The Varli Cook-Off is back with a bang!

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Chefs and the Judges of the Varli Cook-Off April 3, 2022, pose for a photo while presenting the certificates to the winners. From left to right Anuj Sharma, winner, Neeru Verma Runner up, Visha Bakhshi, Padmashree Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold,Bollywood actor Ashmit Patel, and celebrity chef Prasad Chirnomula. Photo: ITV Gold.

The Varli Cook Off live event is back again after three years of Covid restrictions. The live event  was held Sunday, April 3rd in association with Martinsville Gardens, New Jersey. The event featured four contestants.

The Varli Cook Off was judged by Celebrity Chef Prasad Chirnomula, Restaurateur Vishal Bakhshi. The guest judges were Dr. Sudhir Parikh of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, Bollywood Actor Ashmit Patel and Bollywood Singer Shivangi Sharma.

Community leader and coordinator Sangeeta Mallik was also there to help with the organizing.

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This competition was among four food enthusiasts, Anuj Sharma, Neeru Verma, Sangita Bhagat, and Monika Ahuja, who created a two course unique creative Indian meal. Each round was 30 minutes long. The first round was an appetizer round where one contestant, Monika Ahuja, was eliminated. The three remaining contestants advanced into the next round, where they would create a main course meal. The mystery ingredients were, respectively, Cauliflower/Shrimp, and Chicken/Paneer.

Chef Anuj Sharma, left, winner of the Varli Cook-Off 2022, held April 3, 2022, showing his craft at the
New Jersey event. Photo: Facebook Monica Ahuja

“We have been out for a while with the pandemic but now things are coming back and we are very excited to have everyone out there looking forward to it,” said Bakshi.

The criteria that the judges based the dishes on were taste, creativity and innovation, skill set and organization, presentation and appearance. Anuj Sharma grabbed the winner’s title while Neeru Verma placed second. Anuj’s winning recipe was a show-stopping Chicken and Spinach Skillet.

Varli Cook Off winner received the Varliware BBQ Grill/Sigri, valued at $1000, and the runner up received a VarliWare Gift Hamper valued at $200.

One of the highlights of this event was the Live Cooking Demo by Chef Kamal Uddin and Actor Ashmit Patel. Another part of the event was the special food and dessert tasting by VarliWare and Chand Palace for the attendees to enjoy. Varliware also hosted a fundraiser organized by Diya Singh, and the proceeds would be donated to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center for children in need, a press release from Varli said.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Parikh said Varli was proud to have Patel as a judge who is a big film star from Bollywood. He said Patel’s family was very well known, with his grandfather Rajni Patel famous as a kingmaker in Indian politics. Patel said it was an honor to meet Dr. Parikh who had achieved so much and made a name for himself in the U.S.

Varli’s previous events have been very successful with attention from the media and large number of attendees, as Varli is called the only platform for the food people to come together under one umbrella. The idea of having an event similar to other mainstream cooking contests came to Varli Singh when she came to live in New York. Singh wanted to bring Indian cuisine to the forefront and began with the first event in 2012 and Chefs Sanjeev Kapoor and Padma Lakshmi were among some of the judges at Varli Cook Offs. Singh is a singer, and an actor, and has produced music videos and short films.

One of the contestants of Varli Cook-Off demonstrating her dish to three of the judges
at the event. Photo: Facebook Monica Ahuja

The judges at this Sunday’s event are all well-known. Chef Prasad has been called “the most exciting Indian Chef in the U.S.” in the Rosengarten Report. Restaurateur Vishal Bakhshi has been an integral part of the Varli Cook Offs from the beginning. Actor Ashmit Patel is said to be a foodie and has won much accolade for his portrayal in the film “Benaras”.

According to Chef Bakhshi, the contestants were all amateur cooks, and not professional cooks. He said the cook off would see if they bring their mother’s recipes to the table or if they would bring their own creativeness. He said the atmosphere the event offers is usually very informal in spite of there being a competition.

The four competing chefs at the Varli Cook-Off held April 3, 2022, in New Jersey, Left to right Neeru Verma, Sangeeta Bhagat, Chef Zafar Sahil who created the cook off format, center, Varli Singh the organizer, Monika Ahuja, and Anuj Sharma. Photo: Varli Media

The contestants have interesting backgrounds. Sangita Bhagat, a fashion designer by profession, who had picked up cooking from her mother and grandmother; Neeru Verma, a travel director, who is a self-learned cook; Monica Ahuja, a techie who developed a passion for cooking through travels; and Anuj Sharma, a lawyer by profession who took to cooking many years ago as he missed his mother’s cooking in America.

The contestants were given a surprise ingredient which they had to use in their two rounds of appetizer and entre or the main course. Chef Prasad said some of the best cooks are at-home cooks. “The beauty of this is that people have been judging me for the 35 years of my cooking, but today I get to judge,” Prasad said.  Ashmit Patel said he felt privileged to be a judge at the event.

The contestants all tried their best at creating the appetizers and a main course. The final round was won by Anuj Sharma who later sent an email comment to Desi Talk. He said he could not taste his own dish due to Navratri fasting. “I am glad the judges did and loved it. Guest judge Sharma and Bollywood actor Ashmit Patel turned non-vegetarian and finished my entire Entrée. Such a sweet guy,” Sharma said.

“Everyone is a winner who shared the platform with me, and I am deeply humbled and gratified for the support I garnered from my family and friends,” Sharma said.

The judges all thanked ITV Gold for showcasing the event, adding more such events to bring Indian food on the forefront in America were needed. Dr. Parikh congratulated the winner and all the participants and the audience.

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