderabad and interviewed me. I worked on a three month contract initially, and now it has been 14 years and more than 3500 shows of our association,” he shares.
Today, Vishnu Manohar has more than 45 books and three world records to his credit. Despite being a pure vegetarian himself, his book ‘Jhanjhanitmansahaar’ (literally means spicy non-vegetarian food) was declared as the best seller three years ago. Ask him how he developed taste and got to know about it, he is quick to reply, “I tasted all the types of non-vegetarian food – the raw, the cooked and the fried and then spat it out. I recorded the taste of it as I could in a notebook and then blended it with spices to up its taste.”
His restaurant chain, VishnujikiRasoi is very famous for its Maharashtrian cuisine and dhabha look. “Coming from a middle-class family, I knew what it is to budget a party. So, I kept it in mind that even the middle-class must be able to have fun and party too. Maharashtrian food was paired with the Punjabi dishes and there were live counters for roti. It was accepted with open arms,” shared Vishnu Manohar.
Apart from the lip smacking food and delightful ambience, VishnujikiRasoi is known for yet another thing – an array of food festivals that they host. Out of all the festivals they hosted, including paneer festival, the animal food festival was the most innovative one. He is an animal lover himself and has worked with People for Animals. “When I realised that my dog used to wait for me to cook something special for him, I thought why don’t I organise a food festival for animals? I learnt about the needs of various animals and prepared food accordingly.Theidea was a huge success and many animals like cats, dogs, ducks, emus, camels were our customers,” he recalls.
Vishnu Manohar is planning to come up with his second chain of restaurants, VishujikiParnakuti – an elite dining experience. As contrast to VishnujikiRasoi, which is rustic and has feel of a dhaba, VishnujikiParnakuti would be a palatial experience. Its first restaurant would be started in Nagpur.
Very few keep their childhood dream alive.Vishnu Manohar’s dream of becoming an actor is soon going to turn in reality. He will be seen starring in a film which is set to release in September. “It is a story of reincarnation. RohiniHattangadi is my co-actor,” he said.
He is friends with our current Chief Minister DevendraFadnavis and shares a fond bond with him. “Both of us being foodies, it was obvious that we had put on weight together.Then we decided to shed some pounds together. Recently, when we met at a wedding, he saw that he had shed more pounds than I. Mocking me, he agreed to click a photo with me as he would look thinner,” he shares while describing their camaraderie.