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Chef Ajay Chopra on Zee Café show Chef vs Fridge

'We are searching for a celebrity chef for our channel, who will own his or her show on the channel'

Sudeshna Banerjee Published 28.02.23, 02:25 PM
Ajay Chopra on the Zee Café show Chef vs Fridge with fellow judge Shipra Khanna

Ajay Chopra on the Zee Café show Chef vs Fridge with fellow judge Shipra Khanna Sourced by the correspondent

It’s a show where the participatants are a mix of home chefs, food truck chefs and social media influencers. They are all phenomenal cooks who are competing against each other in the third season of the Zee Café show Chef vs Fridge. Their challenge is to create extraordinary dishes but their common nemesis is The Fridge while the prize at stake is one’s own TV show. Chef Ajay Chopra, who had judged the first two seasons of Masterchef India, is a judge on the show along with Shipra Khanna, the winner of Masterchef India season two, speaks to The Telegraph on the eve of the launch of the show which airs every Sunday at 8pm.

Your show is called Chef vs Fridge. That means the chef has to cook what is inside the fridge and nothing else, right?


In Chef Vs Fridge, the refrigerator is the main character. The boss chiller, as we call it, holds mysterious ingredients for the contestants and throws unimaginable challenges at them, making it their biggest nemesis! The main ingredient comes to the contestants from this refrigerator and they have to rack their creative brains to think up and prepare outstanding and unique dishes from the key ingredient to impress us.

This time the fridge also has an added responsibility of taking the viewers into the world of learning how the ingredients are made — right from the process to preparation.

When you stock the fridge, do you keep in mind what kind of dishes would be possible with the ingredients you put in or are they stocked at random?

Absolutely! We as chefs are ardent followers of not wasting food so stocking mindlessly is completely out of the way. Also, we believe almost every ingredient that you buy has multiple purposes. Just that the majority of the times we are unaware of it.

In the show, we make sure that all the ingredients that are stocked in the fridge complement the main ingredient that the boss chiller gives out. Even though a lot of times the contestants are challenged by the main ingredient, if they use their creativity to the fullest, they can definitely bring out brilliant dishes with the given ingredients. So, every ingredient in the fridge has a specific purpose and there is no mindless stocking.

Both home cooks and professionals are competing. How do you decide which level of experience for professionals would be just enough not to make it a one-sided contest?

While choosing the contestants for the show, we focused mainly on their skillset. We're not categorising them as home chefs, food truck chefs or professional chefs. For us, all of them have achieved a certain level of expertise. They know their food game and that’s the reason they're here. Every challenge in the show given to the chefs is unique in itself and we will judge them based on particular parameters, including taste, innovation and presentation. So, all that matters, in the end, is your plate. We will judge them on the basis of their plate, which gives us insights into their understanding of flavours, combinations and their expertise in food.

What level of culinary expertise do you see in the social media influencers compared to home chefs? They must be good with plating and speaking.

We are searching for a celebrity chef for our channel, who will own his or her show on Zee Café. Being a celebrity chef is not easy. It is a combination of a lot of factors. You should have a screen presence, know the presentation of food, have an understanding of tastes and flavours, be creative, have a good palette... So, the channel would not want to pick someone for the only reason that they have good plating or speaking skills. We are looking for someone who is a combination of factors and fits perfectly well for the role. The winner will get to host their standalone show. There’s absolutely no saying who can have the best skill when it comes to food. It is absolutely a fair chance, and we are here to help them understand their strengths and overcome their weaknesses to make them give their best!

With the prize this time being the winner's own cookery show on the channel, has that drawn more serious talent compared to the last season?

We have always received some very talented entries for Chef Vs Fridge in all the seasons. The contestants go through multiple screening processes before being cast. We have received many applications from numerous chefs who are blessed with the talent and art of cooking.

Is it one against one or does everyone cook together to yield a winner in every episode? Please explain the format.

Last season was a cook-off between two chefs in every episode. However, this season the format of the show revolves around home chefs, food truck chefs, food influencers coming together and creating mind-boggling dishes for the entire season. There will be eliminations throughout the season and at the end, the chef emerging the winner will earn his show on Zee Café.

Any difference in format or challenges from the last season?

This season the competition remains steady amongst the contestants throughout. It is a linear format. There is no winner in every episode, but the best performer of the season will be announced as the winner in the final episode. The contestants are all very different from each other and the audience will surely have their favourites. The format allows the viewers to root for their desired winner and live those nail-biting twists and turns with them.

Adding to that, the audience will also get tips and tricks in culinary art from us as well as from the contestants. They will be able to learn about the process and preparation of the star ingredients that the fridge will be unveiling to the contestants. We start with five contestants and the process of elimination will start after a few episodes.

Has the pandemic increased the number or the quality of home chefs? Everyone was cooking during the lockdown!

Oh definitely. During the lockdown, people were excited to try their hands at doing everything by themselves. Not being able to go out and eat their favourite dishes, they started to experiment and cook more often and where better to showcase your skills than on social media, right? So, during the lockdown, the number of people making, eating and posting about food has tremendously increased. Many people even discovered their love for cooking during the lockdown, giving birth to many home chefs in the country. In fact, food content on Instagram is also one of the most viewed sectors, so you can say people love all things food!

Everyone has access to YouTube and is opening one’s own food channel. Is it too much content out there, making it difficult to make out the chef’s credentials?

Honestly speaking, yes there is an overload of information and content on the internet. However, I don’t think people just tend to believe everyone on the internet. YouTube has given people the liberty to start their channels and delve into everything that they love, and it has also given the viewer freedom to share their opinions, and recheck if the shared detail is true or not. So, there are always two sides to the coin; you can pick which side you’d like to lean on.

With chefs coming out of the kitchen in front of the camera, is it more important to maintain good personal appearance and speak well now than cook good food?

We live in a world today where looking presentable on camera is a necessity. However, when it comes to any art or talent, people will not only look at how good your appearance is on camera but will also look out for the experience and talent you bring on to the table. For instance, I might look great but if my cooking skills and knowledge are not something that provides value to the viewer, they will just switch channels or look for a different chef’s opinion.

Any tips on how to pick healthy food while eating out? Or is that an impossibility, given taste is the only priority in restaurants?

It is a challenge to find healthy food especially when you are travelling until you make the food and carry it yourself, but times are changing now. A few restaurants are prioritising serving healthy dishes on their menus, but it also depends on consumers and the theme of that particular restaurant. There are restaurant buffets serving both healthy and junk food and usually, we see the crowd delving in the junk. So, if the people consuming will keep making the junk choice, restaurants are bound to serve it. So, we need to change our consumption habits to see a change in serving habits.

What advice would you give to restaurateurs in this respect?

It is no longer a fad nowadays to eat healthily; people are making a conscious choice now. So, it is important for chefs to think about menus that are overtly indulgent. They should also focus on the ingredients, the oils and the protein that their menus provide to the consumer. Also, in India restaurants are mostly not focused on a particular palette. They want to serve all cuisines so that no one goes back on empty stomach. In this, often-healthy food gets ignored. So, definitely adding a section on healthy food will help restaurants in the coming future.

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