My tryst with onions has been interesting to say the least. As a 19 year old trainee chef at the Taj, the onion was the very thing I began my career with. Sixty kilos of onions, to be precise. All I did on Day 1, was peel, peel and peel. I remember looking at the burlap sacks lined up along the wall with a sense of disbelief, but also feeling a strong sense of competition stir within. This would be a good fight! A worthy opponent – I surmised as I paced up and down the line of sacks. I had just started sharpening my knife and intimidatingly staring down Sack No.1, when the Chef De Partie came along and asked me why I looked constipated. I put away the sharpening stone and got down to work. I peeled till it annoyed me. I peeled till it amused me and peeled till I could finally do it in three knife strokes. With my eyes shut. Took me all day, but I went home with a sense of pride.
Fast forward a few months, and I was out of the peeling gallery and into the kitchen itself. The first one I landed in, was the Chinese kitchen where I was told to chop spring onions. The quantities didn’t faze me any more, but hitting the balance between speed and accuracy was what I needed to learn. I would either deliver an okay-ish product in great time, or put up a beautiful product in twice the time. It just wasn’t happening. One day, I freaked out a bit during prep, and managed to cut three of my fingers pretty damn bad. I was delegated to Store Duty for a week and was forced to permanently retire from professional harmonium playing. I took that shit to heart, folks.
The time I spent in the Stores counting inventory, gave me a good amount of time to reflect. The pain soon faded, and it wasn’t long before the Rocky theme played in my head and I vowed to go back and defeat the very onions that had stolen my lands and burnt down my castle. I started to practice my technique every night, after going home. I was still very very hung up on presenting beautiful work (still am, actually), so I had to figure out a way that combined speed and accuracy. I soon saw that I lost speed every time I lifted the knife off the board. When I set the knife back down, I would lose a bit of the angle on the cut. I stopped lifting the knife away from the board and developed a technique that instead, saw me draw the knife up and down in the same place, as I moved the onion forward bit by bit. I just needed a really good knife and a level board. That’s it.
The rest is history. I went back to the Chinese kitchen with a vengeance and sliced those damn spring onions from here to West Kidwai Nagar. The Chef de partie I reported to gave me a thump on the back and told me to keep up the “deadly cutting work”. Huge words of praise for a trainee. My next stint in the banquet kitchen really let me pick up speed. I had to slice regular red onions for a huge biryani banquet. I started out slow, but by the time I was through my fifth kilo, I had an audience. No looking back. Did fun stuff with onions after I went back to college and in the years after as well, and the onion slicer thing stuck. Some time around 2005, I tried to get into a record book for being the fastest onion slicer in the country. Just for kicks. Came third. Didn’t get record. Got lousy cap and notebook instead. Had fun though.
My career eventually saw me move away from the kitchen and into a cubicle. Except for the occasional YouTube comment on this old video, my onion escapades were all but forgotten. Until September 3, 2013, when we at Groupon pulled off one of the greatest marketing campaigns in the history of the internet. Yes. I am boldly calling it just that. Read on.
From July to September, the rising price of onions was a hot topic of discussion in India. The skyrocketing prices were giving our people and the Indian government hell. Heck, onions were making people cry even before they bought them! This is when the idea arose, to construct a marketing campaign around the onion.
Bam! The onion was back in my life! In true Groupon fashion, the team got things moving at breakneck speed. Ankur Warikoo (Head – Groupon, Emerging Countries), summarized the campaign beautifully on Quora, so I’m going to take the liberty of embedding his post here.
Since then, the campaign has racked up several more accolades. The most recent ones, at the World Brand Congress, where we bagged:
1. Digital Marketer of the Year
2. Marketing campaign of the year
3. Brand Excellence in e commerce
Huge props go out to good friend and mentor Sachin Kapur – who was officially announced as one of India’s Top 50 Indian CMOs.
Try and get listed in this little booklet.
My fingers are firmly crossed now. This is the second time I’m in the proximity of a record book, with a sack of onions in tow.
Wrapping thing up – I love the fact that Groupon ran with the idea. I love the fact that we are such a driven set of individuals under one roof. And somewhat selfishly, I love the fact that I got this little shout-out from the captain of the ship. 🙂
I’ll leave it at this, folks. I haven’t felt this happy about work in a long time. Thank you Groupon. Thank you, onions.
Over and out.