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Table for two
When Kabir Chandra, a young Delhi executive heading Tips Music's digital business, thought of doing something "different" for his wife's birthday recently, he hit upon an unusual plan. Instead of booking a table for two at a fancy restaurant, he dialed a home caterer suggested by a friend. On the appointed day, the lady turned up, with neatly stacked up microwavable glassware in her car, and went about preparing a wonderful Medinspired, three-course meal for the couple in their own kitchen even as Kabir set the table and laid out the flowers.
"We had lamb chops, fish and rice and a great tiramisu to finish it off. The portions were so generous that we couldn't finish them off. Aside from a single egg that she asked me for, the caterer had got everything with her, including the serving dishes, and what's more, it just cost me Rs 1, 400 for the entire thing, " says Kabir.
Parul Shirazi, the Gurgaon-based caterer (she undertakes most of these assignments only through reference and usually only on the weekends because this isn't quite her day-job ), who cooked "live" for the happy couple may be the right choice for any one looking for a gourmet meal in the privacy of their homes. But she is not the only one out there changing how we eat and entertain.
In Mumbai, Platterati is a small and new company started by former designer Sunaaeya Kapur and her friend Shweta, an ex-lawyer and trained Cordon Bleu, London, chef. The two eventually plan to set up a "small cafê of our own". But in the meanwhile, they cater for 2 to 30 people at home, at prices ranging from Rs 550 to 2, 800 per person. Specialising in European, South East Asian and Mexican meals, they can arrange an entire buffet in your house with lights, crockery, flowers, waiters and the works.
But what they are also focusing on is a segment that most caterers ignore given the economies of scale - very small groups. Platterati can serve pre-plated fare for couple-only dinners, special dates that you may want to arrange at home, anniversary celebrations and so on, says Kapur, who handles the business end and wine recommendations.
From seafood in shot glasses to baked mushrooms in soup spoons, mini open burgers and moussaka to an authentic Avadhi biryani and kebabs, the range is extensive and the food looks as good as it tastes.
Gone are the days when home catering was a poor cousin of restaurant meals and undertaken only by shaadi caterers who deigned to take small orders only during lean season. Today, the Indian palate has evolved and the gourmet expectations of the well-traveled and well-heeled consumer are high. This means that a well-catered party for a small but exclusive guest list can be a good business proposition as well.
Tamarai Catering is just a couple of months old in Delhi - still in its "softlaunch" phase - but its menu is astounding. Consider some of the options on offer: chicken chettinad in black pepper tarts, hand-pulled pork with Goan spices on bruschetta, purple potatoes with amaranth, baby lamb chops and live kulchas stuffed with bacon or even blue cheese or mushrooms. A maximum of 70 and 80 guests can be catered to at a garden party and the usual pattern followed is "a host of canapês floating around... I use special LED-lit platters which look very nice in the garden in the evenings... and 8 to10 salads that we lay out on the dining table with the drinks, followed by simple main courses if the hosts want, or just desserts, " says chef Manish Mehrotra, who is in charge. What's more, the celebrity chef is very much at your do, cooking or just chatting with guests, a definite social high!
Tamarai Catering also has a vertical called "Indian Accent at Home" which recreates the same inventive flavours and experiences at home. A maximum of 14 guests can be catered to at sit-down meals that costs anywhere between Rs 4, 500 and Rs 7, 000 per person. And everything from flowers to laying out the table with gold-plated cutlery is taken care of. Even entertainment can be arranged.
Vegetarian menus feature quite prominently in fancy home catering. Chef Manu Chandra, who also heads the Bangalore and Mumbai division of Olive on Wheels (by the eponymous restaurant company), has, in fact, catered 10-course veggie meals and entire vegetarian degustation meals, sometimes even flying to a different city.
The chef is also involved in the detailing so that your home do becomes a party to remember. Chandra, for instance, has done baroque, Shah Jahan and even an Alice In Wonderland-themed meal and remembers sourcing antique tableware, mother-of-pearl and Victorian porcelain platters, brocade tablecloths, and even a chandelier for an exclusive at-home.
In Delhi, with its beautiful Lutyen's bungalows, farmhouses and spacious homes, it is not unusual for an evening soiree to have a hundred guests. Whatever the occasion, menus are lavish with the finest ingredients and kitchen equipment rolling in. Food Inc by Yum Yum Tree is much in demand at high-end dos. From caviar on blinis, to the best hamachi, tuna, salmon for its sushi bars, foie gras terrine, tapas, tamale and even vegetarian Peking duck, you can order in what you desire. "We use the best equipment, proper sushi cases, charcoal Webber grills, stone oven for the pizzas, " says Varun Tuli, owner. The cost: Rs 1, 800-3, 000 per person.
Even if you are just hanging out with friends at home and want some interesting food, there are enough smaller players in the market to rev things up. With interest in all things culinary high and everyone turning entrepreneur, many catering college graduates, including those who have come back home with diplomas from New York and Switzerland, are floating around in the metros, turning home caterers before starting their own restaurants.
Varun Sheth of 1tablespoon in Mumbai supplies pesto pizza, cous cous salad with cranberries and Burmese khow suey at an affordable Rs 750-1, 100 per head. In Delhi, Minoo Rishi and her brother-in-law Rajeev do authentic old Delhi home meals apart from salads and bakes usually as weekend caterers for small groups up to 30.
And then there are the patisserie people. They don't just deliver a cake or a pie (that too, if you like) but set up an entire bar with pretty little tidbits almost too good to eat. Pooja Dhingra of Le 15 patisserie in Mumbai specialises in intimate parties, where she can set up a counter with mini desserts - tartlets, macaroons, cup cakes, desserts in shot glasses, et al, all for Rs 300 to Rs 700 per person. It's hard to think of a better way to wind up an evening at home!
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