Tailor-made catering – composing culinary symphonies
By Pushpesh Pant In recent months, we’ve gotten a head start on destination weddings and designer trousseaus.
The latest emerging trend is bespoke catering. The historical evolution of bespoke catering (also known as designer parties bearing the signatures of celebrity chefs) dates back at least three decades. Legendary culinary impresario Jiggs Kalra had hosted Shiv Jatia’s daughter’s wedding banquet, creating a sensation.
Jiggs was a man long before his time and in that moment he assembled an all-star cast none of whom had ever left their iconic perch. Sadanand Maiya from MTR, Bablu from Rambabu Paratha Bhandar Agra, Osman to make Vegetable Galouti from Lucknow and the internationally acclaimed patisserie Schutzenberger from Hong Kong. What a dazzling spectacle has been put on by the artists of the Dancing Woks! Jiggs busted the myth that only wedding parties require designer treatment. What he planned for visiting the Royal Princes of Wales and Princess Dianna in Jaipur or commercially important clients for Lohia Scooters in Kanpur, or the Bajpayi Musharraf summit in Agra, it was nothing less than symphonies of flavors directed with love. Each is a masterpiece. Alas, a stroke confined him to a wheelchair and the momentum was lost.
It took a quarter of a century before enterprising chefs began picking up the lost and tangled steps. Just before the COVID pandemic took its toll, the restaurant business of hospitality entrepreneurs had gathered critical mass. Chefs and chef collectives were doing a brisk business feeding over 1,000 guests of well-heeled hosts at rates in excess of Rs. 4,000 per plate. Large base kitchens have been set up with a fleet of refrigerated vans and a mobile kitchen brigade to be deployed to various fronts. These events have started to pale with Hollywood weddings with glittering celebrities of up to 1000 guests and more at Rs 15,000 per person with celebrity chefs performing 6-7 stations.
Chef Gautam Chowdhary, who began his culinary journey at the Taj, is a veteran pioneer of ‘bespoke catering’. Running his own business, he has “been there, seen and done it all” so far. When he was still freelancing, he was part of a mega event in Ras al Khaim in the United Arab Emirates with a banquet for 35,800 guests at 145 Dirham per head! Arab sheiks are known to think big and spend big. The chef admits it was not so much a designer as a Kumbh Mela displaying not just austerity but wealth. A product launch (a computer game) in Dubai had a smaller but no less lavish guest list. 125 hand-picked guests were treated to a very special High Tea with 125 oddly delicate bites squeezed on the over 60 foot long table. A train of 51 Lamborghinis made their way to their destination, whetting appetites.
Design restoration is now a pan-Indian phenomenon that is not limited to Amritsar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh. Tier 2 cities like Meerut and Moradabad attract the best talent in the market. Celebrity chefs leave the kitchen chores to their juniors, their participation like literary lions in a lit fist commanding high appearance fees. Hyderabad is fast becoming the banqueting capital of India. People in the town of Nizams are still talking about the wedding invitation card for NTR Jr printed in the newspaper asking everyone to come and honor the occasion. The langar continued non stop 24X7. For the wedding of GVK Reddy’s granddaughter, Shah Rukh Khan consented to play and Big B sat next to GVK. Some of the sparkle was also created by celebrity chefs. However, a distinction must be made between shocking and awe-inspiring mega-events and lovingly crafted gems.
The memory that Chef Chowdhary cherishes the most is that of a surprise designed for all meals of a day for just three guests! It was a son’s thanksgiving to commemorate his parents’ Diamond Jubilee. Their grandson came specially from Australia for the occasion. The host realized that the tiny number of diners would increase costs astronomically and wrote a blank check giving the chef a free hand. From bedtime tea to nightcap, all meals have been meticulously planned with enough variety to suit the different palates of generations. It was Saville Row dining. The vegetarian challenge is no less formidable. Uber-rich Jain industrialists and Marwari entrepreneurs observe certain food taboos. All imported exotic ingredients cannot be used. There is a growing demand for trendy vegan delights.
Wild mushrooms and saffron, caviar and quail have begun to titillate the palate of a generation fed on Cakes and Ale. The leaders began to touch the territory reserved for illusionists. Food should not only be delicious but also intriguing and entertaining. Kebab is suspended in the air using magnets, edible tamarind balloons, foam casting a mysterious veil over the delicacy of the plate and interactive fusion menus. The story has just resumed. It is difficult to predict how this will unfold.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the above article are those of the author and do not reflect those of ANI. (ANI)
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