Sunday, June 16, 2024

Gourmet Star, Adonijah


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In the recently concluded ‘Hills on A Plate’ culinary competition and series, the emerging star and winner, Adonijah Lyngdoh shares a cup of tea with Sunday Shillong. A show that is currently streaming on Jio Cinema over a span of seven episodes took its viewers through an epicurean journey of the many cook-offs, displaying delectable and choicest tribal food presentations. Akin to other cookery competitions, Hills on A Plate had contestants, competition, and judges to test the grit and tenacity of the participants, producing some of the finest platters all under pressure. In conversation with Lyngdoh, we learn about his culinary journey, passion for food as well as his plans for the future. Excerpts of the interview are as follows:

SS: Congratulations on your win. How does it feel?

AL: Feeling amazing to be the winner of the show, getting a chance to showcase my skill and talent and what we can do with our ingredients, at the same time represent my family, friends, my community and inspire other aspiring chefs. It’s a dream come true.

SS: How did you end up at the food competition?

AL: I have been waiting for this type of platform for a long time , where we can use and promote cuisine and unique ingredients.

SS: Not many know but you’ve previously worked at a popular local haunt Boba Tree. What has been your journey like from Boba Tree to Hills plate?

AL: The journey has been incredible. I learned so much  on business planning and customer services. I joined boba tree in 2020 as a trainer and recipe developer to help the establishment grow. Now, after winning Hills on a Plate, with a heavy heart I’ll have to part ways with the tea joint even though I share so much love and bonding with the owner, the staff and its customers.

SS: When did you discover your passion for food?

AL: Since I was 16, I felt a connection with food and have been working in the food and beverage industry since that time. After I finished school, I studied in IHM Shillong to improvise and gather more knowledge about the hospitality industry, food and beverages.Later, I received industrial training at Polo Towers Hotel, where my passion for cocktails and working at the bar developed. Working at a bar can be exciting too with high energy music, good vibe, and serving drinks to the guest with love. But it also comes with immense responsibility and I could learn a lot about code of conduct but also it was the perfect opportunity to work with different local ingredients that helped me create unique cocktails.

SS: Who is your role model in the industry?

AL: Vineet Bhatia, first Michelin star chef from india.

SS: How was your experience at the competition?

AL: Amazing experience getting a chance to travel to different regions of our state, meeting people from different walks of life, eating all kinds of food and learning about the ingredients and methods of preparation. The competition was intense but incredibly fulfilling. It was challenging to push my boundaries and come up with innovative dishes under pressure. The experience was a great learning opportunity and helped me grow as a chef.

SS: What was it like being with the other contestants? What did you learn from them?

AL: The other contestants were amazing – each bringing in different skills set and knowledge. The bond we formed and shared during the journey, our common love for food and their passion for cooking kept inspiring me.

SS: What were some of the highlights from the show you’d want to speak about? (Your highs and lows)

AL: The opportunity to work with this talented and diverse group of chefs. The camaraderie and mutual respect among us was truly inspiring. The times when I received good feedback on my cooking skills were among others. On the flip side, one of the lowest moments was during a breakfast challenge, when we were tasked to prepare a gourmet breakfast with street food as the inspiration, in which I couldn’t deliver, and ended in the bottom two.

SS: How did you overcome your low moments during the show?

AL: There were numerous challenging moments throughout the competition. To overcome them, I focussed on meticulous planning and sought advice from judges and tried to put only what’s needed on the plate and not add and not too many items, and at the same time try to stay calm and motivate myself to not never give up.

SS: What was your signature dish from the series?

AL: My signature dish from the series was Bacon wrapped prawns with Tungtap foam and tungtap chilli oil. It was a blend of traditional flavours presented in a contemporary style, reflecting my culinary philosophy of honouring local ingredients while embracing innovation. This dish became a favourite among the judges. Throughout the show, each dish was prepared in such a way the original taste of the classic flavours were balanced with my own unique twist to give it a modern and acquired taste for someone outside the state which suits their palate.

SS: How was it meeting the star judge, Sarah Todd? What qualities about her stood out for you?

AL: Meeting Sarah Todd was awesome. She has immense knowledge about foods and ingredients. Her ease of palate adaptation to our food and her willingness to try different kinds of our food and ingredients was fascinating.

SS: What are your future plans with the prize money?

AL: Opening a cloud kitchen by the name Lyngwiar Dpei (kitchen takeover), it can also be used as a training centre for aspiring chefs. I plan to invest the prize money into expanding my culinary business. I want to open a cloud kitchen, and a small cafe. The space can also be used as a pop up restaurant which combines my love for traditional recipes with modern culinary techniques. The kitchen space can also be used as a trainer centre for other aspiring chefs, and an experimental kitchen to develop different dishes using local ingredients and cooking methods.

Behind the Scenes

While Lyngdoh is now a household name, not many know what went on behind the scenes and what it took to construct a show of this scale. In an extended session with the senior executive producer of the show, Jason Manners, also Founder of Rockski Emg, shared some interesting trivia.

Set out with the aim of promoting the state and its natural offerings through its cuisine, the ingredients, and their elevation into a fine dining format, Manners hopes to create a community of chefs and entrepreneurs out of this show and, in turn, inspire and uplift the F&B businesses of many entrepreneurs in the state.

Taking us through the journey of the show’s culmination, Manners expressed his highs and lows from it. “It was not easy at all. We have been pitching to the state government and other funding entities to support this for almost 8 years now, and it was not until 3 years ago that it got a green signal from the Tourism Department. Landing an OTT deal with only a concept in hand was very tough.” Manners also revealed that many OTT platforms that were approached  did not want to host this kind of content because of copyright and trademark issues as well as revenue share deals. However, the pitch made to Jio Cinema worked out well and the show got a release date.

Speaking about the vision and response of the show, he says, “The vision and the final product are never the same, but we are overwhelmed with the response the show is getting and the scale at which it has been running. Getting featured on “Best of Studio” and “Hero of the Week” on Jio Cinema was something we never expected to happen.”

When asked about the winner of the show, Adonijah and why, according to him (Manners), Adonijah stood out and won it, he says,

“I feel he was made for this show. He was exactly what this show was looking for. He has a good story to share with the world, he has a lot of courage, he is determined, and most importantly very focused. Sometimes I feel he was not interested in extracurricular activities that we had in the show because he was always thinking and planning his next move in the kitchen. He has a lot of experience in running F&B businesses even though they aren’t his own. So, it was a perfect fit with Hills on a Plate, and him taking home the Grand Prize of a restaurant contract.”

And we couldn’t agree more. Adonijah’s story is an inspiring one as he learned from his family, later at a culinary school. His story is also a refreshing one as he self taught himself through life’s curveballs experimenting and educating himself in a bustling industry.

– Esha Chaudhuri

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