Ajai Sharma: Paving his Way to a Culinary Epic
Ajai Sharma a student of Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA), in his final semester launched his book at the inauguration of the Culinary Arts Museum during 25th year of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE). The book titled ‘The Culinary Epic of Jeddah’ makes him the first student from his college to successfully publish a book during WGSHA’s 32 year term. Celebrity chef Vikas Khanna, an alumnus of the college himself, was present at the launch, making it a dream come true for Ajai.
Born on 12th December 1996, in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Ajai told The Manipal Journal how everything changed when he visited Jeddah, the foreground of his book, for the first time and about the new experience for him in the foreign land. Having shown interest in culinary arts at a very tender age, Jeddah was a new wholesome experience for him and the start of his journey into this field.
Ajai started putting thought into writing a book in the month of February 2017 with the hopes of authoring one before he completed his final year of under graduation. The initial idea of authoring the book came about while doing a qualitative research on a topic as part of his final year dissertation. Prior attempts of doing the research on the food culture at Amritsar and Udupi failed miserably, as he had to simultaneously focus on his internship as well. It was finally his father who suggested that he research about the food of a place he had live in for the majority of his life, Jeddah. One thing led to another, and finally the effort he put into his dissertation was converted into a book.
Whilst writing the book, Ajai took help from a lot of local people to put forth correct information. He shortlisted around 50 indigenous ingredients from the Quran and researched on local recipes based on them. A visit to the maulana at the local mosque on a daily basis helped him accurately translate recipes mentioned in the verses of the Quran. The biggest challenge for him was to maintain the meaning of verses while translating them and he was particular that his editor too keep this in mind while proofreading. Another instrumental help for the book came from Sami Newar, a key historian of the city of Jeddah. Being well versed in English as well as Arabic, he took Ajai to households in the older parts of the city and helped him gather recipes from these families. Ajai’s father also provided valuable guidance and put him in touch with the people he could speak to for his book.
When Ajai first spoke about his plans, many were unfamiliar with Jeddah and assumed it to be a place in Abu Dhabi. But to him, it was a place that had become home over the past few years and explained that the word ‘Jeddah’ literally translates to ‘Grandmother of Peace’ in Arabic. Being an important port city, the culinary ingredients exclusive to this region have contributed to culinary world history.
Talking about his childhood, Ajai speaks fondly of his grandmother and insists that she played a pivotal role in his upbringing. Over the years, having spent many a weekends watching cooking shows on television with his mother in Jeddah, it comes as no surprise that Chef Sanjeev Kapoor continues to be his biggest inspiration. It was watching him that that increased his inclination towards cooking, and now he hopes to send his culinary hero a copy of his book.
The journey from writing to publishing a book has not been an easy one for Ajai as he mentions that he got rejected by big publication houses. However, just as his mother said that him coming to Manipal was a part of the almighty’s supreme plan, he too believed that his plans for his book would work out.
Amidst all this uncertainty, Chef Vikas Khanna also gave him an encouraging push forward. Ajai has met the chef five times during his course at WGSHA and first spoke to him about his cook book plans when he interviewed him during Utsav last year, for his YouTube channel – ‘The Great Indian Gourmet Travel.’
Now, a year later, it is the same Chef Vikas Khanna who launched his book and Ajai couldn’t feel more ecstatic. Since the Chef kept giving Ajai feedback throughout, it was indeed special for him to share the stage with the one who had seen him grow.
As Ajai finishes speaking about his book, he says that he already has plans for another book and is working on that. He tells all young, budding talents to focus on their goal and believe in themselves as there is a plan for everyone.
Featured Image Courtesy: Niharika Nambiar
Edited by: Niharika Nambiar