Amidst an array of Indian cuisines and food enthusiasts, chef Jitender Singh had his concentration set on a watermelon as he carved out the face of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a tribute to his heroism.
In the thoughtful gesture, Singh, who has served Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, carved out Abhinandan's distinct and "iconic" moustache, on the watermelon, along with "Jai Hind" in Devanagari script and a couple of army men.
"I lost one of my cousins in a Jammu and Kashmir attack... I know what one goes through when your dear ones are in danger. What Abhinandan did for our country is beyond courage and bravery. Through this fruit carving, I wanted to pay a tribute to our brave pilot, our Army men and other defence forces," Singh told IANS while competing against four other chefs in the category of Fruit and Vegetable Carving at the 14th edition of Culinary Art India (CAI) here.
Wing Commander Abhinandan had shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft on February 27 during an aerial engagement with Pakistan Air Force, but his plane was hit and he landed in Pakistani territory. He was later released by Pakistan as a "peace gesture".
For Singh, paying tribute to Abhinandan was more important to him than winning the competition. But he scored a silver for it.
"I just wanted to beautifully depict Abhinandan's bravery through my fruit carving skills," he said, as several visitors at the gala stopped by to see how he shaped up Abhinandan's face on a watermelon.
The culinary festival also saw 15 chefs demonstrating their culinary expertise and competing in Authentic Indian Regional Cuisine.
Be it Punjabi cuisine or Rajasthani or Odisha cuisine or South Indian cuisine -- different flavours and food preparations from across the country were on display on the first day of the Culinary Art India at the Pragati Maidan here.
Lukesh Bajaj of Radisson Blu, Paschim Vihar, was acknowledged as a Gold winner, Prem Singh Rathore (The Oberoi) and Sekh Sahajan (Naad Wellness) won Silver, and MD Jibrail (The Ashok) and Vivek Goswami (The Claridges) won Bronze in Authentic Indian Regional Cuisine category.
"It feels great when your work gets appreciated. Such competitions help in improving our skills and motivate us to do better everytime," Bajaj said.
According to him, it was his dessert "Bhutte ke gulab jamun" and "Matar ki phirni" which made him win the prize.
Not only professional experienced chefs, students who are currently pursuing culinary courses participated at the event too.
Chef Vivek Saggar, General Secretary of Indian Culinary Forum, found the CAI competition as a great "platform for young aspiring chefs".
"CAI is a great platform for these youngsters. I want people to treat these chefs with respect. There was a time when our profession was taken for granted but now the time is changing and I hope people consider these chefs more than just 'bawarchis'," he said.