DIY kits, home chefs, and masterclasses: World on a Plate 2020 goes digital amid the pandemic

The gourmet festival World on a Plate went digital and packed a punch with a slew of master chefs, industry experts, and restaurant professionals. Celebrity chef Ajay Chopra tells us how this much-loved culinary show transformed this year.

Every year, when the gourmet festival World on a Plate (WOAP) rolls out, there is a great sense of anticipation in the air. There is the buzz about which chefs will be holding masterclasses, the new cuisines that will come to the forefront, and the many gastronomic experiences that lie ahead.

Chef Ajay Chopra

This year, however, due to the pandemic, the entire show moved online. The five-day event was packed with masterclasses by renowned master chefs, pop-ups by top restaurants, competitions amongst amateur chefs, and conversations with industry experts like AD Singh (Founder and Managing Director of Olive Group of Restaurants), Jock Zonfrillo (Masterchef Australia Judge and Founder of Auflavourlab), Rupali Dean (food and travel writer), Anooti Vishal (author), and Manish Mehrotra (chef and author).

A clip from the digital event of WOAP, showing chef Vicky Ratnani

Prominent master chefs like Paul Kinny (Director of Culinary, St Regis), Ranveer Brar (celebrity chef), Vicky Ratnani (celebrity chef and TV host), Saransh Goila (Chef and Founder, Goila Butter Chicken), Rakhee Vaswani (TV chef and Owner of Palate Culinary Academy), and many more took part in the event.

These culinary superstars shed light on exploratory cuisines, taught gourmet food pairings, and narrated some amazing food stories, through their food via their live masterclasses.

In fact, this campaign offered a platform to home-chefs to put their creative foot forward and cook a top meal. The organisers also delivered DIY kits with the ingredients beforehand to curate seamless in-home experiences for attendees, who would try out the recipes at home and display them online.

Each partnered restaurant supporting WOAP with the cause pledged to provide a minimum of 50 pre-packed nutritious meals each day for the hungry. These meals were collected and added to the distribution, which was either done by the foundation or the restaurants themselves.

Ajay Chopra

Moreover, four signature dishes from each restaurant were curated for the cause, and these dishes were ordered by consumers through Swiggy and other delivery partners.

The home chef winners and their cooking videos were displayed on WOAP’s website, along with an exclusive opportunity for one-on-one interactions with top celebrity chefs via the live interaction conducted from WOAP’s Instagram handle.

The culinary campaign gave a complete and wholesome gastronomic experience to their viewers. The event brought in a lot of talent and oodles of fun in terms of food, entertainment, and much more.

Chef Ajay Chopra, who took part in the event, says that is was different from any of the events in the past.

After working in many prestigious restaurants and hotels, Ajay embarked on a new culinary journey and became a chefpreneur. He started Burgundy Box — a DO-IT-YOURSELF meal kit — under the brand of Zion Hospitality. At present, he also does consulting work with restaurant developers and catering companies to help with their menu designs, concepts, and culinary skills.

In an exclusive interaction with YSWeekender, Chef Ajay talks about the latest WOAP event, his role in the proceedings, and his own culinary journey.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YSWeekender (YSW): Can you tell us how the new edition of World on a Plate was different this year?

Ajay Chopra (AC): The five-day gourmet festival showcased food as a form of a genuine expression of passion, offering its participants a true gastronomic experience with masterclasses, pop up events, contests, and more.

The ‘World Hunger Warrior’ campaign, which was launched to create a hunger-free world, also featured in the WOAP festival.

Since WOAP believes in sustainable feeding, the number of people being fed was not just for the week of the festival, but it continues even today. They are currently feeding about 1,500 people each day and will keep increasing the number whenever possible.

YSW: How many chefs participated in WOAP 2020?

AC: There were about 25 chefs who participated this year.

YSW: What were some of the signature dishes from the chefs?

AC: Dishes like Dal Pakwan Nachos, Steam fish with Herb, Kacche Kele ki Machli, and The Urban Porridge were some of the top dishes this year.

YSW: What was the mission of WOAP this year?

AC: The idea was to work towards a hunger-free world through this event.

YSW: Can you tell us about your experience on MasterChef India?

AC: There were many. Co-hosting with Akshay Kumar was a dream come true. I was completely surprised by the level of creativity among the really talented participants.

YSW: What were some of your best TV shows, and what did you love about them?

AC: I enjoy watching Chef's Table, Ugly Delicious, Tacos Chronicles, Street Food, and of course, the MasterChef series. I love the honest approach and love for food in these shows.

YSW: What is your signature dish, and why?

AC: Khoya Mattar Paneer is my signature dish, and it's my favourite one too. When I was a boy, I used to observe a chef cooking this dish at a dhaba near my home at Alwar.

YSW: How did you get into cooking, and why did you take it up?

AC: During my childhood days, after school, I used to reheat lunch and help my mother with the cooking. I used to enjoy this, and slowly, I developed a love for cooking.

YSW: How did you train and learn, and what were the challenges on the way?

AC: Initially, the only way to learn the skills of cooking was through learning from senior chefs, but I was fortunate to come across some great chefs who taught me nuances of cooking, and with practice, I developed many new skills.

While learning we all make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. I make sure that I learn something new every day, and it is a continuous process of learning.

YSW: How did you get featured on MasterChef? What was the experience like?

AC: I was working in Goa Marriott when my commis chef attended a call from a media house, and handed over a number written on a piece of paper. I forwarded the number to the lady who was handling the hotel sales and marketing. Half an hour later, she came running, and said, "The MasterChef show is coming to India and they want you as one of the judges.”

AC: I auditioned for the role and was selected from among 150 participants. The MasterChef series changed my life, and it also changed the perception towards chefs in India.

YSW: Can you give home chefs three tips on how to cook well?

AC: Remember to always cook with passion, and choose your own style of cooking. Always use high-quality seasonal ingredients, and respect your heritage.

YSW: What is your ultimate comfort food?

AC: Bharwan Paratha with white butter.

YSW: What would you say is the secret of good cooking?

AC: Love what you do, do what you love, and everything will fall in place.

YSW: What did you present this year on WOAP?

AC: I featured a very simple Sindhi dish called Dal Pakwan, which I served as nachos.

YSW: What are your favourite cuisines? Which one do you find the hardest to cook?

AC: Indian regional cuisine is my favourite! As for the most difficult dish, I would say that I find Cantonese cuisine very complex.

YSW: What are your plans for the future after the pandemic?

AC: Post the pandemic, I plan to visit all the restaurants I am mentoring.

YSW: What is your advice to those who want to get into the culinary industry?

AC: You have to be very passionate and self-motivated. You need to be like a sponge, have a positive attitude, learn the right skills, and gain knowledge over the years.

Edited by Suman Singh