The food industry describes him as a seasoned chef and a connoisseur of good food and the television audience knows him as a passionate chef who loves to weave culinary magic through his popular dishes on shows like Veggistan, Northern Flavours and Hi Tea. But Chef Ajay Chopra has more than this – he has the belief that every single thing on this earth can be earned if the passion in it is still alive and he applies this same principle in his life too.
This hard earned fame however did not come to him easily. In fact, Chef Ajay never aspired to be a chef at the first place. But his newly developed love for food took him on a journey that defined its course in due course of time. It was all written in his destiny to be a celebrated chef one day and today, by his sheer hard work and dedication, Chef Ajay has managed to earn himself the name that his every admirer look up to with love and admiration.
Chef Ajay opens up more on his journey up the ladder to success with TravelRasoi and shares those few moments that made him the man that he is today –
How did the thought of becoming a chef come to you? Which profession would you have chosen had you not become a chef?
To be very honest, I did not aspire to be a Chef at the start of my career; however I was very sure of pursuing a career in hotels. While studying, I developed my passion for food and realized that food was the tune I would like to play. My first job was not the best paying one, but I was dedicated to learn and perform, and the same thought has led me to where I am today.
Northern Flavours and Hi Tea are popular shows of yours. Tell us something about the shows – when did it start and how is it different from other cookery shows?
The classic British High Tea was reformulated as “Hi Tea” on Food Food Channel, aimed at reaching out to people with recipes that compliment tea, can be prepared at any time of the day and with the simplest ingredients available at home. The recipes were selectively gathered from the various tea time bites prepared globally, and modified for the simplicity of cooking at home.
My aim was to transform the traditional thoughts of “chai pakode” to the innumerable possibilities that can be created at home, and spread the message that I truly believe in, “Love, Pray, Cook”.
On the other hand, Northern Flavours aims at promoting regional food from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, to name a few.
Where did you learn to cook? What is the first dish you had prepared as a chef?
During my early school days, I cooked butter chicken at home and to my surprise it turned out to be really fantastic. With that confidence, I kept trying different recipes and discovered my love for cooking.
As a chef, my first dish was a Penne in Arabiatta Sauce.
Please share with our readers any one experience from your initial days of cooking? How many years have you been in this profession?
It has been 18 years since I am in this industry. My initial days of working were spent in Oberoi Hotels, starting as a Commis Chef in The Cecil, Shimla before pursuing culinary and management training at Oberoi Center of Learning and Development. The training helped us groom ourselves to be Chefs and Managers in the kitchen.
How best can regional cuisine of India be promoted? Which regional cuisine do you like the best?
With my show Northern Flavours on Living Foodz, our aim was to promote the regional cuisine of India from regions like Uttarakhand, Himachal and Uttar Pradesh. So according to me, medium like Television, Social Media can be a few of the platforms to popularize regional food.
It would be difficult to say which one is the best, but things like a Boot ka Halwa or a Thekua are such fantastic age old recipes, yet unexplored and unpopular.
Which style of cooking do you admire the most (Indian, Continental)? What is ‘Healthy Food’ according to you?
Throughout my career, I have learnt, practiced and mastered many cuisines with different restaurants and hotels. But something that I am very excited about is Modern Indian food. Globally, Indian food is known to be typically only Butter Chicken or Chicken Tikka; but now, with so many ingredients and flavours, Indian food can be taken to be global platform.
Healthy food is a very wide term, and does not necessarily mean only a broccoli or asparagus. According to me, healthy food is just about substituting your ingredients or the way you cook them. Simple things like a Maida can be replaced with Whole Wheat, Ragi or Oats flour, or a Fried Chicken could be replaced by a Grilled Chicken.
How are new-age chefs innovating to build visibility/presence in the new media? (e.g Social media, Television food channels etc)
Today’s generation has the availability and advantage of social media, and it is a great platform to make your name reach globally. Cooks at home today can display their talent on social media or platforms like MasterChef also help them go a long way.
Which is your favourite ‘Ghar ka khana’?
My favourite ghar ka khana is Dal Chawal and some Achaar
Any advice you would love to give someone aspiring to become a chef?
Consistency is the key to success. Striking it once right is great, but striking it right consistently is an achievement.
What is your ‘Signature Dish’? Any recipe you would like to share with our readers?
Pithaud Cake with Chaunkhe Matar and Kadhi
|Gram flour||50 gm|
|roast cumin seeds||10 gm|
|coriander seeds||50 gm|
|whole red chillies||20 gm|
|For Masala Peas:|
|Fresh green peas||50 gm|
|Onion, chopped||10 gm|
|Tomatoes, chopped||5 gm|
|Cumin seeds||1 gm|
|Ginger, chopped||5 gm|
|Green chillies, chopped||2 nos.|
|Coriander powder||5 gm|
|Red chilli powder||3 gm|
|Turmeric powder||2 gm|
|Fresh coriander leaves, chopped||10 gm|
|Lemon juice||5 ml|
|For the Kadhi:|
|Gram flour||10 gm|
|Ginger-garlic paste||2 gm|
|For the Garnish:|
|Orange zest julienne||6 nos.|
|Basil leaves||2 nos|
|Coriander sprigs||2 nos|
|Dill leaves||6 nos.|
- For green masala, heat ghee in pan, add cumin seeds and let it crackle.
- Add chopped onion, ginger and green chillies and sauté well.
- Add tomatoes, green peas and red chilli, coriander and turmeric powders. Cook until the green peas are done.
- Add salt and finish with lemon juice and chopped coriander leaves.
- For the pithaud cake, whisk curd and gram flour together
- Add turmeric and kadhai powder, salt and mix well (it should be thick like a batter).
- In a kadhai, heat ghee, add the above mix and cook on a slow fire.
- When it becomes a little thick and leaves sides of the kadhai, remove from fire.
- Take a 1-inch deep grease tray, add this curd mix and let it cool.
- Cut into round shapes with a mould and grill it for 2-3 minutes from the both sides.
- For the kadhi, combined all the ingredients of the kadhi and leave it on fire to reduce it.
- When thick, turn off the gas and cool it.
- Arrange the pithaud cake with the green peas masala on top and kadhi. Garnish with orange zest, basil leaves, coriander and dill leaves.
– Samrita Baruah / Anjali Sethi Joshi