All About Olive Oil!

As the European Union continues its More Than Food campaign in India, we caught up with Chef Ajay Chopra, who recently conducted an eye-opening workshop in the Capital, on olive oil from Western and Southern Europe, and the delightful uses of this precious ingredient in Indian cuisine.

Chef Ajay Chopra begins the workshop with a presentation on Olive Oil - types, benefits, exports to India, uses in Indian cooking

Can you tell us about your association with the More than Food campaign in India, and how it aligns with your philosophy as a chef?

I am extremely glad to be a part of the More Than Food campaign as the brand ambassador. As a part of this campaign, we have curated some amazing events where we have come together with industry experts, as well as food connoisseurs, and talked more about how European food is greatly sustainable, of great quality, and completely safe. As a chef I've always wanted to cook with amazing ingredients, and I am extremely thankful and grateful to the European Union for giving me this opportunity to be a part of the More than Food campaign in India and raise awareness about these amazing products and ingredients.

What is so special about EU products and what should we Indians be paying attention to, regarding ease of use, familiarity of recipes etc?

EU products come with great tradition behind it, whether it's cheese, fruit and vegetables, meat, or olive oil. Everyone who consumes any of the products knows the heritage and story behind it. Therefore, one can be sure that the products are authentic, of great quality, sustainable and safe. Also, most of the ingredients from the European Union like cheese or olive oil can be easily integrated in Indian cooking in different ways.

The campaign kicked off during the pandemic – and you taught us virtually how to make a cheese platter – what are the kinds of cheeses from the EU that would be popular among Indian consumers?

During the pandemic, people had limited access to restaurant food, which resulted in an increased interest in creating different dishes and trying new recipes at home. Hence, during the virtual tasting dinner even though I taught the audience to make an entire cheese platter virtually, they enjoyed it thoroughly. The simplicity of creating something so beautiful and the myriad of flavors that come with it, was something that captured their interest and attention almost immediately. Sampling different kinds of cheese is something that Indians are now developing a taste towards. Whether it's cheddar, brie or gouda, cheese from the European Union is being used in various dishes across India, be it restaurants or households. Of course, cheese is something that is extremely popular amongst kids as well like the Italian Mozzarella or the Bocconcini, which has also become very popular.

How can we know what are the EU products available in India – and where?

A lot of EU products are available in retail stores across the country. Foodhall is a great destination to find EU ingredients and products.

During the last workshop, you taught us about olive oil – from Greece to Spain and Portugal – what are the differences between these olive oils from region to region, and does this reflect the wide variety of produce in the EU itself?

Olive oil is a subject on its own, which can be studied and talked about for days. The best part about olive oil that comes from the European Union is that it is extremely diverse. Olive oil from Greece is primarily the extra virgin olive oil, which is slightly spicy with a hint of bitterness. Olive oil from Portugal is a little intense and grassy and the olive oil from Spain is nuttier and fruitier. So, you can tell the vast differentiation between the different olive oils that we see across the region of the European Union.

You mentioned during the workshop that we can use olive oil in Indian cooking. Please, could you show us how and where?

Olive oil is an ingredient that can be used in Indian cooking. The light olive oil can be used in frying tikkis and samosas, which will make it nice and crisp. The extra virgin olive oil can be used to make parathas which will give it a very peculiar, unique and good flavour. You can also make garlic or chilli olive oil that can be great accompaniments with different dishes.

Could you give us a salad recipe that uses an olive oil dressing made by you, Chef?

My favourite would have to be the arugula and goat cheese salad with an orange balsamic dressing and candied walnuts. The dressing is made with three parts of olive oil, one part of balsamic, one part of orange juice, salt, and pepper. All these need to be whisked together rigorously so that it emulsifies the salt and pepper, and you have the dressing ready. You then pick out some nice arugula, add into it some orange segments, the candied walnuts and some goat cheese, give it a good swirl with the lovely balsamic and olive oil dressing and you have a simple but a fresh and flavorful salad ready.

The Olive Oil Food Lab was a fantastic experience. What is the diversity that the audience can see from the other masterclasses? Like for example the Beer & Spirits Masterclass was recently hosted. What was that like?

The Beer & Spirits Masterclass is also a part of the More Than Food campaign. Although I did not attend it personally, I did manage to catch all the action on social media, and I could tell what an amazing experience it was.

European spirits are products of many unique factors, ranging from the selection of grains and fruits, water, yeast, the impact of the local climate and the choice of pots and barrels, length of maturation and blend recipe – all these combined under careful eyes of skilled distillers who have passed them know how for generations. Beer is probably the oldest agricultural food and beverage product manufactured by man and the history of beer dates to more than 6000 years. Europe is widely agreed to be the birthplace of modern brewing.

Just like how the Olive Oil Food Lab was curated to build familiarity with Olive Oil amongst consumers, the aim of the Beer & Spirits Masterclass was to help the audience understand everything about the different kinds of beers & spirits from the European Union. The Masterclass was hosted by industry experts, Vikram Achanta and Magandeep Singh, so of course it was an extremely engaging, interesting, and informative session.

Would you hold a fruit workshop - fruit from the EU is a huge hit in India – and what fruits would you recommend from the EU?

All the activities which are a part of the More Than Food campaign are designed taking into consideration the fact the European Union’s relationship with India and the consumers here are of great priority. So yes, we are always open to suggestions, and we hope to do something interesting with fruit from the EU as well. European fruit and vegetables are a healthy source of vitamins and minerals and are used as ingredients in many of the authentic recipes that are waiting to be recreated in India. In terms of volume, the fruits that are harvested the most in the European Union are apples and oranges. But if I had to pick a favourite it would be the berries because they are so beautiful and sweet.


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

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